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.

CyberDisobedience on Substack | @aravosis | Facebook | Instagram | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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