Former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden tried to negotiate with government officials about being able to stand trial for alleged crimes, he said in an interview with the New Yorker on Saturday.
“I had told the government again and again in negotiations if they’re prepared to offer an open trial, a fair trial, in the same way that Dan Ellsberg got, and I’m allowed to make my case before a jury, I would love to do so,” he said over a video feed. “But they declined.”
Ellsberg, who released the controversial Pentagon Papers in 1971 that detailed U.S. decision-making in Vietnam, essentially faced the same set of charges levied against Snowden. Ellsberg wrote in a May op-ed that even though his opportunity to speak at his own trial was limited, it would be even worse for Snowden.
Last June, federal prosecutors charged Snowden with two violations under the Espionage Act: “unauthorized communication of national defense information” and “willful communication of classified communications intelligence information to an unauthorized person,” in addition to a theft charge.
Snowden also invoked other recent whistleblowers, including former NSA official Thomas Drake and Chelsea Manning, who leaked materials to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks.
“In my case, and all of the cases in the last decade, we’ve seen the way the law is being used in whistle-blowing cases has changed,” he said. “You’re actually forbidden now from making a public interest defense if you’re charged under the Espionage Act.”
Snowden again pushed back on criticism from some officials that he could have handled his complaints about the NSA differently.
While it appears as if existing law and a section of an Obama administration policy may have protected him for sharing classified information, it does not protect him from retaliation.
Drake, for example, shared documents about waste and abuse within the NSA with inspector generals for his own agency and the Defense Department, even going to the House and Senate intelligence panels. He was prosecuted on 10 felony charges after ultimately going to a reporter at the Baltimore Sun out of frustration.
“There were no proper channels through which I could report these concerns to independent actors who could review it and change things. All of the channels led to the officials who authorized these programs in secret, without public consent,” Snowden said on Saturday.
“That’s a really serious concern because when we think about the way government works in America, the way Democracy works in America, and more broadly liberal society’s function around the world – they function on the consent of the governed. And consent is not meaningful if it’s not informed,” he continued.
“If officials are making decisions for us, behind closed doors, if they’re authorizing operations on the decision of secret courts… and they all say, ‘This is OK, this is OK, this is OK,’ but the minute these issues hit a newspaper, we see something completely different.”
A massive debate surrounding the American government’s surveillance practices after Snowden leaked NSA documents hit the Washington Post and the Guardian earlier last year.
When Snowden was asked on Saturday if Mills was angry with him upon their reunion, he chuckled.
"I’ll leave that to the investigative journalists," he said.
After being prodded, he admitted that "she was not entirely pleased."
"But at the same time, it was an incredible reunion," he added. "She understood that [the mission of leaking the NSA documents] meant a lot to me."
"Although she had a very, very, challenging year – and I’ll leave it to her to discuss that when and if she’s ever ready – it was a meeting I’ll never forget," he said.