Edward Snowden

The Guardian, which has been publishing stories containing disclosures from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, hosted a Q&A with Snowden online. Snowden addressed various smears and questions.

Snowden declared in his closing comment, “Thanks to everyone for their support, and remember that just because you are not the target of a surveillance program does not make it okay. The US Person / foreigner distinction is not a reasonable substitute for individualized suspicion, and is only applied to improve support for the program. This is the precise reason that NSA provides Congress with a special immunity to its surveillance.”

Initially, he thought public conversation was encouraging, but now “the mainstream media seems far more interested in what I said when I was 17 or what my girlfriend looks like rather than, say, the largest program of suspicionless surveillance in human history.”

Tor software developer Jason Appelbaum, who has been swept up in the United States government’s war on WikiLeaks, asked Snowden a question that pertains to a feature story published at Firedoglake on whistleblowers going through “proper channels.” It was, “Do you believe that the treatment of Binney, Drake and others influenced your path? Do you feel the ‘system works’ so to speak?”

Snowden answered:

Binney, Drake, Kiriakou, and Manning are all examples of how overly-harsh responses to public-interest whistle-blowing only escalate the scale, scope, and skill involved in future disclosures. Citizens with a conscience are not going to ignore wrong-doing simply because they’ll be destroyed for it: the conscience forbids it. Instead, these draconian responses simply build better whistleblowers. If the Obama administration responds with an even harsher hand against me, they can be assured that they’ll soon find themselves facing an equally harsh public response.

This disclosure provides Obama an opportunity to appeal for a return to sanity, constitutional policy, and the rule of law rather than men. He still has plenty of time to go down in history as the President who looked into the abyss and stepped back, rather than leaping forward into it. I would advise he personally call for a special committee to review these interception programs, repudiate the dangerous “State Secrets” privilege, and, upon preparing to leave office, begin a tradition for all Presidents forthwith to demonstrate their respect for the law by appointing a special investigator to review the policies of their years in office for any wrongdoing. There can be no faith in government if our highest offices are excused from scrutiny – they should be setting the example of transparency. [emphasis added]

He noted the moment he became a whistleblower was when he continued to see a “litany of lies from senior officials to Congress – and therefore the American people – and the realization that that Congress, specifically the Gang of Eight, wholly supported the lies.” Also, seeing someone in the position of James Clapper – the Director of National Intelligence – baldly lying to the public without repercussion is the evidence of a subverted democracy. The consent of the governed is not consent if it is not informed.”

Importantly, he commented on how media had used statements he made about Manning against him and also defended WikiLeaks.

Wikileaks is a legitimate journalistic outlet and they carefully redacted all of their releases in accordance with a judgment of public interest. The unredacted release of cables was due to the failure of a partner journalist to control a passphrase. However, I understand that many media outlets used the argument that “documents were dumped” to smear Manning, and want to make it clear that it is not a valid assertion here.

He addressed what he meant by NSA having “direct access” to Internet companies’ information:

…[I]f an NSA, FBI, CIA, DIA, etc analyst has access to query raw SIGINT databases, they can enter and get results for anything they want. Phone number, email, user id, cell phone handset id (IMEI), and so on – it’s all the same. The restrictions against this are policy based, not technically based, and can change at any time. Additionally, audits are cursory, incomplete, and easily fooled by fake justifications. For at least GCHQ, the number of audited queries is only 5% of those performed.

Snowden gave a exceptional answer to AP reporter Kimberly Dozier, who asked, “US officials say terrorists already altering TTPs because of your leaks, & calling you traitor. Respond?”

He responded, “US officials say this every time there’s a public discussion that could limit their authority. US officials also provide misleading or directly false assertions about the value of these programs, as they did just recently with the Zazi case, which court documents clearly show was not unveiled by PRISM.”

Snowden urged journalists to specifically ask:

…[S]ince these programs began operation shortly after September 11th, how many terrorist attacks were prevented SOLELY by information derived from this suspicionless surveillance that could not be gained via any other source? Then ask how many individual communications were ingested to acheive that, and ask yourself if it was worth it. Bathtub falls and police officers kill more Americans than terrorism, yet we’ve been asked to sacrifice our most sacred rights for fear of falling victim to it…

Also, to those who think he might pass on classified information or state secrets to China, he quipped, “If I were a Chinese spy, why wouldn’t I have flown directly into Beijing? I could be living in a palace petting a phoenix by now.” (Of course, a buffoonish critic might say that’s just what a Chinese spy would say…”)

Finally, he said, look at who is calling him a traitor: former Vice President Dick Cheney.

This is a man who gave us the warrantless wiretapping scheme as a kind of atrocity warm-up on the way to deceitfully engineering a conflict that has killed over 4,400 and maimed nearly 32,000 Americans, as well as leaving over 100,000 Iraqis dead. Being called a traitor by Dick Cheney is the highest honor you can give an American, and the more panicked talk we hear from people like him, Feinstein, and King, the better off we all are. If they had taught a class on how to be the kind of citizen Dick Cheney worries about, I would have finished high school.

For more from the chat hosted by The Guardian and moderated by Glenn Greenwald, go here.