Edward Snowden Video Interview with Guardian – Part 1
Edward Snowden (ES): My name’s Ed Snowden. I am 29 years old. I work for Booz Allen Hamilton as an infrastructure analyst for NSA in Hawaii.
Glenn Greenwald (GG): What are some of the positions that you held previously within the intelligence community?
ES: I have been a systems engineer, systems administrator, a senior adviser for the Central Intelligence Agency, a solutions consultant and a telecommunications information systems officer.
GG: One of the things people are going to be most interested in, in trying to understand what—who you are and what you’re thinking, is there came some point in time when you crossed this line of thinking about being a whistleblower to making the choice to actually become a whistleblower. Walk people through that decision-making process.
ES: When your in positions of privileged access, like a systems administrator for these sort of the intelligence community agencies, you’re exposed to a lot more information on a broader scale than the average employee, and because of that, you see things that may be disturbing. But over the course of a normal person’s career, you’d only see one or two of these instances. When you see everything, you see them on a more frequent basis, and you recognize that some of these things are actually abuses. And when you talk to people about them in a place like this, where this is the normal state of business, people tend not to take them very seriously and, you know, move on from them. But over time that awareness of wrongdoing sort of builds up, and you feel compelled to talk about it. And the more you talk about it, the more you’re ignored, the more you’re told it’s not a problem, until eventually you realize that these things need to be determined by the public, not by somebody who was simply hired by the government.
GG: Talk a little bit about how the American surveillance state actually functions. Does it target the actions of Americans?
ES: NSA and the intelligence community, in general, is focused on getting intelligence wherever it can, by any means possible, that it believes, on the grounds of sort of a self-certification, that they serve the national interest. Originally, we saw that focus very narrowly tailored as foreign intelligence gathered overseas. Now, increasingly, we see that it’s happening domestically. And to do that, they — the NSA specifically targets the communications of everyone. It ingests them by default. It collects them in its system, and it filters them, and it analyzes them, and it measures them, and it stores them for periods of time, simply because that’s the easiest, most efficient and most valuable way to achieve these ends. So while they may be intending to target someone associated with a foreign government or someone that they suspect of terrorism, they’re collecting your communications to do so. Any analyst at any time can target anyone, any selector anywhere. Where those communications will be picked up depends on the range of the sensor networks and the authorities that that analyst is empowered with. Not all analysts have the ability to target everything. But I, sitting at my desk, certainly had the authorities to wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant to a federal judge, to even the president, if I had a personal email.
GG: One of the extraordinary parts about this episode is that usually whistleblowers do what they do anonymously and take steps to remain anonymous for as long as they can, which they hope, often, is forever. You, on the other hand, have this attitude of the opposite, which is to declare yourself openly as the person behind these disclosures. Why did you choose to do that?
ES: I think that the public is owed an explanation of the motivations behind the people who make these disclosures that are outside of the democratic model. When you are subverting the power of government, that that’s a fundamentally dangerous thing to democracy. And if you do that in secret consistently, you know, as the government does when it wants to benefit from a secret action that it took, it will kind of get its officials a mandate to go, “Hey, you know, tell the press about this thing and that thing, so the public is on our side.” But they rarely, if ever, do that when an abuse occurs. That falls to individual citizens. But they’re typically maligned. You know, it becomes a thing of these people are against the country, they’re against the government. But I’m not. I’m no different from anybody else. I don’t have special skills. I’m just another guy who sits there, day to day, in the office, watches what happening—what’s happening, and goes, “This is something that’s not our place to decide. The public needs to decide whether these programs and policies are right or wrong.” And I’m willing to go on the record to defend the authenticity of them and say, “I didn’t change these. I didn’t modify the story. This is the truth. This is what’s happening. You should decide whether we need to be doing this.”
GG: Have you given thought to what it is that the U.S. government’s response to your conduct is in terms of what they might say about you, how they might try to depict to, what they might try to do to you?
ES: Yeah, I could be, you know, rendered by the CIA. I could have people come after me or any of their third-party partners. You know, they work closely with a number of other nations. Or, you know, they could pay off the triads or, you know, any—any of their agents or assets. We’ve got a CIA station just up the road in the consulate here in Hong Kong, and I’m sure they’re going to be very busy for the next week. And that’s a fear I’ll live under for the rest of my life, however long that happens to be. You can’t come forward against the world’s most powerful intelligence agencies and be completely free from risk, because they’re such powerful adversaries that no one can meaningfully oppose them. If they want to get you, they’ll get you, in time.
But at the same time, you have to make a determination about what it is that’s important to you. And if living unfreely but comfortably is something you’re willing to accept — and I think many of us are; it’s the human nature — you can get up every day, you can go to work, you can collect your large paycheck for relatively little work against the public interest and go to sleep at night after watching your shows. But if you realize that that’s the world that you helped create and it’s going to get worse with the next generation and the next generation, who extend the capabilities of this sort of architecture of oppression, you realize that you might be willing to accept any risk, and it doesn’t matter what the outcome is, so long as the public gets to make their own decisions about how that’s applied.
GG: Why should people care about surveillance?
ES: Because even if you’re not doing anything wrong, you’re being watched and recorded. And the storage capability of these systems increases every year consistently, by orders of magnitude, to where it’s getting to the point you don’t have to have done anything wrong. You simply have to eventually fall under suspicion from somebody, even by a wrong call, and then they can use the system to go back in time and scrutinize every decision you’ve ever made, every friend you’ve ever discussed something with, and attack you on that basis, to sort of derive suspicion from an innocent life and paint anyone in the context of a wrongdoer.
GG: We are currently sitting in a room in Hong Kong, which is where we are because you travel here. Talk a little bit about why it is that you came here. And specifically, there are going to be people who will speculate that what you really intend to do is to defect to the country that many see as the number one rival of the United States, which is China, and that what you’re really doing is essentially seeking to aid an enemy of the United States with which you intend to seek asylum. Can you talk a little bit about that?
ES: Sure. So there’s a couple assertions in those arguments that are sort of embedded in the questioning of the choice of Hong Kong. The first is that China is an enemy of the United States. It’s not. I mean, there are conflicts between the United States government and the Chinese PRC government. But the peoples, inherently, you know, we don’t care. We trade with each other freely. You know, we’re not at war. We’re not, you know, armed conflict, and we’re not trying to be. We’re the largest trading partners out there for each other.
Additionally, Hong Kong has a strong tradition of free speech. People think, “Oh, China, great firewall.” Mainland China does have significant restrictions on free speech, but the Hong Kong—the people of Hong Kong have a long tradition of protesting in the streets, of making their views known. The Internet is not filtered here, no more so than any other Western government. And I believe that the Hong Kong government is actually independent in relation to a lot of other leading Western governments.
GG: If your motive had been to harm the United States and help its enemies, or if your motive had been personal material gain, were there things that you could have done with these documents to advance those goals that you didn’t end up doing?
ES: Absolutely. I mean, anybody in the positions of access with the technical capabilities that I had could, you know, suck out secrets, pass them on the open market to Russia. You know, they always have an open door, as we do. I had access to, you know, the full rosters of everyone working at the NSA, the entire intelligence community, and undercover assets all around the world, the locations of every station we have, what their missions are and so forth. If I had just wanted to harm the U.S., you know, that—you could shut down the surveillance system in an afternoon. But that’s not my intention. And I think, for anyone making that argument, they need to think, if they were in my position, and, you know, you live a privileged life—you’re living in Hawaii, in Paradise, and making a ton of money—what would it take to make you leave everything behind?
The greatest fear that I have regarding the outcome for America of these disclosures is that nothing will change. People will see in the media all of these disclosures. They’ll know the length that the government is going to grant themselves powers, unilaterally, to create greater control over American society and global society, but they won’t be willing to take the risks necessary to stand up and fight to change things, to force their representatives to actually take a stand in their interests. And the months ahead, the years ahead, it’s only going to get worse, until eventually there will be a time where policies will change, because the only thing that restricts the activities of the surveillance state are policy. Even our agreements with other sovereign governments, we consider that to be a stipulation of policy rather than a stipulation of law. And because of that, a new leader will be elected, they’ll flip the switch, say that because of the crisis, because of the dangers that we face in the world, you know, some new and unpredicted threat, we need more authority, we need more power, and there will be nothing the people can do at that point to oppose it, and it’ll be turnkey tyranny.
Edward Snowden Video Interview with Guardian – Part 2
Glenn Greenwald (GG): Have you given thought to what it is that the U.S. government’s response to your conduct is in terms of what they might say about you, how they might try to depict you?
Edward Snowden (ES): I think the government is going to launch an investigation, I think they’re going to say I 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 and they do to our enemies.
GG: 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 that you sort of, first got into this whole realm?
ES: No. I joined the intelligence community when I was very young, sort of 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 overtime, over the length of my career, as I watched the news and I increasingly was exposed to true information that had not been propagandized in the media, that we were actually involved in misleading the public, and misleading all publics, not just the American public, in order to create a sort of mindset in the global consciousness, and I was actually a victim of that.
America is a fundamentally good country, we have good people, with good values that 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.
Laura Poitras (LP): Can you talk about what you think some of the most important primary documents are and what they reveal?
ES: 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 that enter or exit without being monitored and collected and analyzed.
The Verizon document speaks highly to this because it literally lays out their using an authority that was intended to be used to seek warrants against individuals and they’re applying it to the whole of society by basically subverting a corporate partnership through major telecommunication providers and they’re getting everyone’s calls, everyone’s call records, and everyone’s Internet traffic as well.
On top of that you got Boundless Informant, which is sort of a 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 U.S. government co-opts U.S. 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 NSA direct access that they don’t need to oversee so they can’t be held liable for it. I think that’s a dangerous capability for anybody to have but particularly an organization that’s demonstrated time and time again that they’ll work to shield themselves from oversight.
GG: Was there a specific point in time that you can point to where you crossed the line from contemplation to decision making and commitment to do this?
ES: 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 anytime they 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.
GG: But what is it about that set of developments that makes them sufficiently menacing or threatening to you that you’re willing to risk what you’ve risked in order to fight them?
ES: I don’t wanna 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 build, and it’s not something I’m willing to live under. So, I think 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, wait and allow our leadership, our figures to sort of correct the excesses of government when we go too far. But as I watched I’ve seen that’s not occurring in fact we’re compounding he excesses of prior governments and making it worse and more invasive. And no one is really standing to stop it.
I’m reminded of V for Vendetta as I read and listen to Edward Snowden. I’m reminded of a brave man “cast vicariously as both victim and villain,” but who, in actuality has the best interest of us at heart. Now unlike the masked V — who really can be criticized for the means he uses to achieve the goal of freedom — Edward Snowden tried to be as legal as he could be in his “espionage.” He carefully weeded through his vast array of top secret knowledge, scrutinizing over every document he released, asking (in his own words), if “each was legitimately in the public interest.”
Nevertheless, I’m reminded of V’s speech in the movie:
Good evening, London. Allow me first to apologize for this interruption. I do, like many of you, appreciate the comforts of every day routine – the security of the familiar, the tranquility of repetition. I enjoy them as much as any bloke. But… I thought we could mark this November the 5th, a day that is sadly no longer remembered, by taking some time out of our daily lives to sit down and have a little chat.
There are of course those who do not want us to speak. I suspect even now, orders are being shouted into telephones, and men with guns will soon be on their way. Why? Because while the truncheon may be used in lieu of conversation, words will always retain their power.
Words offer the means to meaning, and for those who will listen, the enunciation of truth. And the truth is, there is something terribly wrong with this country, isn’t there? Cruelty and injustice, intolerance and oppression. And where once you had the freedom to object, to think and speak as you saw fit, you now have censors and systems of surveillance coercing your conformity and soliciting your submission. How did this happen? Who’s to blame?
Well certainly there are those more responsible than others, and they will be held accountable, but again truth be told, if you’re looking for the guilty, you need only look into a mirror. I know why you did it. I know you were afraid. Who wouldn’t be? War, terror, disease. There were a myriad of problems which conspired to corrupt your reason and rob you of your common sense. Fear got the best of you, and in your panic you turned to the now high chancellor, Adam Sutler. He promised you order, he promised you peace, and all he demanded in return was your silent, obedient consent.
Last night I sought to end that silence. …More than four hundred years ago a great citizen wished to embed the fifth of November forever in our memory. His hope was to remind the world that fairness, justice, and freedom are more than words, they are perspectives. So if you’ve seen nothing, if the crimes of this government remain unknown to you then I would suggest you allow the fifth of November to pass unmarked.
But if you see what I see, if you feel as I feel, and if you would seek as I seek, then I ask you to stand beside me one year from tonight….
On June 5th, The Guardian published the evidence revealed by Edward Snowden, a man who like V could really be any citizen. Snowden tried to pull the scales off our eyes and remind us that freedom is more than a word and that fear has gotten the best of us. In our panic, we have given all power and freedom and secrecy to a government who has turned the search back on us.
The news says, a “V for Vendetta mask is a popular symbol among antigovernment libertarians,” because they know that this way of labeling it places all the significance and all the meaning of the message into a much smaller box than it deserves. (When did believing in libertarian freedom earn you the title of “antigovernment” anyway?)
But the truth is that the Guy Fawkes mask is a way of showing that it does not matter who pulls the scales off your eyes, the important part is that the scales come off. Edward Snowden tried to pull back the curtain and show you the elements of tyranny hiding behind the democracy you love.
And for that, perhaps we should remember, remember the fifth of June as well as November and try to change our society accordingly.
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