Vanity Fair Exclusive: Snowden, Hero or Traitor?

The Snowden Saga: NSA Whistleblower Opens Up in Exclusive Narrative

Snowden: “This post-terror generation rejects the idea that we have to burn down our village in order to save it, that the only way to defend the Constitution is to tear it up.”

April 9, 2014

by Lauren McCauley, staff writer



(Photo Illustration by Sean McCabe / Vanity Fair)


“There’s a limit to the amount of incivility and inequality and inhumanity that each individual can tolerate,” said NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, in a yet-to-be published exclusive interview with Vanity Fair. “I crossed that line.”

In what has been dubbed the first comprehensive account of the “Snowden saga,” Vanity Fair on Thursday is publishing a 20,000-word narrative — the final result of three reporters dedicating months to research, travel, and interviews with scores of people connected to the story, including the whistleblower himself.

The story “is more than just a gripping and astonishing tale,” writes VF editor Graydon Carter. “It is a warning shot.”

In a preview of the story, Vanity Fair special correspondent Bryan Burrough and contributing editors Suzanna Andrews and Sarah Ellison released some of the whistleblower’s musings on his motivation for exposing the NSA’s vast spy operations and his impressions of the impact the disclosures have had.

“What we’re seeing today in America is a new political movement that crosses party lines,” Snowden told the reporters, speaking of his motivations. “This post-terror generation rejects the idea that we have to burn down our village in order to save it — that the only way to defend the Constitution is to tear it up.”

In the interview, Snowden rejects rumors that he worked as a foreign agent, or that he possesses a “doomsday cache” of information and currently holds over a million documents:

Look at the language officials use in sworn testimony about these records: ‘could have,’ ‘may have,’ ‘potentially.’ They’re prevaricating. Every single one of those officials knows I don’t have 1.7 million files, but what are they going to say? What senior official is going to go in front of Congress and say, ‘We have no idea what he has, because the N.S.A.’s auditing of systems holding hundreds of millions of Americans’ data is so negligent that any high-school dropout can walk out the door with it?’

“I know exactly how many documents I have,” Snowden continues. “Zero.”

Also, the whistleblower challenges allegations made by NSA deputy director Rick Ledgett, who led the internal investigation of Snowden, that he never lodged a formal complaint regarding the NSA’s misdeeds.

The N.S.A. at this point not only knows I raised complaints, but that there is evidence that I made my concerns known to the N.S.A.’s lawyers, because I did some of it through e-mail. I directly challenge the N.S.A. to deny that I contacted N.S.A. oversight and compliance bodies directly via e-mail and that I specifically expressed concerns about their suspect interpretation of the law, and I welcome members of Congress to request a written answer to this question [from the N.S.A.].

The complete digital article will be available for download on Thursday, April 10. Along with the article, Vanity Fair created this two minute animation:

For a preview, see this:

from A Tense Few Days in Hong Kong:


Once the first stories were published, Snowden wanted The Guardian to identify and interview him so he could state his motivations, to own his story. MacAskill repeatedly tried to talk him out of it. He had three sons around Snowden’s age and kept thinking what he would want any of them to do in such a situation: if Snowden went public, MacAskill knew, he would be throwing away everything he had ever known—his career, his girlfriend, probably his freedom. “I thought, This is a kid that’s going to prison for the rest of his life,” MacAskill recalls. “I kept saying, ‘Look, you should remain anonymous—the stories are just as good without you. As soon as your name comes out, your life is over.’ But he knew there would be inquiries at the N.S.A., and he didn’t want to put his colleagues through all that.”



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