Edward Snowden has sparked a global debate on mass spying, but he is actually a “private person” who does not seek much attention, journalist Barton Gellman told RT. Snowden told Gellman that the notion of having a “suicide switch” of leaks is illogical.
Gellman, a Washington Post journalist and author of Pulitzer Prize-winning reports, became the first reporter to interview Snowden since the former NSA contractor was granted temporary asylum in Russia.
Snowden – who talked with Gellman for some 14 hours in two days – explained the reasons behind his whistleblowing, but did not speak very much about his private life.
However, Gellman shared his own impressions of Snowden’s personality with RT America, offering a rare insight into the current state of mind of the “most wanted man on Earth,” who Gellman says spends much of his time on the internet.
The journalist also revealed the precautions he had to take before meeting with Snowden, and discussed the “dead man’s switch” that the whistleblower has been accused of possessing.
RT: Why did Snowden grant you this interview? And why now?
Barton Gellman: Well, to back up, he has not wanted to be at the center of the story. He wants the story to be about electronic surveillance and the limits of espionage and democracy. So he’s kept away from the story. I spent a lot of time trying to talk him into the idea that at the end of the year, after half a year of this remarkable global debate, that there needed to be a kind of summing up; what have we learned, what does it mean. And we needed his voice in that story. And he agreed to let me come and see him.
RT: You were with him for two days, and had 14 hours of conversation. How would you describe Edward Snowden right now, in terms of his demeanor and his mentality?
BG: He is remarkably at peace with everything. He’s a man under considerable pressure, I must assume, but he doesn’t show it. He’s feeling like he did what he said “I have to do.” When he says what he’s accomplished in his mission, what he means is that he’s taken a very important subject out of a secret world and handed it to the public so people can decide for themselves where they want to draw the lines – instead of having the lines drawn for them.
RT: In the article, you mentioned that “his guard never dropped” during the interview. Did you get the sense that he was constantly worrying, or concerned at all about his future?
BG: He doesn’t project concern about his future. What I mean by that is…his boundaries. For one thing, he is a very private person. He understands that he is in the news, that he has done something very newsworthy. He wants the news to be about the policy, the subject, the documents themselves. He doesn’t see that he’s got any obligation at all to talk about his personal life. And he has natural security concerns. And so he pays attention to what he says.
RT: Can you talk about how you prepared for this trip? Did you have to leave your laptop, your cellphone? What precautions did you have to take?
BG: I can say a little bit about that. I mean, I did not bring anything with me that I was not prepared to have one or another government take hold of and search or keep or copy. So, no, I didn’t bring anything sensitive. I brought an empty notebook computer and I brought a telephone I don’t normally use, with none of my data on it. And, as far as I know, these precautions were superfluous in the end, because no one stopped me.
RT: Did Snowden have anything to say about the current reform efforts underway on Capitol Hill?
BG: He clearly has his own views about what ought to happen. What he most wants to make sure is that there can be an open debate about that with full knowledge. It was all in a secret court, it was all in a very small committee of Congress.
We spoke just before a very big week for him that vindicated many of his assertions. He has said all along that he believes some of the programs at the NSA are illegal. Well, soon after we spoke, a federal judge – the first one to consider it in open court – said that one of the main programs of the NSA is almost certainly “unconstitutional.”