National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden had the toughest interview of his life at the hands of comedian and Last Week Tonight host John Oliver.
During a face-to-face interview in Russia, the country in which Snowden has been living for the past year-and-a-half to avoid being prosecuted by the U.S. government on charges of espionage, the 31-year-old seemed decidedly uncomfortable when Oliver, a well-known political satirist, questioned him about if he had actually read every one of the thousands of classified NSA documents he turned over to U.K. publication The Guardian, the Washington Post and other media outlets.
“I have evaluated all of the documents that are in the archive,” Snowden answered. “I do understand what I turned over.”
Oliver, however, did not let Snowden off the hook: “There’s a difference between understanding what’s in the documents and reading what’s in the documents,” he said, sarcastically adding, “because when you’re handing over thousands of NSA documents the last thing you’d want to do is read them.”
“I think it’s fair to be concerned about did this person do enough, were they careful enough…” Snowden began, only to be interrupted by Oliver.
“Especially when you are handling material like we know you are handling.”
“Well, in my defense, I’m not handling anything anymore,” Snowden said. “All of that has been passed to the journalists and they are using extraordinary security measures to make sure this is reported in the most responsible way.”
“So The New York Times took a slide, didn’t redact it properly, and in the end it was possible for people to see that something was being used in Mosul on al Qaeda.”
“That is a problem,” Snowden responded.
“Well, that’s a fuckup,” said Oliver.
“It is a fuckup, and those things do happen in reporting. In journalism, we have to accept that some mistakes will be made. This is a fundamental concept of liberty,” Snowden said.
“Right. But you have to own that then,” Oliver insisted. “You’re giving documents with information you know could be harmful, which could get out there.”
“Yes, if people act in bad faith,” Snowden said, looking ill-at-ease.
He insisted the risks and the rewards of his decision to go public with the documents were worth it.
Later in the interview, Oliver showed Snowden footage of average Americans on the street being asked who Edward Snowden is. While some people associated Snowden with WikiLeaks (which is of course wrong), many simply said they had no idea.
“I guess on the plus side, you might be able to go home because it seems like no one knows who the fuck you are or what the fuck you did,” Oliver said.
“You can’t expect everybody to be uniformly informed,” Snowden replied.
When asked why he had leaked the NSA data to the media, Snowden said it was to give Americans the chance to “decide for themselves the kind of government they want to have.”
Oliver was quick to point out that Americans do not care about the issue because they do not understand it. He added that Snowden needed to make it easier for people to grasp the issue.
Oliver used the example of what he called “dick pics,” or naked photographs, asking Snowden to explain how such photos can be collected by the NSA.
“When you send your junk through Gmail, that’s stored on Google’s servers,” Snowden said, as an example of one way that a nude photo could find its way to the NSA through the government’s Prism program. “Google moves data from data center to data center — invisibly to you without your knowledge — your data could be moved outside the borders of the United States, temporarily. When your junk was passed by Gmail, the NSA caught a copy of that.”
Even though there is always a risk of such private photos being captures, Snowden said people should not stop sending them if that is what they want to do.
“You shouldn’t change your behavior because a government agency somewhere is doing the wrong thing,” he said. “If we sacrifice our values because we’re afraid, we don’t care about those values very much.”
Oliver seemed impressed by Snowden’s answer and replied, tongue in cheek: “That is a pretty inspiring answer to the question, ‘Hey, why did you just send me a picture of your dick?’ Because I love America, that’s why.”
To see the full interview click here or watch the player provided below.