At his request, the source of the NSA disclosures to The Guardian‘s Glenn Greenwald has been revealed. It is a 29-year-old contractor for Booz Allen Hamilton and a former technical assistant for the CIA.
That is according to an interview done over several days and posted by Greenwald and Ewan MacAskill. (Also, a video produced by documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras of the interview was put up as well.)
Snowden is very conscious of how the United States government will come after him and engage in character assassination by targeting the messenger of the disclosures that have been published over the past days. He said in the interview, “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.”
“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 declared in the interview, noting that he did not want to be in the “media spotlight” but preferred to see the media focus on the content of his disclosures.
In the interview, he talks about how he has led a “very comfortable life,” but is “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.”
Greenwald recounts what has happened in the past weeks, as Snowden made the decision to blow the whistle on the secret surveillance programs.
On May 20, he boarded a flight to Hong Kong, where he has remained ever since. He chose the city because “they have a spirited commitment to free speech and the right of political dissent”, and because he believed that it was one of the few places in the world that both could and would resist the dictates of the US government.
In the three weeks since he arrived, he has been ensconced in a hotel room. “I’ve left the room maybe a total of three times during my entire stay,” he said. It is a plush hotel and, what with eating meals in his room too, he has run up big bills.
He is deeply worried about being spied on. He lines the door of his hotel room with pillows to prevent eavesdropping. He puts a large red hood over his head and laptop when entering his passwords to prevent any hidden cameras from detecting them…
Snowden happens to be acutely aware that his disclosures have instantly made him a target. He recognizes he could be the subject of extradition proceedings. The Chinese government could possibly disappear him for a period so he could be questioned. Or, he could find himself snatched and taken back to the US by government agents. “They could pay off the Triads,” he told Greenwald.
“My predisposition is to seek asylum in a country with shared values. The nation that most encompasses this is Iceland,” he shared. Iceland is country that has taken a stand for freedom on the Internet. But, Snowden has no idea where he could end up in the next weeks or months.
Thomas Drake, who also exposed NSA’s massive secret surveillance programs and became President Obama’s first test case for prosecuting a whistleblower for “espionage,” reacted, “This is an extraordinarily monumental act of civil disobedience.”
Recalling his experience, “The emotions I am feeling right now,” are incredible. He said it took great “courage and bravery to open up the Pandora’s box of the Leviathan surveillance state and reveal hard truths about a future that clearly he and his contemporaries don’t want to live.”
“I had always hoped that my whistleblowing would serve as an example of others,” Drake added. Snowden obviously “became exposed as he stayed longer and longer within the secrecy system to how dark it had truly become. He had an obligation to share what he was seeing with the world.”
As the interview indicates, Snowden realized the NSA was “intent on making every conversation and every form of behavior in the world known to them.” He originally considered the Internet to be “the most important invention in all of human history.” But then he realized it was time to act because “what they’re doing” posed and continues to pose “an existential threat to democracy.”
“I don’t want to live in a world where there’s no privacy and therefore no room for intellectual exploration and creativity,” he told Greenwald.
Jesselyn Radack, director of national security and human rights at the Government Accountability project, said, “As an attorney representing a number of brave whistleblowers being prosecuted for espionage, I hope Snowden’s brave act will put a nail in the coffin of this over-zealous vengeful witch hunt against people who are telling the truth and trying to make this country and world a better place.”
Snowden is responsible for exposing a top secret court order requiring all call data of Verizon customers to be turned over to the NSA. He exposed a PRISM program that involved major US Internet companies like Facebook and Google granting the NSA direct access to content of users. And, he exposed a secret tool to track global surveillance data with a super-creepy name, “Boundless Informant.”
Drake explained that Snowden has shown that the surveillance state has “not just metastasized in the US but also spread its tentacles throughout the world.” It is essentially “taking the Stasi regime and putting the Stasi on steroids.”
Snowden is a politically conscious individual, well aware of the climate that leaks have created in the past year. In fact, he says of Pfc. Bradley Manning, who is on trial for disclosing information to WikiLeaks, “Manning was a classic whistleblower. He was inspired by the public good.”
Jesselyn Radack, who is a national security and human rights director for the Government Accountability Project, said, “I hope that this monumental disclosure will put an end to the over-zealous vengeful witch-hunt against public servants who are trying to improve their country and the world.”
“He is very self-aware yet also a political realist. I was his age when I blew the whistle,” on the Justice Department’s coverup of the torture of “American Taliban,” John Walker Lindh. She added, “Bradley Manning is only a little bit younger. When you’re younger, it’s easier to believe that you can make a difference rescuing your country from decline.”
“You may not be able to change the world but you can shove it in the right direction,” Radack concluded. “And people do.”
In comparison, there is not much difference. Both came to resent what they were enabling and they engaged in acts of disobedience that directly challenged the national security state and forced the government to confront its conduct domestically and around the world.