Snowden also told the Post's Barton Gellman — one of three reporters to whom he has leaked documents — that he has "no relationship with" nor "loyalties to" Russia or China.
"If I defected at all, I defected from the government to the public," Snowden said.
The oath of allegiance he signed was "not an oath of secrecy," Snowden said. It was "an oath to the Constitution. That is the oath that I kept."
He declared victory over the NSA.
"For me, in terms of personal satisfaction, the mission's already accomplished," he said. "I already won. As soon as the journalists were able to work, everything that I had been trying to do was validated. Because, remember, I didn't want to change society. I wanted to give society a chance to determine if it should change itself."
Snowden insisted he is "working to improve" not destroy the NSA. Only because congressional and judicial overseers had not fulfilled their mandate — had, in fact, "abdicated their responsibility" — did he feel obligated to act.
Snowden wants the agency to pursue individual targeting rather than vacuum huge amounts of data, he told Gellman somewhere in Moscow.
"I don't care whether you're the Pope or Osama bin Laden. As long as there's an individualized, articulable, probable cause for targeting these people as legitimate foreign intelligence, that's fine," he said. "I don't think it's imposing a ridiculous burden by asking for probable cause. Because, you have to understand, when you have access to the tools the NSA does, probable cause falls out of trees."
Snowden insisted that he tried to dissent from within recalling that he told colleagues that "we are collecting more in the United States on Americans than we are on Russians in Russia."
According to Snowden, "What the government wants is . . . total awareness. The question is, is that something we should be allowing?"
Snowden had recommended to superiors that the NSA adopt failsafe measures to require a second set of credentials for any attempt to access security and auditing controls. "Sure, a whistleblower could use these things, but so could a spy."
After he himself removed a treasure drove of secrets, the NSA put these controls in place.
Gellman described Snowden as someone who does not like to talk about himself; as an "orderly thinker with an engineer's approach to problem-solving."
He said Snowden was "relaxed and animated over two days of nearly unbroken conversation, fueled by burgers, pasta, ice cream and Russian pastry."
Snowden, 30, described himself as goal-oriented, "ascetic," and as someone who does not "have a lot of needs."
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