Snowden wasn’t really in the United States, of course. His face was on the screen of a bizarre Robot looking thing on wheels, streaming live from Russia, where he has been hiding from the United States government with Vladimir Putin’s blessing since he released documents above top secret to journalists in 2013.
The event was moderated by KUER’s Doug Fabrizio, who the program says was “vetted and approved” by Edward Snowden in advance.
Snowden seemed nothing if not well-rehearsed through the 90-minute Q&A session. But, to this observer, his insistence that he did what he did for the love of liberty rang a little hollow, given the location of his current residence.
He walked the audience through his version of the events that led to his fleeing the country, “I was exposed to things that I recognized were immoral and wrong,” Snowden told the not-quite-sold-out-crowd, “But like others in the intelligence community, I justified it… These are good people doing bad things.” And so, eventually, he says, he reached a point that he could no longer justify the government’s actions—and that’s when he contacted journalist Glen Greenwald and others with what he knew.
“I never published a single document. I worked in concert with journalists who then make a public interest decision,” Snowden explained, saying he instructed the journalists he worked with to tell the government what they planned to print before they printed it, to give the government a chance to respond or make an appeal based on public safety.
At times during this part of the conversation, Snowden seemed to railroad Fabrizio—interrupting him and determining the direction of the conversation. He bristled at Fabrizio’s mention of former C.I.A. Director James Wooley’s claim that Snowden has blood on his hands for the Paris attacks last month. Snowden defended himself against the claims by noting that the PRISM documents he released mentioned text messages and Skype, both of which were used by the Paris attackers. “This is a indication,” Snowden said, “That terrorists were not reading these documents.”
Snowden then upped the ante. “I haven’t talked about this publicly because I don’t think it’s right to play politics with people’s lives,” he said. But, he claims that the programs he uncovered have not stopped a single terrorist attack. “Paris. San Bernadino. This is the strongest evidence yet that mass surveillance does not save lives.”
Snowden claims he has offered to go to trial for his crimes. “Political exile as a political strategy has worked for thousands of years,” he said. Later noting that he and his lawyers are waiting for the government to call him back. He cited the inequality in the American justice system, noting Hillary Clinton’s Justice Department emails as a good example of what he suggested is a double standard.
And though his self declared love of freedom and liberty is what created his self- imposed exile to Russia, a place that has very little freedom and liberty, Snowden remains steadfast in his justifications for leaking the documents. When asked by Fabrizio if he was going to vote by mail in the 2016 election, Snowden smirked and said, “I might go to the embassy.”
Snowden took no questions from the audience before he wheeled off the stage in his robot-machine.