In his first American television interview, Edward Snowden defended his disclosure of the American government's use of surveillance programs to spy on its own people, and described himself as a patriot for trying to stop violations of the Constitution.
"I may have lost my ability to travel," Snowden said. "But I've gained the ability to go to sleep at night and to put my head on the pillow and feel comfortable that I've done the right thing even when it was the hard thing. And I'm comfortable with that."
Snowden met for about five hours last week with "NBC Nightly News" anchor Brian Williams at a hotel in Moscow, where Snowden is living in exile while facing U.S. felony charges
Snowden walked out of the NSA with tens of thousands of documents on thumb drives, documents that he says he has released to journalists. These documents disclosed the global reach of U.S. intelligence, including descriptions of government surveillance of U.S. telephone and email records, tapping of undersea fiber-optic cables carrying internet traffic, and accessing Yahoo and Google's internal user data without either company's knowledge.
In the wide-ranging and provocative interview, Snowden:
-Suggested that a deal could be reached with the U.S. government for him to come home, either through a clemency, an amnesty, or an agreement to serve a short prison term. Legal sources tell NBC News that very preliminary conversations have already taken place between Snowden's attorneys and the U.S. government.
-Said he had tried to go through channels before leaking documents to journalists, repeatedly raising objections inside the NSA, in writing, to its widespread use of surveillance. But he said he was told, "more or less, in bureaucratic language, 'You should stop asking questions.'" Two U.S. officials confirmed Wednesday that Snowden sent at least one email to the NSA's office of general counsel raising policy and legal questions.
-Described his years as a member of the U.S. intelligence community, describing his training as a spy in addition to his technical work as an NSA contractor and CIA employee. U.S. intelligence officials acknowledged to NBC News on Wednesday that Snowden in fact had been a CIA employee, and had passed the routine psychological testing for employees.
-Described his arc from enthusiastic supporter of American foreign policy, who enlisted for U.S. Army special operations training during the Iraq War, to a disillusioned intelligence worker who said he came to believe that the government took advantage of the September 11 terror attack to overreach into the private lives of all Americans.
When Williams asked, "Do you see yourself as a patriot," Snowden answered immediately.
"I do," he said. "I think patriot is a word that's -- that's thrown around so much that it can devalued nowadays. But being a patriot doesn't mean prioritizing service to government above all else. Being a patriot means knowing when to protect your country, knowing when to protect your Constitution, knowing when to protect your countrymen from the -- the violations of and encroachments of adversaries. And those adversaries don't have to be foreign countries. They can be bad policies. They can be officials who, you know, need a little bit more accountability. They can be mistakes of government and — and simple overreach and — and things that — that should never have been tried, or — or that went wrong."
For a full report on the interview, visit NBCnews.com.