Edward Snowden said he is “staggered” by the reaction to his 2013 leak of National Security Agency documents detailing the extent of American government surveillance, and sees himself as having played a minor role in the revelation which shocked the defense community and continues to reverberate in Washington.
“I’m really optimistic about how things have gone, and I’m staggered by how much more impact there’s been as a result of these revelations than I initially presumed,” Snowden told the Columbia Journalism Review. “I’m famous for telling [former Guardian editor-in-chief] Alan Rusbridger that it would be a three-day story. You’re sort of alluding to this idea that people don’t really care, or that nothing has really changed. We’ve heard this in a number of different ways, but I think it actually has changed in a substantial way.”
Snowden, who spoke with journalist Emily Bell via secure channel, remains exiled in Russia to avoid arrest due to his role in exposing the NSA. He worked for various government agencies including the CIA, NSA and DIA as a contractor before providing classified information to journalists, who did not initially report his identity.
Snowden rejected his portrayal as a hero for taking on the U.S. government, and said he thought his role in the revelation was “quite minor.”
“A lot of people laud me as the sole actor, like I’m this amazing figure who did this,” Snowden said. “I personally see myself as having a quite minor role. I was the mechanism of revelation for a very narrow topic of governments.”
He said the most important thing was that the public knew what the government and its secret agencies were doing in its name.
“It’s not really about surveillance, it’s about what the public understands — how much control the public has over the programs and policies of its governments,” Snowden said. “If we don’t know what our government really does, if we don’t know the powers that authorities are claiming for themselves, or arrogating to themselves, in secret, we can’t really be said to be holding the leash of government at all.”