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Edward Snowden Tells His Story In New Memoir, 'Permanent Record'


Now to Edward Snowden. To some, he's a hero who blew the whistle on U.S. government surveillance programs, including the National Security Agency's collection of Americans' phone records. To others, he's a criminal who stole government property, violated the Espionage Act and put U.S. national security at risk. Well, Snowden has been living in Russia these last six years, and now he is telling his story in a memoir called "Permanent Record." Edward Snowden spoke today with my colleague Scott Simon, the host of Weekend Edition, and Scott is here to share all.

Hey, Scott.

SCOTT SIMON, BYLINE: Thanks very much.

KELLY: So how'd you go in? What was your first question?

SIMON: Are you naive enough to think Vladimir Putin is going to let you stay in Moscow for six years without getting something in return?

KELLY: Good first question.

SIMON: He said that he thought the Russians were getting pretty much what they wanted out of him by just his presence in Moscow. He has a story in the book where he gets off the plane, and Russian intelligence agents meet him. And they say, you know, life for a person in your situation can be very difficult without friends who can help. Is there some information that you can share with us? And he says he refused.

EDWARD SNOWDEN: If I had played ball, I would've left day one on a limo. You know, I would've been living in a palace. You would see them giving me parades in Red Square. The reality is this. I had destroyed my access to all of the classified material that I provided to journalists before leaving Hong Kong precisely because I didn't know what was going to happen next.

SIMON: And Snowden said he thinks the Russian government is getting just what they want to by being able to say that they gave him a place to stay when the U.S. government wanted to put him on trial for alerting the world to U.S. intelligence efforts to monitor phone calls and - including, you recall, Angela Merkel's mobile phone.

KELLY: Famously so, yeah - Angela Merkel's cellphone. So just to make sure I'm clear, he categorically denies he gave anything to Russian intelligence, and he says Russia is only putting him up in order to thumb its nose at the U.S.

SIMON: Yes, in so many words. He says that he didn't give this information to a foreign power.


SIMON: He thinks that's important to note, but to journalists who could make their own judgments. And he says, six years later, he has not seen a news report that some U.S. intelligence agent or asset has been rounded up or a human rights activist has been eliminated because of anything he helped reveal.

KELLY: So he maintains he did nothing wrong. Did you ask why not then come back to the U.S., stand trial and answer for what he did?

SIMON: Yes, and I can't say we really got a straight answer. I cited a few heroes of civil disobedience to him who stood trial and went to prison for their beliefs, and Snowden said he found them a great inspiration, but not one he wants to emulate.

KELLY: Not a path he's going to follow, right?

SIMON: He says if he returned to the U.S., he wouldn't be able to have a public trial, and he could wind up spending the rest of his life in silence, in prison. And he thinks that would deter whistleblowers in the future.

KELLY: It was a fascinating moment to speak with Edward Snowden because even as you were talking, there are these reports that the Russian government...

SIMON: Yeah.

KELLY: ...Has been rounding up political dissidents there. Did Snowden know about that?

SIMON: He did. I'm not sure in what detail. He said he didn't like it. He said the Putin regime has what he called not a strong record on human rights. If you follow him on social media, he has frequently criticized the Russian government by name. It's interesting, though, Mary Louise - in our conversation, he barely mentions Vladimir Putin by name. It's always the Russian government.

We asked once again why he thought Russia had been willing to let him live in Moscow. And he said the Russian government doesn't get many chances to do the right thing. And by that, he meant harbor political dissidents. You can hear the whole exchange and lots more on Saturday.

KELLY: I look forward to hearing what else you did ask him and how he answers it.

That's NPR's Scott Simon previewing his interview with Edward Snowden, which we are going to hear more of on Weekend Edition.

Thank you, Scott.

SIMON: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.