When John Oliver announced that Last Week Tonight would be on break last week, few people knew that the host had flown to Russia to interview Edward Snowden for the show’s “Government Surveillance” episode. “Last week, I spent 48 paranoid hours in Moscow,” Oliver says in the Snowden segment, which begins around the 13:40 mark of the above clip. “Arguably the last place on Earth where you can find an overweight Joseph Stalin impersonator arguing with an unconvincing fake Lenin.”
Snowden is an hour late to the interview, which worries Oliver that the infamous NSA leaker might not show up. (He bets “2,000 rubles. . . he doesn’t make it, without understanding how much that is.”) But when “Edward Fucking Snowden, the most famous hero and/or traitor in recent American history” does arrive, he takes part in a conversation equal parts informative and hilarious.
After admitting he does “miss Hot Pockets very much,” Snowden talks about the NSA’s worrying surveillance prowess. “The NSA has the greatest surveillance capabilities that we’ve ever seen in history,” he says. “What they will argue is that they don’t use this for nefarious purposes against American citizens. In some ways, that’s true. But the real problem is that they’re using these capabilities to make us vulnerable to them and then say[ing], ‘I have a gun pointed at your head. I’m not gonna pull the trigger. Trust me.'”
Snowden says that leaking sensitive national security documents to journalists in 2013 was a risk – but it was worth it to help inform the American public. “Is it a conversation that we have the capacity to have?” Oliver responds. “Because it’s so complicated we don’t fundamentally understand it.” In order to make the issue more relatable for Americans, the host connects all facets of the subject to one topic: “This is the most visible line in the sand for most people: Can they see my dick?”
“The good news is there’s no program named the Dick-Pic Program,” Snowden says, before playing a game of NSA “Dick or No Dick.” Snowden adds that, for the record, he doesn’t think people should cease their crotch-selfie habits: “You shouldn’t change your behavior because a government agency somewhere is doing the wrong thing. If we sacrifice our values because we’re afraid, we don’t care about those values very much.” (“That is a pretty inspiring answer to the question, ‘Hey, why did you just send me a picture of your dick?'” Oliver cracks. “Because I love America, that’s why.”)
“So there you have it, America — all of us should now be equipped to have this vital debate,” Oliver says in summary. “Because by June 1st, it is imperative we have a rational, adult conversation about whether our safety is worth living in a country of barely-regulated, government-sanctioned Dick Sheriffs.”