Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who leaked top-secret documents on mass government surveillance programs to journalists this spring, has declared his mission accomplished.
“For me, in terms of personal satisfaction, the mission’s already accomplished,” Snowden told Barton Gellman, the Washington Post journalist to whom he leaked some of the documents he took from the NSA, in an interview published Monday night.
“I already won,” he said. “As soon as the journalists were able to work, everything that I had been trying to do was validated. Because, remember, I didn’t want to change society. I wanted to give society a chance to determine if it should change itself.”
Snowden spoke with Gellman in Moscow, his first in-person interview since arriving in Russia in June and securing temporary asylum. Gellman described Snowden as “relaxed and animated” over the course of their two-day conversation.
Since his leaks began appearing in the press in June, Snowden has sparked public debate on both the international and national levels about government snooping. His leaks even prompted a potential legal defeat for the NSA: a federal judge ruled last week that the agency’s collection of phone metadata, a program Snowden’s documents revealed, was likely unconsitutional.
The fugitive contractor’s future is still up in the air: his asylum in Russia runs out next year, and the U.S. government charged Snowden with espionage and theft of government property in June. Several lawmakers and members of the intelligence community’s top brass have branded him a traitor. But those who believe he intended to inflict harm, the fugitive contractor said, don’t understand his motivations.
“I am not trying to bring down the NSA, I am working to improve the NSA,” he told Gellman. “I am still working for the NSA right now. They are the only ones who don’t realize it.”