May 30, 2014
This NBC News handout
video frame grab shows
an NBC News Exclusive
interview with Brian Williams and Edward Snowden,
excerpted from the May 28,
2014 TV primetime special.
(AFP Photo / NBC NEWS /
Only around a quarter of the recent
NBC News interview with former intelligence
Edward Snowden made it to broadcast,
but unaired excerpts now online show that the network neglected to air
critical statements about the
When the four-hour sit-down between journalist Brian Williams and
Snowden made it to air on Wednesday night, NBC condensed roughly four hours
of conversation into a 60-minute time slot.
During an analysis of the full interview
afterwards, however, the network showed portions of the interview that
didn't make it into the primetime broadcast, including remarks from the
former National Security Agency contractor in which he questioned the
American intelligence community's inability to stop the September 11, 2001
In response to a question from Williams concerning a "non-traditional
enemy," Al-Qaeda, and how to prevent further attacks from that organization
and others, Snowden suggested that United States had the proper intelligence
ahead of 9/11 but failed to act.
"You know, and this is a key question that
the 9/11 Commission considered.
And what they found, in the post-mortem,
when they looked at all of the classified intelligence from all of the
different intelligence agencies, they found that we had all of the
information we needed as an intelligence community, as a classified
sector, as the national defense of the United States to detect this
plot," Snowden said.
"We actually had records of the phone calls
from the United States and out. The CIA knew who these guys were.
The problem was not that we weren't
collecting information, it wasn't that we didn't have enough dots, it
wasn't that we didn't have a haystack, it was that we did not understand
the haystack that we have."
"The problem with mass surveillance is that we're piling more hay on a
haystack we already don't understand, and this is the haystack of the
human lives of every American citizen in our country," Snowden
"If these programs aren't keeping us safe,
and they're making us miss connections - vital connections - on
information we already have, if we're taking resources away from
traditional methods of investigation, from law enforcement operations
that we know work, if we're missing things like the Boston Marathon
bombings where all of these mass surveillance systems, every domestic
dragnet in the world didn't reveal guys that the Russian intelligence
service told us about by name, is that really the best way to protect
Or are we - are we trying to throw money at
a magic solution that's actually not just costing us our safety, but our
rights and our way of life?"
Indeed, the director of the NSA during Snowden's
stint there, Gen. Keith Alexander, reportedly endorsed a method of
intelligence gathering in which the agency would collect quite literally all
the digital information it was capable of.
"Rather than look for a single needle in the
haystack, his approach was, ‘Let's collect the whole haystack,'" one
former senior US intelligence official recently told the Washington
"Collect it all, tag it, store it... And
whatever it is you want, you go searching for it."
In recent weeks, a leaked NSA document has
affirmed that under the helm of Alexander, the agency was told it should do
as much as possible with the information it gathers:
"sniff it all, know it all, collect it all,
process it all and exploit it all," according to the slide.
"They're making themselves dysfunctional by collecting all of this
data," Bill Binney, a former NSA employee-turned-whistleblower himself,
told the Daily Caller last year.
Like Snowden, Bill Binney has also argued
that the NSA's "collect it all" condition with regards to intelligence
gathering is deeply flawed.
"They've got so much collection capability
but they can't do everything. They're probably getting something on the
order of 80 percent of what goes up on the network.
So they're going into the telecoms who have
recorded all of the material that has gone across the network. And the
telecoms keep a record of it for I think about a year. They're asking
the telecoms for all the data so they can fill in the gaps.
So between the two sources of what they've
collected, they get the whole picture," Binney said.
Although NBC neglected to play Mr. Snowden's
remarks to Williams in which he questioned the efficiency of modern
intelligence gathering under the guise of being a counterterrorism tool, it
did air on television other remarks from the former contractor concerning
the terrorist attacks.
"It's really disingenuous for the government
to invoke and sort of scandalize our memories to sort of exploit the
national trauma that we all suffered together and worked so hard to come
through to justify programs that have never been shown to keep us safe,
but cost us liberties and freedoms that we don't need to give up and our
Constitution says we don't need to give up," he said in an excerpt
broadcast on air.