After nearly a year since Edward Snowden went public with evidence of National Security Agency surveillance practices, NBC Nightly News released an early video clip of his first on-camera interview with an American news organization. In it, the 30-year-old explained his role in the intelligence apparatus as a federal contractor for NSA.
“I am a technical specialist. I am a technical expert,” he said. “I don’t work with people. I don’t recruit agents. What I do is I put systems to work for the United States. And I’ve done that at all levels from — from the bottom on the ground all the way to the top.”
Snowden worked for Dell and Booz Allen Hamilton as a federal contractor in connection with NSA. In June 2013, Snowden released to several media outlets thousands of classified documents he had acquired in that time. The leaked documents had widespread consequences for intelligence contracting, use of electronic surveillance, American foreign policy and even the role of background checks in government contracting.
In the interview, Snowden outlined viewers of his role in the intelligence community and the role technology has in intelligence gathering, saying his training made him a "spy."
"It's no secret that the U.S. tends to get more and better intelligence out of computers nowadays than they do out of people," Snowden told NBC's Brian Williams. “I was trained as a spy in sort of the traditional sense of the word, in that I lived and worked undercover overseas — pretending to work in a job that I’m not — and even being assigned a name that was not mine.”
Snowden also fought back against charges that he was simply a "low level" employee, saying his experience was widespread over several levels of government and contractors, including time working for the CIA, NSA contractors and the Defense Intelligence Agency.
“When [American government officials] say I’m a low-level systems administrator, that I don’t know what I’m talking about, I’d say it’s somewhat misleading,” he said.
Snowden is currently living in exile in Russia after being charged with theft of government property and for violating the 1917 Espionage Act. The State Department also revoked his American passport in June 2013, shortly after he released the documents. This week, Secretary of State John Kerry has called for Snowden to "man up" and return to the U.S. to face the charges against him.
NBC will air the full interview with Snowden Wednesday night at 10 p.m. ET.