Glenn Greenwald talks domestic spying on ABC’s This Week

Here’s the transcript of Glenn Greenwald talking on ABC News’ “This Week with George Stephanopoulos,” about the story he broke this week, that a government court has been compelling Verizon to turn over its customers phone records to the National Security Agency for months now.

I’d also written a follow-up post discussing the implications of the Verizon revelation here.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Hello again. The secret struggle to balance national security and individual liberty broke out into open this week, after a series of blockbuster revelations, starting in The Guardian newspaper. We learned that the government has the capacity to track virtually every American phone call, and to scoop up impossibly vast quantities of data across the Internet.

And our first guest is The Guardian columnist getting these scoops, Glenn Greenwald. Thank you for joining us today, Mr. Greenwald. You are really on a roll. You broke another story yesterday showing the scale of the data collection programs. In March 2013, you report the government collected 97 billion pieces of data, almost all of it from outside the U.S. What’s the key finding here?

Glenn_greenwald_portraitGREENWALD: There are two key findings. One is that there are members of the Congress who have responsibility for oversight, for checking the people who run this vast secret apparatus of spying to make sure they are not abusing their power. These people in Congress have continuously asked for the NSA to provide basic information about how many Americans they are spying on, how many conversations and telephone and chats of — of Americans they are intercepting, and the NSA continuously tells them, we don’t have the capability to tell you that, to even give you a rough estimate.

So what these documents that we published show, that were marked top-secret to prevent the American people from learning about them, was that the NSA keeps extremely precise statistics, all the data that the senators amassed where that the NSA has falsely claimed does not exist. And the other thing that it does, as you said, is it indicates just how vast and massive the NSA is in terms of sweeping up all forms of communication around the globe, including domestically.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You also drew new criticism yesterday from the Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper. He called the disclosures reckless, said the rush to publish has created significant misimpressions and added that the articles are filled with inaccuracies. Your response to that?

GREENWALD: Every single time any major media outlet reports on something that the government is hiding, that political officials don’t want people to know, such as the fact that they are collecting the phone records of all Americans, regardless of any suspicion of wrongdoing? The people in power do exactly the same thing. They attack the media as the messenger and they try and discredit the story. This has been going back decades, ever since the Pentagon Papers were released by the New York Times, and political officials said, you are endangering national security.

The only thing we’ve endangered is the reputation of the people in power who are building this massive spying apparatus without any accountability who are trying to hide from the American people what it is that they are doing. There is no national security harm from letting people know that they are collecting all phone records, that they are tapping into the Internet, that they are planning massive cyber attacks both foreign and — and even domestic. These are things that the American people have a right to know. The only thing being damaged is the credibility of political officials and they way they exercise power in the dark.

STEPHANOPOULOS: One of the things you reported is that the government has, quote, “direct access” to the servers of massive internet firms, like Google and Microsoft and Facebook, and all the companies have come out and denied it. You see Google saying, “The U.S. government does not have direct access or a backdoor to the information stored in our data centers.” Similar statements from Facebook and Apple. And Mr. Clapper also said, “The U.S. government does not unilaterally obtain information.” Now, I take it there could be some semantic word games being played here. What’s your understanding about what is actually happening? Because it does appear that they don’t have direct access to the servers.

GREENWALD: Well, our story was very clear. What we said was that, and — and we presented it as the story from the start, was that we have top secret NSA documents that claim that there is a new program called The PRISM Program, in place since 2007 that provides, in the words of the NSA’s own documents, direct collection, directly from the servers of these companies. We then went to all of those companies named, and they said no, we don’t provide direct access to our servers, so there was a conflict, which is what we reported, that the NSA claims that they have direct access, the companies deny it.

Clearly, there are all kinds of negotiations taking place and all kinds of agreements that have been reached between these internet companies that store massive amounts of communication data about people around the world, and the government. We should have this debate out in the open. Let these companies that collect massive amounts of information about people, and the government, resolve this discrepancy in public. Tell us what it is exactly that these companies are turning over to the government, and what kinds of capabilities the government is wanting to access? So we reported these discrepancies precisely because we want them — those parties to resolve it in — in public, in sunlight, and– and let people decide whether or not that’s the kind of country they want to live in when — when the government can — can get this massive amount of information.

STEPHANOPOULOS: The DNI spokesman also said that a crimes report has been filed by the National Security Agency. Have you been contacted by the FBI or any federal law enforcement official yet?

GREENWALD: No. And — and any time they would like to speak to me, I’ll be more than happy to speak to them, and I will tell them that there is this thing called the Constitution, and the very First Amendment of which guarantees a free press. As an American citizen, I have every right, and even the obligation as a journalist to tell my fellow citizens and — and our readers what it is that the government is doing, that they don’t want people in the United States to know about. And I’m happy to talk to them at any time, and the attempt to intimidate journalists and sources with these constant threats of investigation aren’t going to work.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You described your source as a reader of yours who trusted how you would handle the materials. The source has also been described as a career government official, who was concerned about these programs. A former prosecutor called the source a double-agent. I know you’re not going to reveal the source, obviously, but what more can you tell us about the individual’s motivations?

GREENWALD: Well, first of all, I am not going to confirm that there is only one individual, there could be one or more than one. But, let me first make this point, because I think this is so critical, because every time there is a whistle-blower, somebody who exposes government wrongdoing, the tactic of the government is to try and demonize them as a traitor. They risk their careers, and their lives, and their liberty. Because what they were seeing being done in secret, inside the United States government is so alarming, and so pernicious that they simply want one thing.

And that is for the American people, at least to learn about what this massive spying apparatus is, and what the capabilities are, so that we can have an open, honest debate about whether that’s the kind of country that we want to live in. And if the people decide that they — yes, they do want the government knowing everything about them, intervening in all of their communications, monitoring them, keeping dossiers on them, then so be it. But at least we should have that debate openly and democratically. Unfortunately, since the government hides virtually everything that they do at the threat of criminal prosecution, the only way for us to learn about them is through these courageous whistle-blowers who deserve our praise and gratitude and not imprisonment and prosecution.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Finally, should we be expecting more revelations from you?

GREENWALD: You should.

STEPHANOPOULOS: OK, Glenn Greenwald, thanks very much.


Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Google+. 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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  • Sweetie

    People will see them and then go back to their inane TV programs, concluding that they have no power to change the situation.

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    ‘cray’ ‘cray.’ and ‘Poopyhead’-?—— might want to try grow grow ‘n’ up up language next time.

  • Butch1

    Unfortunately, he can expect to be followed and watched by this government by his last statement. They probably are already going through his records and data-mining phone records to find out with whom he has been in contact to see what he may already know.

    Perhaps living outside of the country isn’t a bad thing for him if he watches his back. I love reading his columns and he never backs down from an argument; he always comes to one prepared with facts.

  • JayRandal

    Stop defending President Obama he has screwed up like President Nixon did. Impeachment is viable means to remove any President who oversteps Constitutional authority. Obama made a choice to authorize NSA domestic spying on Americans. According to your thinking he should be allowed to do whatever he wants to do? Obama has NOT been elected as our dictator.

  • Badgerite

    Impeachable? Taking a position like that is impeachable? Congress does and always has had the ability to cut the legs out from under these agencies by funding cuts or other legislation. This all is uniquely within Congressional control. Instead of suggesting they take action to reign in these agencies, you are advocating to undo an election through the impeachment process. If I wasn’t already skeptical of this particular ‘whistle-blower’ because of the fact the he decided to seek asylum in China, ( I still remember Tiananmen Square and if that is too far back for you the recent beating and prosecution of the artist Aei Wei Wei for publishing a list of names of children killed in a building collapse), I would be when there are comments calling for impeachment based on something that has gone on for at least a decade if not more under both Republican and Democratic presidents and is uniquely within the ability of Congress to control and was already a matter of public record ( that is leaked to the press ) back during the second Bush term. Congress has still not repealed or in any way modified the AUMF yet and I don’t expect them to anytime soon. I guess they are too busy cutting food stamp programs and all and blocking judicial appointments to be bothered. The whole thing looks pretty suspect to me especially when the companies named deny the accuracy of the story. And they do say that what he reported, direct access, is not the case. That phrase ‘direct access’ in government speak is not the same as ‘direct access’ in computer speak. Yet this is all Greenwald relies on to make these claims. Not that Congress shouldn’t exercise their oversight of these agencies. As Digby points out in one of her posts, privacy rights of American citizens is a valid and important line of inquiry. But anyone advocating for impeachment based on this is not serious, or genuine in their ‘concern’ for those issues. They are only trying to get some kind of leverage over Democrats in Congress to put on the impeachment show that the GOP always goes to these days when they lose an election.

  • Sweetie

    They broke the War on Christmas. Be happy for Santa. They also broke Michael J. Fox’s fake illness and have saved our precious bodily fluids.

  • ezpz
  • ezpz

    Along with Snowden, Glenn’s been giving his interviews from Hong Kong too since he published the first story. I’m sure it’s not coincidence that they’re both in Hong Kong. No conspiracy, necessarily, but no coincidence either.

  • JayRandal

    Thanks I really hope Americans wake up over this NSA scandal along with Congress.

  • JayRandal

    I grant you some things mentioned about Snowden seem strange, but having known
    a guy who worked for CIA I have witnessed odd things. Snowden going to Hong Kong
    knows his arrest would become a international incident. US agents grabbing him there
    could embarrass China. On other hand if Chinese arrest him then deport him to US it
    could look like kowtowing to our government. Snowden is playing game of chess but I
    hope he does not get killed in playing it. Obama can save himself by turning on NSA.

  • LasloPratt

    I don’t know why you wouldn’t buy this story, seeing as how it was true when it came around back in 2006 or so. There is no such thing as privacy in this country any more. If you want to quibble with Greenwald and his source, go right ahead. But don’t kid yourself that you’re not being monitored.

  • FriendofPoopyhead

    Yup. Exactly.

  • lilyannerose

    There’s something off about the information coming out on Snowden that The Bard addressed when he penned about the stench in Denmark. I’m taking a sit back and wait for it approach. Why did Snowden flee to a Hong Kong where he could be taken by the Chinese Government at any time? He worked for this private contractor for less than three months how did he get so much access? He worked for the CIA with one year of Junior College and a little military background. Like I said there’s a stench in Denmark and I’m waiting for the room to be aired.

  • Max_1

  • DrDignity

    Bravo, Jay! “We the people” may be awakening from their scared shitless poopy diapers of the last 10 years & clean house. It won’t be easy! Dom

  • JayRandal

    This is my letter sending by fax tomorrow to members of Congress:

    Ed Snowden Shouldn’t Be Arrested Nor Prosecuted For Exposing NSA!

    President Obama is stepping way over the line attacking whistle-blowers as traitors. Obama has NOT been elected Dictator of United States. His defense of NSA domestic spying on American population impeachable action. I should not have to remind anybody in Washington, DC, that what President Nixon did was not as bad as what President Obama is doing now. Obama is treading down a dark path of defiance against nation.

    Any Congressional Democrats who defend BHO doing unlawful actions shame themselves and the
    Democratic Party too. BHO should immediately apologize for acts of NSA blanket spying on Americans. He should shut-down NSA “Prism” operation and fire NSA’s director.

    If President Obama continues his abstinence defiance defending NSA, then Congress should start process to impeach him in House and convict him for removal in Senate. Both parties should join together not partisan manner to impeach him. Do this for “We the People.”

    I hope Obama realizes his overstepping boundaries of Presidency! Otherwise VP Biden should replace BHO!

    Jay Randal, political activist in Georgia.

  • DrDignity

    Bravo Mssrs. Greenwald & Snowden! A grateful nation appreciates your integrity. As these horrid programs see the light of day, the war crimes & governmental abuses against our Constitution become clear, a reckoning of “We the People” will occur on all of our employees, from top to bottom.
    John, is this a sign of the times? In our city’s newspaper, the Desert Sun (Palm Springs), pictures of the weekend BO spent with President Xi in Rancho Mirage were presented this morning. A row of peaceful protesters with signs faced a riot suited, militarised police force with guns pointed at them, one on one. They’re getting really serious!

  • FriendofPoopyhead

    I don’t buy this story and that’s that. Remember when the Osama bin Laden killer Navy SEAL story broke? The one where he claimed to be struggling and suffering without health insurance and then too the Lefties went all cray cray and apoplectic. That story was thoroughly debunked.

    I find it hard to believe the stories from a guy who says he’s an epileptic 29 year old who broke both his legs in an Army training mission and worked as a security guard and then joined the CIA after he actually watched them trying to flip a drunk Swiss banker, no less. Then he joins the NSA and makes 200k a year working in Hawaii. All this with no college degree, mind you. And apparently he’s a computer genius too. Now he lives in Hong Kong. And he wants to move to Iceland.

    I wonder when they’ll make the TV movie and call it a special event.

  • FriendofPoopyhead

    Man, finally someone with some brains on this board. And what you said is actually critically important. How did you realize the story is similar to the 2006 article?

  • FriendofPoopyhead

    I don’t buy this story and that’s that.

    Remember when the Osama bin Laden killer Navy SEAL story broke? The one where he claimed to be struggling and suffering without health insurance and then too the Lefties went all cray cray and apoplectic. That story was thoroughly debunked.

    I find it hard to believe the stories from a guy who says he’s an epileptic 29 year old who broke both his legs in an Army training mission and worked as a security guard and then joined the CIA after he actually watched CIA agents trying to flip a drunk Swiss banker, no less. Then he joins the NSA and makes 200k a year working in Hawaii. All this with no college degree, mind you. And apparently he’s a computer genius too. Now he lives in Hong Kong. And he wants to move to Iceland.

    But hey, if you guys wanna have a giant outrage orgasm, don’t lemme harsh your buzz.

  • JayRandal

    ALL Americans should be concerned about our government eavesdropping on phone conversations and snooping on emails too. Despotism starts in this manner eventually leading to people disappearing from their homes into gulags. President Obama is defending despotism actions.
    I know just by saying he should be impeached targets myself for oppression tactics.
    Just like Nixon our current President Obama has stepped over the line with NSA.
    Americans must demand for Obama to tender his resignation or be impeached.

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    Glen Greenwald and Matt Taibii are American truth tellers, first rate journalists and heroes. I would also place Bradly Manning in that courageous category. Manning’s Stalinist show trial is a national disgrace. Censorship and the American police state are descending on us like an iron boot. Is this lesser of two evils all the bots were hyping not so long ago?

  • lilyannerose

    Much of the lead in that story is pretty much word-for-word taken from the opening paragraphs of a 2006 article regarding the Bush admin as printed in The Washington Post. The Washington Post has already redacted some of their language in their article. I’ve learned to sit back and wait for the third wave of any breaking story undermining the current Admin (no, I don’t think this Admin is perfect which has had me really PO’d at times) as so many of the scandals have been nothing but sand blowing across the desert. Recently the left (and I am a proud Leftie) has been just as rabid as the right in drawing their daggers when these allegation filled stories break in the media. What the hell we all know that the media is owned by corporations that have their agendas. The media is being manipulated and the left is aiding and abetting it. The end of the story is that The Patriot Act needs to be struck down.

  • jomicur

    Glenn Greenwald is a true American hero. And as an American hero, it’s lucky he lives in South America. Otherwise he’d very quickly find himself inhabiting the cell next to Brad Manning. The only kind of “heroes” our government celebrates are the kind that bomb Afghani wedding parties or slaughter Iraqis from the safety and security of helicopters.

  • hidflect

    Well done. Glenn! Now why doesn’t the right wing media ever come up with scoops like these? Aren’t they always supposed to be the champions of liberty and freedom from government? Is it because they don’t really practice journalism in the true sense, choosing instead just to bellow corporate talking points?

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