NSA whistleblower comes forward: Edward Snowden

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.

Ed-Snowden

NSA whistleblower Ed Snowden.

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.

Here’s a bit more from Snowden, via the Washington Post, which he was also in contact with, in addition to the Guardian:

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.”

One does wonder why he went to work for the CIA and the NSA in the first place, if he has such a fear of omniscient state power.  From the outside, that is the definition of CIA, and moreso, NSA.  You just don’t join those organizations if you have a fear of Big Brother.
Having said that, it’s still possible that any government agency, even a spy one, can take a step too far, and turn a straight-laced believer into a righteous whistleblower.


Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown (1989); and worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, and as a stringer for the Economist. Frequent TV pundit: O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline & Reliable Sources. Bio, .

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  • apocalypse basel

    Google tracks everybody – even ME.

    But I am not silly – in fact, Google and the Internet
    are my best slaves. We need more Lisbeth Salanders, i.e., perfectly formed
    shamans, who are still able to hunt and to lay down „false“ tracks… Hence, the
    fight in the Internet has already begun…

    The only good „religion“ was the shamanism of the old
    – but now eradicated – hunter-gatherers. Shamanism is also genetically
    determined, but it cannot be learned socially like the jewish memes everywhere
    (christians, muslims, protestants, capitalists, communists-marxists, Nazis,
    Hollywood, etc. etc.).

    For more than 2000 years, the
    agrarian-hypersocial-sedentary jewish memes rule the world…

    When does this circumcised-traumatized bullshit end?

    The most complex beings ever produced by nature were
    hunting shamans.

    And they are already THERE, hunting EVERYWHERE: youtube.com/watch?v=XlbCP92XMEM

  • Sweetie

    Translation of the Greenspan quote:

    “Keep this quiet, so the elite can make a quick buck based on this insider information.”

  • Sweetie

    The idea used by governments to promote secrecy, other than TERRORISM, is that it’s necessary due to nationalism, competition between nations. The problem, of course, is that the citizenry is supposed to be complacently kept in complete darkness, a darkness just as complete as the darkness the nation ostensibly wishes other nations to be in. Of course, the elite leadership of other nations will be let in on most things, at special meetings. If they aren’t let in, they will have spies and hackers who will get the info anyway. So, it becomes more a matter of keeping the rabble of each nation quiet. Greenspan sums up security theater here, when speaking in a Fed meeting about the housing bubble in 2004:

    “We run the risk, by laying out the pros and cons of a particular argument, of inducing people to join in on the debate, and in this regard it is possible to lose control of a process that only we fully understand.”

  • Delonjo Barber

    John, I’m surprised at you!

    “There’s a reason behind, and a need for, some government secrecy.” Why? So you can go to bed at night at the altar of ignorance?

    Okay. So who is to decide what is secret and what’s not? And where is this magical, nonpartisan person supposed to come from? The longer I read your blog, the more and more conservative you become. You might not like it but it’s the truth.

  • AnitaMann

    I don’t disagree that the technology/scope is new. I mean that every leader has used every power available to him at the time for surveillance. And unless there is a pushback – say the Church Commission – the power remains with the next leader, and grows. Comparing it to Nixon is a bit much. Nixon was paranoid and everything was about him and he acted more like a mob boss than a someone who’s convinced himself – Obama et al – that anything they do in the name of security is right and good.

  • AnitaMann

    Mainland China censors. Hong Kong does not.

  • benb

    What geek in his right mind would do what Snowden did and try to hide out in a country that actively censors the Internet?

  • lilyannerose

    How wonderfully cryptic!

  • lilyannerose

    Really? I think zombies are rather sweet, well that is when they are not groaning and trying to eat human flesh then they are merely annoying.

  • mirth

    Greenwald has said that Snowden has more to give us. A lot more.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    I know.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    I’m in agreement with you on Manning. If you’re gonna leak, you should only leak that which is clearly criminal or unconstitutional, not a great big honkin’ info-dump. But his treatment after his arrest has been inexcusable.

    Manning should have been treated humanely, given access to counsel, and been charged and tried promptly in a fair court of law before a jury of his peers.

  • Sweetie

    And the Supreme Court is better than the Congress.

  • Sweetie

    He’s a zombie. He’s out to get you.

  • Sweetie

    “First, the legal abomination known as the Patriot Act (sic) needs to be repealed.”

    You’ll need to repeal the current Congress.

  • Sweetie

    Not really. Technology has changed the paradigm dramatically.

  • Sweetie

    As long as Americans have their comforts, they’ll let the pols do whatever they like.

  • Sweetie

    “I have nothing to hide” is a fallacious response to criticism of excessive surveillance because it changes the subject. The subject is the excessive degree of the surveillance, not whether or not specific individuals have anything to hide.

  • Sweetie

    Assange already did that, and it made sense.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    What our government is calling “illegal leaker” can probably now be reclassified more accurately as “dissident.”

  • Naja pallida

    Exactly so. Exposing wrongdoing should not be a punishable offense. Not to say people should be allowed to throw around classified information all willy-nilly, as I am sure someone is reading into this. If something is released, an investigation should be undertaken to determine the potential criminality occurring, and penalties should be stiff for false reports, or things released where the person didn’t have all the appropriate information so couldn’t have understood what they were releasing.

    This is why I am so on the fence about Bradley Manning. Yes, he exposed many things which were criminal (and still not being addressed, I might add) but some of it was just embarrassing. There was simply no way he could have possibly known the entire extent of everything that he exposed, because he basically just dumped a huge pile of data, from several sources, covering a wide variety of topics, from over a period of years. There was a lot in there that was just run of the mill, every day, diplomatic chinwagging, which I don’t see rising to the level of warranting some kind of whistle-blowing. I don’t question his motives, I just worry about how the extent of what was released doesn’t all amount to reporting wrongdoing. How they are treating him after the fact is another issue entirely, and quite ridiculous… but the military will always have a different approach to justice than civilian agencies, which I think in itself needs to be fixed. So far, they’ve denied him pretty much every single right granted in the Constitution. short of forcing him to quarter soldiers in his house.

  • AnitaMann

    Isn’t it creepy that someone needs to seek asylum FROM the U.S. rather than IN the U.S.? There’s a whole lot more here than just what he exposed. It’s the whole private contracting infrastructure and the giant shrug we’ve been giving – most of us – to the idea that corporations can mine every detail of our lives to sell us crap. I hope this is more than a one or two news cycle story.

  • AnitaMann

    Big brother has been here for decades, under many presidents. Call it Prism, call it whatever. Not to excuse Obama, but he’s no more guilty than many other presidents. Just because he’s supposed to be on “our” side, makes this seem more egregious.

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    Well, I would certainly enjoy that delusion from the safety of a no extradition country when dealing with a an American court. Our Supreme Court, the highest in the land, is so corrupt and compromised it’s become a world embarrassment and laughing stock.

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    Very Like!

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    The callow youth meme? Oh please.

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    I would recommend reading Guy Debord’s “Society of the Spectacle.’ Google

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    Simple answer: No. It’s too late. Even the propaganda mirage is fading fast.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    What we really need a clear law stating that making public a crime — whether committed by an individual, organization, or government entity — is not and never shall be prosecuted as a crime in of itself. Even if classified information is revealed.

    We need way the hell more transparency in our government, because “Trust Us” never ends well.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    I concur with nearly every point you make. First, the legal abomination known as the Patriot Act (sic) needs to be repealed. And I would add, along with it, the unlimited open-ended, targetless war declaration known as the AUMF.

    I do agree that it’s foolish for people to think that posting stuff on FB and G+ and LinkedIn and the other social networking sites and then believing their info is private is sheer foolishness. But one would think that while gov’t could take note of and record that private email note between a married couple or two friends, the unsettling detail in all this is for us to learn that our government — which is only supposed to spy on its citizens with probable cause — actually is noting and recording every single piece of information. Every email, every financial transaction, every Amazon and eBay purchase, everything going into these new Cloud storage services — everything.

    And there’s another factor: If a low-level contractor can find all of this information, there’s no reason to believe that professional spooks from other nations can’t and haven’t already gotten it, too.

    In other words, the only ‘enemy’ here is the people, we citizens, who are increasingly being told that we’re not allowed to know what our government is doing behind our backs.

    One other thing I’ve been wondering about: How corporations will feel about the idea that their intellectual property is one Chinese government hack away from being stolen from these U.S. national data repositories. And that essentially, by hoovering up everything, the U.S. has essentially already stolen limitless intellectual properties.

  • Naja pallida

    Sorry, but government need for secrecy does not extend to criminal activity, even criminal activity with Congressional oversight. Every single federal law enforcement officer, as well as elected official, has to take an oath of office with wording that contains something to the effect of “I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic…” Hundreds of people have had to completely ignore that oath for this program to have ever been implemented in the first place. We’re just lucky that every now and then, one person actually takes it seriously.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    You have got to be kidding. After what they did to Bradley Manning? So that three or five years from now, a thoroughly broken man can shuffle into a sham courtroom and be psychologically unfit to defend himself? And likely to repeat the confession his interrogators have drilled into him?

    This presumes he’d get any kind of public trial whatsoever. Our government has made it clear that an assertion of ‘national security’ trumps every measure of law going back to and including the Magna Carta.

    Principles don’t require volunteering for psychological and physical torture just to make a point — because what would that point be anyway? That the American justice system has also been corrupted utterly to the service of the secret national security state? We already know this is the case. By remaining free, Snowden is available to explain the context of what he found, refute gov’t denials, and back up the leaks with additional details.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    The ultimate question: Will we, the people, do anything about it?

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    Tom Tomorrow’s comic on this is a must-read.

    http://www.dailykos.com/story/2013/06/10/1214540/-Five-stages

    ‘The Five Stages of Living in a National Surveillance State’.

    I know he’s riffing on the ‘five stages of grief’ meme, but he left out one — related to, but not identical to the ‘denial’ phase: Enabling Excuses. As in, “Why should anybody mind unless they have something to hide? I’m fine with a little inconvenience if it keeps us safe from terrorists. What’s a little lost liberty when compared to extra security? The Constitution isn’t a suicide pact after all.”

    I saw a pithy statement the other day: You can have a high-security police state or you can have freedom, liberty, and privacy. But you can’t have both.

  • nicho

    So far.

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    “he should have turned himself in to American authorities and faced a public trial” Oh yeah—a fair trial in America. —Like the Stalinist show circus that Manning is going through? If you think whistle blowing on state crime is callow—YOU are part of the problem.

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    Do your homework.

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    This is the biggest story of the decade!

  • FLL

    An argument based on Snowden’s age or appearance is a weak one. You haven’t responded to Snowden’s argument that the scope of domestic government surveillance should be determined not by whimsical policy, but by law, as held to constitutional scrutiny by the federal judiciary. Your present argument of “callow-29yo-youngster-just-turn-yourself-in” has little substance. Give your objections to Snowden another shot.

  • JayRandal

    This is quickly becoming a gigantic scandal not seen since infamous Watergate. President Obama shouldn’t have continued shady policies of prior Bush administration. Never the scandal itself that
    brings down a President it’s the cover-ups. Obama should quickly throw NSA under the bus, but like
    Nixon he is trying to claim he did nothing wrong. He is even trying to pass blame onto Congress.

  • FLL

    Snowden’s basic premise is sound: Policy, rather than law, controls the surveillance state, which means that any change in leadership could trigger tyranny. The scope of domestic government surveillance really should be defined by law, and those laws should, like any laws, be subject to the constitutional oversight of the federal judiciary. One of the definitions of being civilized is the rule of law. The NSA, as part of the Department of Defense, is answerable only to the president, rather than being bound by any set of laws, and the scope of domestic surveillance should be determined by the people through their legislators and federal judges, rather than a president (United States) or a warlord (Somalia), depending on the individual country.

  • nicho

    Callow? And you base that judgment on what?

  • JayRandal

    I commend Edward Snowden for having guts in revealing shady operations of NSA spying. He is a hero
    but some in Congress consider him a traitor. This nation is at a crossroads now. Do we as a nation desire despotism governance or Constitutional safeguards to be upheld? Obama is choosing despotism actions. Either he wakes up to turn against NSA otherwise he should be impeached.

  • nicho

    So are you saying that a great nation doesn’t deserve the truth?

  • Ceadrus

    This started under Bush and Puppet Master Chaney and the Republican Congress. You miss the whole point that this is beyond even what the President can stop. This is beyond the limit of our leaders being able to rein it in. The Horror now is that the Corporate Fascists have won. The Military/Industrial/Congressional complex has set up an Orwellian State, and no one is going to stop it EVER. Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden are SAINTs and HEROs.

  • dula

    You might have a point if we had a functioning government that honored the rule of law.

  • goulo

    Nothing wrong with being motivated by principles as well as a desire to avoid being tortured in isolated confinement for months or years before eventually getting a kangaroo court trial.

    His “crime” is trivial compared to the crimes he exposed. But his “crime” will be used as misdirection to avoid focusing attention on the crimes he exposed.

    Obama campaigned supporting and praising whistleblowers and transparency in government, but his actions speak louder than his words.

    It’s totally hypocritical that whistleblowers like Snowden get smeared and persecuted, instead of the people who commit the crimes they expose.

  • Indigo

    I can agree with Snowden that he “didn’t do anything wrong” even though he clearly tweaked Uncle Sam’s whiskers and definitely broke some law or other. So, in the Great Scheme of Things, his heart will no doubt weight lighter than the Feather of Justice when Anubis weighs that heart and he will pass through the Portal to be presented to Osiris, Lord of the Dead, in that Vast Beyond we will all enter in due time. However . . . he’s a living mortal right now and the United States government and its sycophants both at home and abroad are fully prepared to hound and prosecute him to the full extent of their capacity until he’s dead and gone and possibly forgotten. And that’s too bad.

    What he “exposed” is not new information, it’s a more coherent package than what we’ve seen in the past but it’s a package most of us could have assembled, had we taken the time to put it together. I’m appalled at the shoddy construction of the Power Point slides and the trivia in the content. Anyone capable of finding AmBlog on line, signing into overly complicated Disqus(t) and posting a comment here is also savvy enough to have a pretty good idea of how to data-mine that information from Facebook and G+ and others without breaking into a sweat. Yes, confidential information is harder to dig out, but it’s possible with the compliance of the “providers” who are, in the long run, merely banks of computers filled with the trivia that passes for our personal data. Ho-hum. I don’t think this is as big a deal as the privacy advocates contend. But I’ve long since gone on record, insisting that privacy is an obsolete concept. Not that that’s good thing but that that’s a factual thing.

    The problem is the nefarious Patriot Act. It must be revoked. But now to the question of how to revoke it . . . I don’t know. Clearly the petty tyrants at their desks want it right where it is. That one of those petty tyrants, Edward Snowden, had a change of heart is both gratifying and puzzling. He did? An ambitious young tech geek knowingly went to work for the Evil Empire and then changed his mind? What spiritual practice brought that on? There’s an x-factor in this story that doesn’t quite make sense. Color me sceptical (with a c, not a k!).

  • S1AMER

    Yes. Every high-profile trial in America is not only a trial of the proximal issue, but also a trial of the American judicial system itself and, by extension, of the country and its values.

  • Will

    LOL. Public trial? Like Manning?

  • lilyannerose

    This guy has more of a James O’Keefe vibe than a Daniel Ellsberg.

  • S1AMER

    Since when does a rather callow, 29-year-old contractor get to play god in American policy and politics?

    Don’s get me wrong: I’m deeply troubled at all the metadata-gathering and data-mining going on without apparent safeguards. But a youngster who grabs info and runs off to Hong Kong (!) needs serious, reasoned advice on what to release and where and how to release it.

    If Snowden is motivated solely by principles, he should have turned himself in to American authorities and faced a public trial in (and of?) the American judicial system.

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