The second part of an interview National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden recorded with The Guardian‘s Glenn Greenwald and documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras in Hong Kong a month or so ago has been posted.
The interview shows Snowden was well aware of how his whistleblowing on US government secret surveillance programs would be regarded. He said he would be charged with violating the Espionage Act and the government would also say, “I’ve aided our enemies in making them aware of these systems but that argument can be made against anybody who reveals information that points out mass surveillance systems because fundamentally they apply equally to ourselves as they do to our enemies.”
It has been reported by media organizations that Snowden took the job as an NSA contractor so he could have access to documents. This has been construed as evidence that he engaged in a premeditated act of “stealing.”
Greenwald anticipated that this might be asked, apparently. He asked, “When you decided to enter this world, did you do so with the intention of weaseling your way in and becoming a mole so that you could one day undermine it with disclosures or what was your perspective and mindset about it at the time when you first got into this whole realm?”
Smiling, Snowden responded, “I joined the intelligence community when I was very young.” He added that he “enlisted in the Army shortly after the invasion of Iraq” and “believed in the goodness of what we were doing.
“I believed in the nobility of our intentions to free oppressed people overseas but over time, over the length of my career, as I watched the news and I was increasingly was exposed to true information that had not been propagandized in the media,” he realized he was actually part of an effort that was misleading to all citizens of the world.
In other words, according to this interview, he was not intending to steal any information from the United States government, as a multiple news reports have suggested.
Asked what led to the moment where he would engage in his act of whistleblowing he said, “I don’t want to live in a world where everything that I say, everything I do, everyone I talk to, every expression of creativity or love or friendship is recorded. And that’s not something I’m willing to support; it’s not something I’m willing to do; and it’s not something I’m willing to live under.”
Snowden added that anyone who opposes this would have an “obligation to act in a way they can.” He watched and waited. He hoped some figure in a position of leadership would act to “correct the excesses of government” but that was not happening.
Yesterday, Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg had an opinion editorial published by the Washington Post on Snowden where he addresses what Snowden did and how he believes he made the right call by leaving the country.
“Many people compare Edward Snowden to me unfavorably for leaving the country and seeking asylum, rather than facing trial as I did. I don’t agree. The country I stayed in was a different America, a long time ago,” Ellsberg wrote.
He also suggested that Snowden would have suffered the same treatment and prosecution that Pfc. Bradley Manning, who disclosed US government documents to WikiLeaks, has faced:
I hope Snowden’s revelations will spark a movement to rescue our democracy, but he could not be part of that movement had he stayed here. There is zero chance that he would be allowed out on bail if he returned now and close to no chance that, had he not left the country, he would have been granted bail. Instead, he would be in a prison cell like Bradley Manning, incommunicado.
He would almost certainly be confined in total isolation, even longer than the more than eight months Manning suffered during his three years of imprisonment before his trial began recently. The United Nations Special Rapporteur for Torture described Manning’s conditions as “cruel, inhuman and degrading.” (That realistic prospect, by itself, is grounds for most countries granting Snowden asylum, if they could withstand bullying and bribery from the United States.)
Liberal commentators like Jonathan Capehart, an MSNBC contributor, have argued that Snowden’s act is not as honorable as Ellsberg’s because he did not remain in the US and allow himself to be arrested. But had he remained he certainly would have been forced to remain in pretrial confinement after the government argued he would be a “flight risk” or a risk to national security if he was allowed to be free. He would not have been able to freely speak to the media, attend rallies or do public speaking engagements to build up any support among the public for what he did. And, again, as Ellsberg has made clear, America has changed.
Snowden was well aware of how Manning was treated and how other whistleblowers had been treated by President Barack Obama’s administration before he fled. He has cited Manning’s treatment in his asylum applications to various countries.
At this point, Venezuela, Nicaragua and Bolivia have offered asylum to him. This has been covered through the lens of US foreign policy, with a focus on how this is what should be expected from an “anti-American” country that likes to say America is an imperial nation. There has been little consideration of the issue of whether Snowden could ever get a fair trial in the United States, but that is the critical issue that deserves the most focus.
Truth is, if you’re a whistleblower in the US, there is little chance that you will be able to mount a defense in a court of law where you get to argue the act you took was in the public interest and not some kind of act of espionage. And, had Snowden not taken action, the world would not have been discussing the US surveillance state—of which the NSA is a key player—for more the past month with news organizations publishing their own stories that add to what Snowden exposed.
Below is a full transcript of Part 2 of Snowden’s interview with Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras.
GREENWALD: Have you given thought to what it is to what it is that the US government’s response to your conduct is in terms of what they may say about you? How they might try to depict you?
SNOWDEN: I think the government’s going to launch an investigation. I think they’re going to say I’ve committed grave crimes. I’ve violated the Espionage Act. They’re going to say I’ve aided our enemies in making them aware of these systems but that argument can be made against anybody who reveals information that points out mass surveillance systems because fundamentally they apply equally to ourselves as they do to our enemies.
GREENWALD: When you decided to enter this world, did you do so with the intention of weaseling your way in and becoming a mole so that you could one day undermine it with disclosures or what was your perspective and mindset about it at the time when you first got into this whole realm?
SNOWDEN: I joined the intelligence community when I was very young, the government as a whole. I enlisted in the Army shortly after the invasion of Iraq and I believed in the goodness of what we were doing. I believed in the nobility of our intentions to free oppressed people overseas but over time, over the length of my career, as I watched the news and I was increasingly was exposed to true information that had not been propagandized in the media, that we were actually involved in miselading the public and misleading all publics, not just the American public, in order to create a certain mindset in the global consciousness and I was actually a victim of that.
America is fundamentally a good country we have good people with good values who want to do the right thing but the structures of power that exist are working to their own ends to extend their capability at the expense of the freedom of all publics.
POITRAS: Can you talk about what think some of the most primary documents are and what they reveal?
SNOWDEN: The primary disclosures are the fact that the NSA doesn’t limit itself to foreign intelligence. It collects all communications that transit the United States. There are literally no ingress or egress points anywhere in the continental United States where communication may enter or exit without being monitored, collected and analyzed.
The Verizon document speaks highly to this because it literally lays out, they’re using an authority that was intended to be used to seek warrants against individuals, and they’re applying it to the whole society by basically subverting a corporate partnership through major telecommunications providers and they’re getting everyone’s calls, everyone’s call records, and everyone’s internet traffic as well. On top of that, you’ve got “Boundless Informant”, which is a sort of global auditing system for the NSA’s Intercept and Collection system that lets us track how much we’re collecting, where we’re collecting, by which authorities and so forth.
The NSA lied about the existence of this tool to Congress and to specific Congressmen in response to previous inquiries about their surveillance activities. Beyond that, we’ve got PRISM, which is a demonstration of how the US government co-opts US corporate power to its own ends; companies like Google, FaceBook, Apple, Microsoft. They all get together with the NSA and provide the NSA direct access to the back-ends of all the systems you use to communicate, to store data, to put things in the cloud, and even just to send birthday wishes and keep a record of your life. And they give the NSA direct access that they don’t need to oversee so that they can’t be held liable for it. I think that’s a dangerous capability for anybody to have, but particularly for an organization that has demonstrated time and time again that they’ll work to shield themselves from oversight.
GREENWALD: Was there a specific point in time that you can point to when you crossed the line from contemplation to decision-making and commitment to do this?
SNOWDEN: I grew up with the understanding that the world I lived in was one where people enjoyed a sort of freedom to communicate with each other in privacy without it being monitored, without it being measured or analyzed or sort of judged by these shadowy figures or systems any timethey mention anything that travels across public lines. I think a lot of people of my generation, anybody who grew up with the internet, -that was their understanding.
As we’ve seen the internet, and government’s relation to the internet evolve over time, we’ve seen that sort of open debate, that free market of ideas, sort of lose its domain and be shrunk.
GREENWALD: But what is it about that set of developments that makes them sufficiently menacing or threatening to you that you are willing to risk what you’ve risked in order to fight them?
SNOWDEN: I don’t want to live in a world where everything that I say, everything I do, everyone I talk to, every expression of creativity or love or friendship is recorded. And that’s not something I’m willing to support; it’s not something I’m willing to do; and it’s not something I’m willing to live under. So I think (that) anyone who opposes that sort of world has an obligation to act in a way they can. Now, I’ve watched and waited and tried to do my job in the most policy-driven way I could; which is to wait and allow other people, -you know, wait and allow leadership, our (leadership) figures to sort of correct the excesses of government when we go too far, but as I’ve watched, I’ve seen that’s not occurring. In fact, we’re compounding the excesses of prior governments and making it worse and more evasive. And no one is really standing to stop it.
Special thanks to my assistant, Jeff Creamer, for helping me transcribe this.