By Matthew Cole and Erin McClam
Edward Snowden, in a new claim from his NBC News exclusive interview with Brian Williams, compared the criticism leveled against him to what the Nixon administration said about the release of damaging Vietnam War documents.
Snowden made the claim in an excerpt of the interview released Thursday. The extended interview, his first with an American television network, aired Wednesday in an NBC primetime special.
Snowden compared himself to Daniel Ellsberg, who in 1971 leaked what became known as the Pentagon Papers to The New York Times. They showed that the government was systematically misleading the public about U.S. involvement in Vietnam.
The Nixon administration tried to block publication of the papers but lost at the Supreme Court.
“So what’s interesting is that we see the exact same language, the exact same accusations being leveled against whistleblowers, being labeled against any critic of any government program throughout history, throughout time,” Snowden told Williams.
“Daniel Ellsberg got the exact same language leveled against him by the Nixon administration. They said it was going to cause grave damage, that it was irreversible harm, that our national security had been harmed, that he was going to put American lives at risk. But we’ve had so many years, decades since Daniel Ellsberg’s Pentagon Papers were revealed. And yet none of that came to pass.”
Ellsberg has staunchly defended Snowden. He told HuffPost Live last year that Snowden’s revelations had unmasked “not only the capability of a police state, but certain beginnings of it right now.”
Williams had confronted Snowden with remarks by Keith Alexander, a former director of the National Security Agency, who said that Snowden had done “significant and irreversible damage to the nation.”
Alexander suggested that Snowden had essentially turned over the playbook to the enemy. He said there was “concrete proof that terrorist groups and others are taking action and making changes. And it’s going to make our job tougher.”
Snowden’s response: “I point out Keith Alexander is I would say one of the primary officials most responsible for these abuses. He was personally embarrassed by these revelations.”