By now, you’ve likely heard of Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor who leaked secret documents to the press regarding that agency’s electronic surveillance activities. From Glenn Greenwald’s excellent coverage for The Guardian, here are a few of the most interesting passages from interviews with Snowden.
From the moment he decided to disclose numerous top-secret documents to the public, he was determined not to opt for the protection of anonymity. “I have no intention of hiding who I am because I know I have done nothing wrong,” he said.
Despite these fears, he remained hopeful his outing will not divert attention from the substance of his disclosures. “I really want the focus to be on these documents and the debate which I hope this will trigger among citizens around the globe about what kind of world we want to live in.” He added: “My sole motive is to inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them.”
He has had “a very comfortable life” that included a salary of roughly $200,000, a girlfriend with whom he shared a home in Hawaii, a stable career, and a family he loves. “I’m willing to sacrifice all of that because I can’t in good conscience allow the US government to destroy privacy, internet freedom and basic liberties for people around the world with this massive surveillance machine they’re secretly building.”
“All my options are bad,” he said. The US could begin extradition proceedings against him, a potentially problematic, lengthy and unpredictable course for Washington. Or the Chinese government might whisk him away for questioning, viewing him as a useful source of information. Or he might end up being grabbed and bundled into a plane bound for US territory.
“Yes, I could be rendered by the CIA. I could have people come after me. Or any of the third-party partners. They work closely with a number of other nations. Or they could pay off the Triads. Any of their agents or assets,” he said.
“We have got a CIA station just up the road — the consulate here in Hong Kong — and I am sure they are going to be busy for the next week. And that is a concern I will live with for the rest of my life, however long that happens to be.”
He left the CIA in 2009 in order to take his first job working for a private contractor that assigned him to a functioning NSA facility, stationed on a military base in Japan. It was then, he said, that he “watched as Obama advanced the very policies that I thought would be reined in”, and as a result, “I got hardened.”
The primary lesson from this experience was that “you can’t wait around for someone else to act. I had been looking for leaders, but I realised that leadership is about being the first to act.”
“I carefully evaluated every single document I disclosed to ensure that each was legitimately in the public interest,” he said. “There are all sorts of documents that would have made a big impact that I didn’t turn over, because harming people isn’t my goal. Transparency is.”
And from a second piece with a straight-up interview:
Q: Why did you decide to become a whistleblower?
A: “The NSA has built an infrastructure that allows it to intercept almost everything. With this capability, the vast majority of human communications are automatically ingested without targeting. If I wanted to see your emails or your wife’s phone, all I have to do is use intercepts. I can get your emails, passwords, phone records, credit cards.
“I don’t want to live in a society that does these sort of things … I do not want to live in a world where everything I do and say is recorded. That is not something I am willing to support or live under.”
Q: What do the leaked documents reveal?
A: “That the NSA routinely lies in response to congressional inquiries about the scope of surveillance in America. I believe that when [senator Ron] Wyden and [senator Mark] Udall asked about the scale of this, they [the NSA] said it did not have the tools to provide an answer. We do have the tools and I have maps showing where people have been scrutinised most. We collect more digital communications from America than we do from the Russians.”
Q: What is your reaction to Obama denouncing the leaks on Friday while welcoming a debate on the balance between security and openness?
A: “My immediate reaction was he was having difficulty in defending it himself. He was trying to defend the unjustifiable and he knew it.”
Q: Washington-based foreign affairs analyst Steve Clemons said he overheard at the capital’s Dulles airport four men discussing an intelligence conference they had just attended. Speaking about the leaks, one of them said, according to Clemons, that both the reporter and leaker should be “disappeared”. How do you feel about that?
A: “Someone responding to the story said ‘real spies do not speak like that’. Well, I am a spy and that is how they talk. Whenever we had a debate in the office on how to handle crimes, they do not defend due process - they defend decisive action. They say it is better to kick someone out of a plane than let these people have a day in court. It is an authoritarian mindset in general.”
Both of these pieces are very much worth reading in entirety. Also worth a read is Timothy Lee’s piece for The Washington Post, Has the US become the type of nation from which you have to seek asylum?
Four decades ago, Daniel Ellsberg surrendered to federal authorities to face charges of violating the Espionage Act. During his trial, he was allowed to go free on bail, giving him a chance to explain his actions to the media. His case was eventually thrown out after it was revealed that the government had wiretapped him illegally.
Bradley Manning, a soldier who released classified documents to WikiLeaks in 2010, has had a very different experience. Manning was held for three years without trial, including 11 months when he was held in de facto solitary confinement. During some of this period, he was forced to sleep naked at night, allegedly as a way to prevent him from committing suicide. The United Nations’ special rapporteur on torture has condemned this as “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in violation of Article 16 of the convention against torture.”