Snowden Deceptive in NBC News Interview
Edward Snowden's behavior during his interview with Brian Williams of NBC News, which aired Wednesday night, demonstrated that the former NSA employee is likely well aware of the harm he has caused to U.S. national security interests, that he has almost certainly been debriefed by Russian intelligence officials, and that his motive for stealing and releasing highly classified information was largely one of self-aggrandizement and self-promotion.
Those are among the conclusions we've drawn following our analysis of the interview, based on our identification of three key areas in which Snowden exhibited deceptive behavior. That is not to say that Snowden was ill-prepared for the interview. In fact, it struck us that Snowden was very politician-like in the interview -- articulate, well-prepared, and adept at staying on message. What we heard Wednesday night was a message that was far more crystallized than what we heard from him when he spoke from Hong Kong a year ago. He is clearly extremely knowledgeable about his situation.
The three key areas in which Snowden exhibited deceptive behavior can be summarized as follows:
1. The issue of whether he had caused any harm to national security. Snowden never denied causing harm to national security. In response to the question, he made a series of convincing statements and exhibited attack behavior in demanding that the government identify and prove what harm he had caused. This behavior appears to illustrate that Snowden is well aware that he has indeed caused a great deal of harm.
2. His relationship with the Russians. When Williams asked Snowden a series of questions about his relationship with the Russians, and whether Russian intelligence officials had approached him to glean information, Snowden limited his responses to references to documents that were no longer in his possession. He did not address the issue of what’s in his head, and whether that information was shared in any way. In that context, it’s important to consider why the Russians granted Snowden asylum in the first place. There were likely two major intelligence objectives: One, easy access to Snowden and the information he possesses, which would suggest that he has almost certainly been approached; and two, the propaganda value of giving the U.S. a black eye by ensuring Snowden has a forum in which to air his views. That those views include criticism of Russia is especially interesting: The fact that Snowden was prepared to go on TV and stick a finger in Russia’s eye is indicative of some degree of comfort with Russian officials, a comfort level that likely stems from having engaged with those officials in some form of questioning or debriefing.
3. Embellishment with respect to his status and his attempts to work within the system to convey his concerns. To untrained eyes and ears, it appeared that Snowden was a quintessential spy, given his emphasis on having been under cover in various overseas assignments. What the average person doesn't realize is that cover is not a measure of someone’s status in the intelligence community. Snowden clearly had a high level of access to information, and he wasn't embellishing that access. But many, many employees of intelligence agencies have a high level of access to information that they’re entrusted with.
In response to questions about why he didn't work within the system to convey his concerns, Snowden insisted that he did. But while he did apparently communicate his concerns at some level, it was clear that he didn't come close to exhausting his options. He could have escalated his complaint to the Inspector General; thereafter to senior leadership within the Agency; thereafter to senior officials governing the Agency; and ultimately to congressional intelligence oversight committees. He displayed a surprising level of immaturity in contending that he had successfully checked the work-within-the-system box.
In its totality, this embellishment demonstrates that Snowden’s motives were largely driven by self-aggrandizement and self-promotion. It is evident that he wanted the exposure.
Snowden is clearly incredibly smart, but incredibly naive and immature. He did provide direct answers to some questions, including the question of whether he considers himself a patriot. But overall, he had the demeanor of a politician who had become adept at giving the appearance of providing answers to questions, while in actuality steering clear of truthful answers that would undermine his agenda.