In Depth

Edward Snowden: 'I am famously paranoid'

In a rare interview, whistleblower says he assumed being taken seriously 'would be a challenge'

WHISTLEBLOWER Edward Snowden has revealed he is “famously paranoid” in one of the few interviews he has given since fleeing America.

The former NSA contractor has made his revelations about the US government's pervasive surveillance techniques via documentary-maker Laura Poitras and The Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald.

But in a rare interview, with investigative journalist Peter Maass, published in the New York Times today, Snowden admits he did not expect the journalists to take him seriously at first.

“I know journalists are busy and had assumed being taken seriously would be a challenge, especially given the paucity of detail I could initially offer,” he says.

In fact, Greenwald initially ignored Snowden's messages, finding the encryption software the whistleblower asked him to download “annoying and complicated”.

Snowden says he was surprised that there were people in news organisations who did not know that “any unencrypted message sent over the internet is being delivered to every intelligence service in the world”.

He turned instead to Poitras, who was working on a documentary about surveillance. She followed his instructions to create a secure system for them to communicate and within six months she and Greenwald were on a plane to Hong Kong to collect thousands of classified surveillance documents.

When they met, 30-year-old Snowden says he had the impression the journalists were “annoyed” that he was younger than they might have expected.

But he says as soon as they were behind closed doors both parties were reassured by an “obsessive attention to precaution and bona fides”. Snowden adds that he was “particularly impressed by Greenwald's ability to operate without sleep for days at a time”.

Asked when he realised he could trust Poitras, Snowden replies: “We came to a point in the verification and vetting process where I discovered Laura was more suspicious of me than I was of her, and I’m famously paranoid.”

This is underlined by the way Maass carried out his interview. Few journalists have access to Snowden, who has only recently secured temporary asylum in Russia. Maass had to hold an encrypted question-and-answer session with Snowden via Poitras.

Unusually for someone so paranoid, Snowden has been allowing Poitras to film him as part of her documentary, something he admits most spies would “allergically avoid”.

He explains: “The weight of the situation actually made it easier to focus on what was in the public interest rather than our own. I think we all knew there was no going back once she turned that camera on, and the ultimate outcome would be decided by the world.”

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