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‘Snowden is a very private person’ – Washington Post journalist to RT

Published time: December 25, 2013 20:36
Edited time: December 27, 2013 08:49
A Washington Metro bus is seen with an Edward Snowden sign on its side panel December 20, 2013 (Reuters / Gary Cameron)

A Washington Metro bus is seen with an Edward Snowden sign on its side panel December 20, 2013 (Reuters / Gary Cameron)

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.

Watch RT America’s full interview with Barton Gellman:

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.”

The president’s own review board comes back with many reform proposals. The leaders of the US technology industry come and tell the president in person that the NSA’s actions are harming the information economy. So he got a lot of validation in the last working week of the year.

RT: Snowden was insistent that he would never want to publish his leaks all at once; that that would be “suicide switch.” Can you explain what he meant by that?

BG: He opposes [mass] publication or dumping all the documents out. He doesn’t want me to publish everything that I have, he wants me to use my own judgment about what is newsworthy and what would do harm. So it’s not only that he doesn’t want it all at once; he doesn’t necessarily want it all published in the first place.

What he’s talking about with this “suicide” is this: there are people who claim that he has some other cash of material that he’s got rigged up to a dead man’s switch so that if he doesn’t keep checking in, if something bad happens to him, then he unleashes this whole thing on the world.

First of all, there is no evidence of that. It’s contrary to what he says he wants. But he said, “just look at it logically, if I’ve rigged up a dead man’s switch, I may as well ask everyone to shoot me, because any service in the world that really wants this stuff go public, all they have to do is get rid of me.” So it’s illogical, he says. It’s not a dead man’s switch; it’s a suicide switch.

RT: You mention that you have all this material. How are you making decisions on what gets released and when?

BG: I am reviewing material with a very small number of trusted colleagues; I’m doing the reporting around it. A lot of it is in the form of clues, which might be one line in each of the 16 documents, that make me think that there is something going on or there is something of interest. I check it out, I talk to government officials. I talk to people in the industry. Sometimes I’m persuaded that my idea is wrong, sometimes I’m persuaded by [a] government that it would be a bad idea to publish this story. But most often we find something that we think is interesting and of public import, and in consultation with my editors at the Post, we publish.

RT: The Guardian was threatened by the UK government and forced to destroy the copies of the documents leaked by Snowden on their server. Was that ever an issue for you? How have you been able to maintain these documents and protect them?

BG: If there had been threats or coercion used against me or The Washington Post, you would know it. That would be news, and we would be the first to report it. There has been no attempt by the US government to compel us to do anything. There have been times when they would ask us, they would try to persuade us not to publish something. There have been times when we agreed and times when we haven’t. We are taking very considerable steps to keep the materials safe.

Comments (7)


fran7 27.12.2013 08:50

I listened to Edward Snowdon's Christmas message and was impressed by his modesty and eloquence.
He is truly a great hero and sacrificed a lot to help the Free thinking people of the World by revealing the monster Known as PRISM which has cost the ordinary US taxpayer innumerable billions of dollars for its out of control and corrupt NSA to spy on everyone in the World in the ridiculous claim of security.


Regula 27.12.2013 06:54

People are upset only about the metadata - but there is worse: the financial and economic/industrial spying and the insider trading and contract rigging that the spying makes possible. The metadata - clearly the citizens are the foe - is a consequence to cover up the corruption of government. If people would look back at the Nazi regime, they would see a very similar progression from Hitler's party to government and Jewish pogroms to deter attention to the corruption of the entire government. Read the long and deep interview with whistleblower Thomas Drake (The currency of power) on atimes dot com.


Douglas Dewar 27.12.2013 05:52

To Jordan Matthew Turrubiates 26.12.2013 17:46 " We do live in a great country, but our leaders are not great. They abuse the power we allow them, and that IS the point. " If one examines the role of money in elections, especially since the Supreme Court came up with the novel notion that corporations are people and money is free speech { are these characters on drugs? } perhaps the leaders are not allowed power by the voters but by the political dollar donation givers. If so then THAT is the point.

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