National Security Agency (NSA) leaker Edward Snowden says last month’s Democratic presidential debate shows people are softening their stance toward him.
“I did see the debate live,” he said of the contest on Oct. 13 in Las Vegas, according to Sweden’s Dagens Nyheter.
“It was extraordinarily encouraging,” Snowden said. "In 2013, they were calling for me to be hanged. They were using the word ‘traitor’ and things like ‘blood on your hands.’
“Nobody on the stage, as far as I know, used the word traitor now,” he added of candidates. "That’s an extraordinary change. The American tradition in regard to whistleblowers is to try and bury them.”
Democratic presidential rivals Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have taken different tones regarding Snowden.
“He broke the laws of the United States,” Clinton said during the debate. "So I don’t think he should be brought home without facing the music."
Sanders, meanwhile, said he thinks Snowden “played a very important role in educating the American public to the degree to which our civil liberties have been undermined.” He also noted that Snowden broke the law.
Snowden first entered the international spotlight by leaking classified NSA documents about the U.S. government’s surveillance methods. Since then, he has repeatedly leaked classified information to reporters.
Critics say Snowden is not a whistleblower because he never tried to bring the information to light through official channels. Snowden in the interview claimed he did discuss his unease with the agency's surveillance methods with many of his co-workers.
“When I first saw things, I really didn’t believe them,” Snowden said. "I couldn’t believe the government would lie to us.
“When eventually I wanted to do something about it — I knew these programs were wrong and I was thinking about coming forward — I wanted to make sure I wasn’t a crazy person,” he said, noting he revealed his reservations to colleagues.
“Everybody has their shop talks,” Snowden added. "It’s not like anybody at the NSA is a villain. No one’s sitting there thinking ‘how can I destroy democracy?’
“They’re good people doing bad things for what they believe is a good reason. They think the end justifies the means.”
Snowden said the policies of the U.S. government often end up creating unintentional harm.
“The drone program creates more terrorists than it kills,” he said as an example. "There was no Islamic State [in Iraq and Syria] before we started bombing those states.”
“The biggest threat we face in the region was born from our own policies,” Snowden added of the Middle East.
The European Parliament voted last month to encourage its member nations not to extradite Snowden to the United States.
Snowden resides in Russia, which first provided him asylum in 2013.