We continued our correspondence. He was capable of melodrama but wrote with some eloquence about his beliefs.
"The internet is on principle a system that you reveal yourself to in order to fully enjoy, which differentiates it from, say, a music player," he wrote. "It is a TV that watches you. The majority of people in developed countries spend at least some time interacting with the Internet, and Governments are abusing that necessity in secret to extend their powers beyond what is necessary and appropriate."
What about legitimate threats to national security?
"We managed to survive greater threats in our history . . . than a few disorganized terrorist groups and rogue states without resorting to these sorts of programs," he wrote. "It is not that I do not value intelligence, but that I oppose . . . omniscient, automatic, mass surveillance. . . . That seems to me a greater threat to the institutions of free society than missed intelligence reports, and unworthy of the costs."
Did he impute evil motives to his former colleagues, or the White House?
"Analysts (and government in general) aren't bad guys, and they don't want to think of themselves as such," he replied. But he said they labored under a false premise that "if a surveillance program produces information of value, it legitimizes it. . . . In one step, we've managed to justify the operation of the Panopticon" - an 18th-century design by British philosopher Jeremy Bentham for comprehensive surveillance of a prison population.
On Thursday, before The Post published its first story, I made contact on a new channel. He was not expecting me there and responded in alarm.
"Do I know you?" he wrote.
I sent him a note on another channel to verify my digital "fingerprint," a precaution we had been using for some time. Tired, I sent the wrong one. "That is not at all the right fingerprint," he wrote, preparing to sign off. "You're getting MITM'd." He was talking about a "man in the middle" attack, a standard NSA technique to bypass encryption. I hastily corrected my error.
"The police already visited my house (in Hawaii) this morning" with questions on his whereabouts, he wrote, explaining his jitters. "It obviously has a profound and intimidating impact on my family."
Despite our previous dispute about publishing the PRISM document in full, Snowden said he did not intend to release a pile of unedited documents upon the world. "I don't desire to enable the Bradley Manning argument that these were released recklessly and unreviewed," he said.
On Sunday afternoon, as his name was released to the world, Snowden chatted with me live from a Hong Kong hotel room, not far from a CIA base in the U.S. Consulate.
"There's no precedent in my life for this kind of thing," he wrote. "I've been a spy for almost all of my adult life - I don't like being in the spotlight."
I asked him once more which of the two Veraxes he expected to become: the happy ending or life behind bars?
"That's up to the global public," he typed back. "If asylum is offered, we'll have the first example. If not, we'll have the second. I am prepared for both."