Edward Snowden suggested during an interview that aired on NBC Wednesday night that he believed he did the right thing in making classified U.S. government information available to the news media.
"There have been times throughout American history where what is right is not the same as what is legal," Snowden said during the hour-long interview that aired from Moscow in Russia, where Snowden has been granted asylum. "Sometimes, to do the right thing you have to break the law," he said.
During the conversation with NBC's Brian Williams, Snowden was critical of the war in Iraq and questioned the breadth of the government's legal authority when it comes to surveillance. He also said he can live with what he has done.
"Being a patriot means knowing when to protect your country, knowing when to protect your constitution, knowing when to protect your countrymen from the ... encroachments of adversaries and those adversaries don't have to be foreign countries," he said. "I may have lost the ability to travel but I've gained the ability to sleep at night ... and I'm comfortable with that."
Snowden also said he was more than just a low-level intelligence analyst or hacker, as the Obama administration and news media have portrayed him.
He said he worked undercover for the CIA and the National Security Agency.
"I was trained as a spy in sort of the traditional sense of the word, in that I lived and worked undercover overseas — pretending to work in a job that I'm not — and even being assigned a name that was not mine," the master secrets spiller told NBC News in his first interview with a U.S. TV network.
Portions of the interview conducted last week also were broadcast Tuesday night and Wednesday morning.
Snowden, who was granted temporary asylum in Russia after revealing details of U.S. spying activities to journalists, told Williams he wants to return to the United States — when intelligence-gathering programs targeting Americans are overhauled.
"I don't think there's ever been any question that I'd like to go home," he said. "My priority is not about myself. It's about making sure that these programs are reformed — and that the family that I left behind, the country that I left behind — can be helped by my actions."
Addressing the "somewhat misleading" characterizations of his skills, Snowden portrayed himself as "a technical specialist ... a technical expert."
"I don't work with people. I don't recruit agents. What I do is I put systems to work for the United States. And I've done that at all levels from — from the bottom on the ground all the way to the top," Snowden said.