What NBC's Brian Williams Should Ask Edward Snowden In The Interview We've Been Waiting For
Wednesday night will mark the full airing of Edward Snowden's interview with NBC News' Brian Williams, filmed in Russia, and for many Americans it may be the first time they hear the man in his own words. Formerly a computer systems contractor for the National Security Administration, Snowden went rogue in 2013, turning over a trove of classified documents to Guardian journalists Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras, with the aim of revealing what he considered an unconscionable, pervasive surveillance apparatus. The disclosure sparked national focus on the issue of NSA surveillance, both domestic and foreign, and turned Snowden into a high-profile fugitive overnight.
Everyone's tongues are already wagging, even that of Secretary of State John Kerry, who publicly slammed Snowden, telling him to "man up" and return home for prosecution. Snowden had fled the country, first to Hong Kong and then to Russia, supposedly with the intention to move along to Cuba. But he says his passport was then cancelled by the State Department, leaving him in limbo at Moscow's Sheremetyevo international airport — and he's been in Russia ever since. That's the backdrop for Williams' interview, which has already been teased with some early-released excerpts.
We already know, for example, that Snowden disputes the description of himself as a "low-level analyst," insisting instead that he was functionally a trained spy, though limited to his areas of technical expertise. So, what revelations will come from his first, most major press appearance? Here are three questions we'd like Williams to ask...
1. Do You Feel Weird About Living in a Country With Even More Surveillance?
In a meaningful sense, this is one of the foremost criticisms of Snowden that his opponents have raised, as pertains to his post-leak behavior — he's now living in Russia, a country with its own rich record, historically and in the present tense, of state surveillance. This has given rhetorical ammunition to his foes, in much the style Kerry roasted him, suggesting he's a hypocrite or a coward, or both.
According to The Daily Beast, Snowden was rankled by these criticisms, and tried to implicitly challenge them in April, when he questioned Russian President Vladimir Putin over surveillance on a Kremlin call-in TV show Unfortunately, the outcome had more or less the opposite effect. Putin flatly denied the implication of wrongdoing, and Snowden's role in the presentation was regarded as an unwitting exploitation.
In short, the chance to discuss his motives, to the American public and in his own words is a chance Snowden shouldn't pass up.
2. Do You Think You'll Ever Come Back to the U.S.?
The foremost insult directed at Snowden by Kerry is cowardice. Kerry's attacked Snowden for fleeing the country rather than "face the music" for his illegal disclosures — an understandable criticism, though easily made by the person not staring down espionage charges and likely heavy jail time.
But it is true that the American figure Snowden's name is often invoked alongside, Pentagon papers leaker Daniel Ellsburg (who regards Snowden as a hero) didn't escape the law by spiriting away to Hong Kong. He turned himself in, in the face of an incredibly hostile political climate — prior to the infamous Watergate Hotel break-in, the Nixon White House's covert team of "Plumbers" was sent to break into the office of Ellsburg's therapist, in the hopes of seizing his files and finding information to humiliate or discredit him.
But Snowden didn't do any of this; he fled to Hong Kong. There's no particular shame in admitting you're afraid of such dire consequences, but it can help people appreciate your plight. If the answer is even Snowden admitting "yeah, I'm freaked out and don't want to go to prison over this," that's fine. Admitting one's own fears can be humanizing, after all.
3. Did You Try to Make This Promo Image So Damn Meme-able?
On the lighter side, remember the image NBC released to announce that their flagship anchor had landed a live interview with Snowden? If you spent any time on Twitter this month, you probably do — it was an understatedly strange, curious image, which gave rise to many a full-throated laugh on social media.
There's just so much in its staging, and facial and body languages — Williams slightly hunched, warily mid-glance back to the audience as if to say "hey, we're in this together," Snowden looming in the background, hand stroking his chin as though he was the real interviewer — it was the perfect blend of news-making announcement and humorous delight. So, the question for Snowden is this — are you sure you weren't holding up a mask?