Before Edward Snowden’s interview with NBC’s Brian Williams, body-language expert Dr. Nick Morgan considered Snowden a young guy who got a hold of a bunch of classified documents and was just telling his story about exposing intrusive American surveillance.
“I came away [from the NBC interview] with a very different impression,” Morgan, a top U.S. communication theorist and best-selling author, told Business Insider.” As a body-language expert, I’d say this is a disingenuous performance, which surprised me.”
Morgan said that although it’s difficult to pick up physical cues from a stranger on TV, a few aspects of the “second conversation” between the former NSA systems administrator and Williams stood out.
“Snowden’s stance is open to Brian Williams,” Morgan said. “His legs are much wider than Brian’s.” The effect is that Snowden’s body is “embracing” Brian, who sat cross-legged during the interview. Morgan noted that legs are harder to control than other cues, such as hand movements, so it came off as either genuinely deliberate or trained.
At the same time Snowden “is subordinating himself to Brian, allowing him to be the alpha male in the room” by slanting his head as he receives questions and slumping in his chair.
“In addition, his shoulders are a bit slumped forward,” Morgan said, noting that it also seemed intentional. “The overall effect is to keep his head and torso lower than Brian’s.”
The pitch of Snowden’s natural voice is probably a tenor, Morgan said, “and the pitch [during the interview] is lower to sound more authoritative. The result, to me, is fake … manufactured.”
Morgan also noticed that while Snowden was nervous — signaled by the ways he swallowed and blinked — the Moscow interview seemed very much an intellectual exercise because his “passions weren’t engaged.”
A particularly telling moment came when Brian Williams asked Snowden, “What is your relationship with the host government?” Morgan, who didn’t previously know that Snowden’s Moscow lawyer is a Putin loyalist linked to the FSB, or that Snowden lives in an undisclosed location under Russian state protection, was struck by Snowden’s lack of eye contact and the slowing of his voice as he denied having any relationship with the Kremlin.
“He was obviously lying,” Morgan said.
Further, a clear physical signal stood out to Morgan after Williams said, “People are going to find it hard to believe that President Putin hasn’t taken a run at you or what you know. You can state declaratively that that hasn’t happened?”
As Snowden answered, the former CIA technician “hid behind his hands,” which Morgan said can mean “thinking, nervousness, self-consciousness, introversion in general.”
Morgan stressed that body language “has many meanings” and “is why you have to consider it in context and in groups of gestures.”
In Morgan’s opinion, Snowden’s body language during the NBC interview suggests a “willed performance” by someone under a lot of pressure.
“This is a very smart kid who is trying to be something he’s not,” Morgan said. “And his body evidence is unconvincing.”
The result is that Dr. Morgan, who sympathized with Snowden during the past year, now believes that Snowden is hiding something.
“I wouldn’t trust anything the man said.” Morgan told Business Insider. “There is something else going on here.”