Edward Snowden Tells John Oliver the Reaction to His Leaks Is 'Vindication'

Snowden
"Last Week Tonight" host John Oliver interviews Edward Snowden in Moscow. Last Week Tonight with John Oliver/YouTube

Last Week Tonight host John Oliver flew to Moscow to ask Edward Snowden about the issue that really matters to Americans: How safe are our naked photos from government spying?

Oliver sat down with the National Security Agency (NSA) leaker for a rare, wide-ranging interview that ranges from serious discussion about journalistic responsibility (Snowden: "In journalism we have to accept that some mistakes will be made") to sophomoric puns about intimate photos. ("The good news is, there isn't a program named The Dick Pic Program," Snowden said of the NSA's mass surveillance efforts, which he brought to national attention in an unprecedented June 2013 document leak. "The bad news is they're all still collecting everybody's information—including your dick pics.")

Oliver also asked Snowden to reflect on his leaks from nearly two years ago. "I was initially terrified that this was going to be a three-day story, [that] everybody was going to forget about it," the former NSA contractor revealed. When he saw how much interest and outrage the leak sparked around the world, "it felt like vindication." He laughed when showed footage of Americans in Times Square failing to identify who Edward Snowden is (or confusing the whistle-blower with WikiLeaks Editor-in-Chief Julian Assange).

"I did this to give the American people a chance to decide for themselves what type of government they want to have," he said.

From these random man-on-the-street-style interviews, Oliver concluded that Americans only care about government surveillance if it means someone is looking at their intimate photos. So the host repeatedly, and amusingly, swayed the discussion so Snowden would have to frame his points about privacy in terms of dick pics.

"Even if you sent [a private photo] to somebody within the United States, your wholly domestic communication between you and your wife can go from New York to London and back and get caught up in the database," Snowden explained.

So, Oliver concluded, the lesson should be "don't take pictures of your dick."

But Snowden isn't ready to give up that right. "If we sacrifice our values because we're afraid," he responded, "we don't care about our values very much."

It's been a big day for Snowden. Just hours after his Last Week Tonight interview aired, a group of artists secretly installed a statue of the exiled whistle-blower in Brooklyn's Fort Greene Park. Snowden last granted an American TV interview in May, when he sat down with then NBC Night News anchor Brian Williams.