With his agreement, the Guardian released the name of the National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower who provided Glenn Greenwald and the Washington Post with classified documents about American eavesdropping technology. His name is Edward Snowden.
The documents Snowden leaked show that months ago, the US served Verizon a court order requiring it to immediate provide, on an ongoing basis, the details, but not contents, of all of its customer phone calls over a period of several months, and Verizon was complying.
And they show that the US is tapping into the servers of 9 huge Internet companies: Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube, and Apple.
Glenn has posted an interview with Snowden, and it’s quite interesting. First, to see that Snowden appears rather normal, and thoughtful about why did what he did. Second, he gets into some of his reasons for seeking refuge in Hong Kong, a part of China. Among them, Snowden says that he admires Hong Kong’s devotion to free speech (James Fallows had a few things to say about that). He also notes that Hong Kong – aka China – might be one of the few countries not to back down to American threats to extradite him.
Maybe not. But it is a bit creepy blowing the whistle on a country that you think is deceiving its people, and then seeking refuge in a country that deceives, and abuses, its people far more. And a country that just so happens to be our top competitor, some might even say nemesis.
Here’s the interview, more after that.
I’ve been reading a good number of stories about Snowden and, not surprising, many on the left consider him a hero. And he does sound thoughtful in the interview, and not just some kid freelancing for the publicity of it, or because he’s unstable. And I’ll give Snowden credit for this:
Snowden said that he admires both Ellsberg and Manning, but argues that there is one important distinction between himself and the army private, whose trial coincidentally began the week Snowden’s leaks began to make news.
“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.”
He purposely chose, he said, to give the documents to journalists whose judgment he trusted about what should be public and what should remain concealed.
Leaking classified documents is serious business, and it’s not something that I believe we should just welcome per se. There’s a reason behind, and a need for, some government secrecy. Especially in spy work. Unfortunately, that secrecy butts up against the need for transparency in order to keep government honest. Thus, the problem many have with the Verizon court order coming from a FISA court, which is not subject to the public checks and balances of a normal public courtroom. But as Andrew Sullivan notes, a good thing has the potential to go too far:
[A]ny system of such surveillance is inherently much easier to expose than ever before. There are more Edward Snowdens out there. And they have real power – just a different and asymmetric kind. In the end, the potential for disruption is as great as the potential for knowledge.
I asked him, at the risk of estrangement, how he could justify exposing intelligence methods that might benefit U.S. adversaries.
“Perhaps I am naive,” he replied, “but I believe that at this point in history, the greatest danger to our freedom and way of life comes from the reasonable fear of omniscient State powers kept in check by nothing more than policy documents.” The steady expansion of surveillance powers, he wrote, is “such a direct threat to democratic governance that I have risked my life and family for it.”