NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden comes clean on why he turned over classified government documents to the press, just how much the intelligence community knows about us, and what his actions will likely cost him

Earlier today, the identity of last week’s much-talked-about National Security Agency whistleblower was made public. His name is Edward Snowden, and he’s a former technical assistant for the CIA, who, most recently, worked for the NSA through the defence contractor Booz Allen Hamilton. If you haven’t seen it yet, I’d highly recommend that you watch this video of Snowden, which was just shot in Hong Kong, where the 29-year-old recently fled in hopes of avoiding prosecution. It’s really quite extraordinary.

[The article which accompanies the video can be found at the website of The Guardian.]

As I know that some of you won’t follow the link, or watch the video, in spite of my urging, here’s a brief clip from the transcript. This is how Snowden responds to the, “Why should people care about surveillance?”, question.

“Because, even if you’re not doing anything wrong, you’re being watched and recorded. The storage capability of the systems increases every year, consistently, by orders of magnitude… 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 could use this 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.”

And that, in a nutshell, sums up why Snowden turned over these classified documents to the press. That is, if you believe him.

Many don’t.

Many, from what I can tell, seem to think, given that he’s in Hong Kong, that’s he’s done this on behalf of the Chinese, who are looking to further destabilize our government. I know it doesn’t make a lot of sense, given that China is our biggest trading partner, and they need for us to remain solvent, but some, it would seem, are having trouble accepting that a young man would choose to give up a high-level intelligence position in Hawaii that paid nearly $200,000 a year, and go into exile, leaving behind his girlfriend and family, just because he thought that the American people should know that they’re being lied to and spied on. Apparently the concept that an individual would sacrifice his or her life for what they believe to be right is foreign to many Americans. (And, as Snowden points out, if his objective had really been to bring down the United States, he could have just released the identities of every undercover asset we currently have deployed across the globe – information, according to Snowden, that he possessed.)

No, according to Snowden, he chose to release this information, which demonstrates the enormity of the NSA’s domestic surveillance operation, because he saw “abuses,” and the framework for what he calls an, “architecture of oppression.”

I’m not sure that it will ultimately go down in history alongside the likes of Nathan Hale’s “I only regret that I have but one life to give for my country” speech, but it’s hard to imagine a more timely and important sentiment than the following.

“I don’t want to live in a society that does these sort of things … I do not want to live in a world where everything I do and say is recorded. That is not something I am willing to support or live under.” -Edward Snowden

I could go on and on about Snowden, his politics (he’s a Ron Paul supporter), his motivations, and the way that this will all likely play out for him, but, as I keep nodding off to sleep, I’ll just leave you with this final thought from him, offered in response to a question about the possibility that he could very well be killed for treason, or locked up in seclusion for the rest of his life.

“The greatest fear I have… is that nothing will change. People will see in the media all of these disclosures. They will know the lengths 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 fight to change things, to force their representatives to actually take a stand in their interests.”

I know that some of you will disagree, thinking that patriots are people who vote a certain way, and put magnetic ribbons on the backs of their SUVs, but this, to me, is the very definition of patriotism.

Best of luck, Mr. Snowden. And thank you for having the courage to do what thousands of others in positions to do so did not.

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  1. dragon
    Posted June 10, 2013 at 12:25 am | Permalink

    “Whistleblower” is person who reveals wrongdoing, corruption, illegal activity. None of this applies here even
    if you oppose current policy.

  2. Edward
    Posted June 10, 2013 at 5:22 am | Permalink

    Dragon, NSA executives, in sworn testimony to Congress, said that American citizens were not being spied on. That was a lie. The documents leaked by Snowden prove that.

  3. Demetrius
    Posted June 10, 2013 at 6:11 am | Permalink

    In an ideal world, Snowden’s revelations would prompt a much-needed national discussion about whether, and to what degree, we, as a society, are comfortable giving our government extraordinary new powers to monitor our private lives — in exchange for what level of alleged safety.

    Unfortunately, after reading the comments following many articles about this story yesterday, it seems the “average” American has already concluded this guy is nothing but a traitor and a terrorist (i.e. radical Islamist) sympathizer. (I even read several comments suggesting Snowden’s actions were a slap in the face to the Boston bombing victims, their families, etc. …)

  4. Kevin
    Posted June 10, 2013 at 6:45 am | Permalink

    Iceland may offer asylum. I suspect he’d be happier there, but it’s probably more difficult for the US to get at him in Hong Kong.


  5. Meta
    Posted June 10, 2013 at 6:53 am | Permalink

    Snowden clearly knows how the government works. He knows this is likely the end of him, and yet he did it anyway. You have to admire that.

    “All my options are bad,” he said. The US could begin extradition proceedings against him, a potentially problematic, lengthy and unpredictable course for Washington. Or the Chinese government might whisk him away for questioning, viewing him as a useful source of information. Or he might end up being grabbed and bundled into a plane bound for US territory.

    “Yes, I could be rendered by the CIA. I could have people come after me. Or any of the third-party partners. They work closely with a number of other nations. Or they could pay off the Triads. Any of their agents or assets,” he said.

    “We have got a CIA station just up the road – the consulate here in Hong Kong – and I am sure they are going to be busy for the next week. And that is a concern I will live with for the rest of my life, however long that happens to be.”

    Having watched the Obama administration prosecute whistleblowers at a historically unprecedented rate, he fully expects the US government to attempt to use all its weight to punish him. “I am not afraid,” he said calmly, “because this is the choice I’ve made.”

    He predicts the government will launch an investigation and “say I have broken the Espionage Act and helped our enemies, but that can be used against anyone who points out how massive and invasive the system has become”.

    Read more:

  6. anonymous
    Posted June 10, 2013 at 7:54 am | Permalink

    Speaking of Ron Paul, his son Rand announced this weekend that he’d be bringing a class action lawsuit against the federal government.


  7. Maria
    Posted June 10, 2013 at 8:39 am | Permalink

    I will say this, I am very creeped out by the interconnectedness of data for and of advertising, and view that as an enormous violation of privacy that occurs routinely now.

  8. Elliott
    Posted June 10, 2013 at 9:44 am | Permalink

    This man is a hero. He’s forfeiting his life in order to bring this massive violation of privacy rights tot he American people. History will recognize his contribution. I’m afraid, however, that we’ll ignore it. Privacy is the war of our generation.

  9. from the internets
    Posted June 10, 2013 at 11:19 am | Permalink

    “Hopefully we can retrieve him from his hideout, scrub his laptop, and hang him.”


  10. from the internets
    Posted June 10, 2013 at 11:24 am | Permalink

    “I’ve talked to a bunch of people in Washington today, in official positions, and they are looking at this as a potential Chinese espionage case. On the face of it, it looks like it is under some sort of Chinese control.”


  11. from the internets
    Posted June 10, 2013 at 11:27 am | Permalink

    “I was just with Dan Ellsberg as he learned out about Edward Snowden. He called Snowden a hero, said he’s been waiting for him for 40 years.”


  12. Eel
    Posted June 10, 2013 at 11:45 am | Permalink

    And it’s getting worse. They’re building a Deathstar in Utah.

    From Wired:

    Under construction by contractors with top-secret clearances, the blandly named Utah Data Center is being built for the National Security Agency. A project of immense secrecy, it is the final piece in a complex puzzle assembled over the past decade. Its purpose: to intercept, decipher, analyze, and store vast swaths of the world’s communications as they zap down from satellites and zip through the underground and undersea cables of international, foreign, and domestic networks. The heavily fortified $2 billion center should be up and running in September 2013. Flowing through its servers and routers and stored in near-bottomless databases will be all forms of communication, including the complete contents of private emails, cell phone calls, and Google searches, as well as all sorts of personal data trails—parking receipts, travel itineraries, bookstore purchases, and other digital “pocket litter.” It is, in some measure, the realization of the “total information awareness” program created during the first term of the Bush administration—an effort that was killed by Congress in 2003 after it caused an outcry over its potential for invading Americans’ privacy.

    But “this is more than just a data center,” says one senior intelligence official who until recently was involved with the program. The mammoth Bluffdale center will have another important and far more secret role that until now has gone unrevealed. It is also critical, he says, for breaking codes. And code-breaking is crucial, because much of the data that the center will handle—financial information, stock transactions, business deals, foreign military and diplomatic secrets, legal documents, confidential personal communications—will be heavily encrypted. According to another top official also involved with the program, the NSA made an enormous breakthrough several years ago in its ability to cryptanalyze, or break, unfathomably complex encryption systems employed by not only governments around the world but also many average computer users in the US. The upshot, according to this official: “Everybody’s a target; everybody with communication is a target.”


  13. 734
    Posted June 10, 2013 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

    The hacker who identified the accused rapists in the Steubenville rape case is now facing more time than the rapists themselves. I don’t know how this is relevant but I think it is.


  14. Kristin
    Posted June 10, 2013 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

    Didn’t I read that Twitter is 30-1 in support of Snowden? I wonder if people won’t, in some fashion or another, support the role of a whistleblower, but at the same time think this isn’t that big a deal. Hasn’t the Patriot Act permitted this behavior for quite some time? Even though I don’t like it I’ve sort of assumed that my privacy was more or less compromised a long time ago.

  15. GG
    Posted June 10, 2013 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

    The more information they take in, the more people they’ll have to sorting through it, and the more opportunities for breaches. You just can’t control an operation this big. We’re just lucky that Snowden didn’t sell our credit card data to a Nigerian warlord.

  16. Meta
    Posted June 10, 2013 at 8:57 pm | Permalink

    Edward Snowden is “missing”.


  17. Meta
    Posted June 10, 2013 at 9:04 pm | Permalink

    The catch 22 that they have no answer for.

    “If the NSA Trusted Edward Snowden With Our Data, Why Should We Trust the NSA? The more badly Snowden is depicted, the more rickety the government’s case for surveillance becomes. After all, they hired him. They gave him unrestricted access to their systems.”

    Read more:

  18. observer
    Posted June 11, 2013 at 8:14 am | Permalink

    The Booz Allen guys have to be shitting bricks right now.

  19. observer
    Posted June 11, 2013 at 8:19 am | Permalink

    Also, I hope that he’s smart enough to stay ahead of the U.S. intelligence community, and eventually make his way to Iceland, if it doesn’t look as though the Chinese can keep him safe. I’m concerned that he “disappeared” yesterday. I hope that means he went underground, but I fear that we may already have him. I’m not sure as to the timing of events, but, if his video interview happened after the story broke, it’s not hard to believe that Glenn Greenwald was being followed when they spoke. My guess is that every move Greenwald makes for the next several years will be tracked meticulously.

  20. Meta
    Posted June 11, 2013 at 8:37 am | Permalink

    Restore the 4th protests are being planned for the 4th of July.


    It also looks like there’s a movement afoot to send money to Snowden to help defray his living expenses. I imagine he’s got a lot saved, but Hong Kong aint cheap.


  21. Meta
    Posted June 11, 2013 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

    The opposition is coming together:

    Mozilla, Reddit, 4chan, the ACLU and the Electronic Frontier Foundation are among the 86 different organizations that have co-signed the letter, and they have also launched a new campaign online, “StopWatching.us,” which invites web users to add their signatures to the petition as well.

    If the move sounds a bit like the great online SOPA/PIPA protests of early 2012, that’s by design. As Mozilla’s privacy and public policy officer Alex Fowler wrote in a blog post today announcing the effort: “We need to rekindle that energy more than ever so our elected officials take the necessary actions to illuminate how current surveillance policies are being implemented.” The campaign was coordinated in part by liberal advocacy group Free Press, which is holding a press call today at 1PM ET to elaborate on the campaign.

    Read more:

  22. Posted June 11, 2013 at 7:49 pm | Permalink

    I’m reserving judgement on whether Snowden is a hero or not simply because I now know more about Snowden than the surveillance program he alleges to have exposed.

    I think this is true of a lot of Americans.

  23. Joss
    Posted June 11, 2013 at 8:28 pm | Permalink

    Peter, is that PhD refundable?

  24. Robert
    Posted June 11, 2013 at 9:18 pm | Permalink

    It is impossible to keep any government system secure from infiltration by organized nefarious interests. Any information the government collects, can be accessed by a nefarious interest. Any information that has any potential value to a nefarious interest will be accessed inevitably. Any capability the government is granted can be accessed by nefarious interests as well of course.

    This is the purpose for limiting government. Not because government itself is inherently bad, but because it’s permissions, capabilities and powers are inevitably accessed by nefarious interests.

    This has been demonstrated over and over in history to ad nauseam. Still, most people continue to believe we can somehow transcend this very natural set of realities.

    Nefarious interests have repeatedly perpetrated very obvious hijackings of governmental systems, agencies, and powers, and used them to their own ends, while to the society as whole these actions were incredibly costly and disastrous. These actions have been remarkably blatant, and still somehow the vast majority of the public can’t see the connections. It’s really quite astonishing.

  25. T. Todd
    Posted June 12, 2013 at 7:14 pm | Permalink

    Not only did he leave the paradise that is Hawaii and a $200,000 a year job, but a super hot girlfriend who is a professional dancer.

    Nathan Hale didn’t give up nearly as much.


  26. Posted June 12, 2013 at 9:16 pm | Permalink

    Mr. Voss,

    I read the transcript of this video and found it to be quite light. I don’t think that Snowden’s message is earth shattering. Should we be surprised to learn that intelligence agencies are collecting and dredging data?

    Instead of writing a detailed analysis of this program, which would be far more useful and damning, Snowden presents a few light bullet points in a video interview. So, like I said, we now know more about Snowden than the program itself.

    I am a cynic when it comes to what lefty america chooses to get behind. Snowden is a sound bite from a cute, white and harmless face. If he had been unatteactive , old, ugly, or used big words, we would have heard nothing about him.

    I would have said that Mark wouldn’t have posted it, but Mark has posted video of some really hideous and unintelligible people in the past.

  27. Posted June 12, 2013 at 9:29 pm | Permalink

    Mark has rightly pointed out to me that the story preceded the release of the Snowden interview.

  28. Posted June 12, 2013 at 9:40 pm | Permalink

    “Mark has posted video of some really hideous and unintelligible people in the past.”

  29. Posted June 12, 2013 at 9:44 pm | Permalink

    I was most certainly referring to myself.

    So that there is no mistake, a criticism of lefty weaknesses for cute and fluffy white faces is not a defense of any sort of domestic spying effort.

  30. Meta
    Posted June 17, 2013 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

    Snowden did an AMA on Reddit.

    “All I can say right now is the US Government is not going to be able to cover this up by jailing or murdering me. Truth is coming, and it cannot be stopped.” – Edward Snowden

    Read more:

  31. conspiracy theorist
    Posted June 25, 2013 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    He’s in Russia now, on his way to somewhere else. Apparently Hong Kong wasn’t willing to fight for him. If he’s not going to stop in Russia, it’s difficult to imagine that he’ll find another country that’s strong enough to ward off a U.S. assault, but he hasn’t given up yet.

    For those of you who wonder why he’s running, read up on what happened a few days ago to Rolling Stone writer Michael Hastings, who was killed shortly after telling friends that he was onto a big story and being pursued by the FBI.


  32. Meta
    Posted June 26, 2013 at 6:44 am | Permalink

    Edward Snowden has distributed encoded copies of documents as protection in case “anything happens to him”

    Glenn Greenwald, the Guardian journalist who Snowden first contacted in February, told The Daily Beast on Tuesday that Snowden “has taken extreme precautions to make sure many different people around the world have these archives to insure the stories will inevitably be published.” Greenwald added that the people in possession of these files “cannot access them yet because they are highly encrypted and they do not have the passwords.” But, Greenwald said, “if anything happens at all to Edward Snowden, he told me he has arranged for them to get access to the full archives.”

    The fact that Snowden has made digital copies of the documents he accessed while working at the NSA poses a new challenge to the U.S. intelligence community that has scrambled in recent days to recover them and assess the full damage of the breach. Even if U.S. authorities catch up with Snowden and the four classified laptops the Guardian reported he brought with him to Hong Kong the secrets Snowden hopes to expose will still likely be published.

    A former U.S. counterintelligence officer following the Snowden saga closely said his contacts inside the U.S. intelligence community “think Snowden has been planning this for years and has stashed files all over the Internet.” This source added, “At this point there is very little anyone can do about this.”

    The arrangement to entrust encrypted archives of his files with others also sheds light on a cryptic statement Snowden made on June 17 during a live chat with The Guardian. In the online session he said, “All I can say right now is the U.S. government is not going to be able to cover this up by jailing or murdering me. Truth is coming, and it cannot be stopped.”

    Read more:

  33. Meta
    Posted August 7, 2013 at 9:27 am | Permalink

    Two interesting articles for you all this rainy Wednesday morning.

    “Obama To Leno: ‘There Is No Spying On Americans'”

    “Obama Removes Promise to Protect Whistleblowers From Old Campaign Website”

    Read the first article:

    Read the second article:

  34. Meta
    Posted December 17, 2013 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

    NSA colleague describes life with Snowden: “a genius” who wore EFF anti-NSA hoodies to work and kept a copy of the Constitution on his desk

    An anonymous former NSA colleague of Edward Snowden described his career at the Agency to Forbes’s Andy Greenberg, giving an account of a gifted, principled, compassionate technical “genius” who came to work in his EFF NSA spying hoodie (these were available to donors who gave at least $250 to the Electronic Frontier Foundation).

    The co-worker’s account paints quite a picture, and also rebuts accusations that Snowden tricked his co-workers into giving him the credentials to gain access to the documents he leaked (“Snowden was given a manager’s password so that he could cover for him while he was on vacation. Even then, investigators found no evidence Snowden had misused that staffer’s privileges”). He also kept a copy of the Constitution on his desk “to cite when arguing against NSA activities he thought might violate it.”

    Read more:

    PS: Snowden is currently seeking asylum in Brazil.

    Read more:

  35. Jean Henry
    Posted January 3, 2017 at 11:58 am | Permalink

    This is fun. Snowden and his merry band of Putin dupes are some special kind of hero for the left. It’s old from 2014, would have been handy when engaging with the bros during the election. You know, those dudes HRC-loving mass hysteria invented. Because women…

  36. kjc
    Posted January 3, 2017 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

    yeah it’s old. and not that impressive.


  37. Jean Henry
    Posted January 3, 2017 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

    I agree with that criticism, kjc. It is flip and dismissive and mostly a gotcha piece. But given that those three were exalted by the bros repeatedly, it would have proven useful. Greenwald’s pettiness and tendency to libertarianism was especially relevant. Snowden is just a dick, which most of us suspected. Worse things have been said about Assange. When people make Kings of men, it’s useful to tip the crown. Neither the impulse to ideological fealty nor the natural reaction are well considered approaches. If all discourse happened on the level of that response, we’d all have better conversations. And we would probably have a better president right now.

  38. Lynne
    Posted January 3, 2017 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

    FWIW, It is no surprise to me that Snowden is a dick. He was a dick from the very beginning. Less of a dick than Assange. More of one than Greenwald, imho. None of it really matters to the issue at hand except when people start worshiping them.

    I think what Snowden did was terrible, fwiw. Not helpful at all (I mean, has anything changed?) and potentially harmful. There are reasons why some information is classified and often it is to protect the safety of people. My biggest problem with Snowden isn’t that he is wrong about the NSA but that he and Greenwald just released everything without regard to how appropriate it was. I don’t see either of them as heroes but I don’t really see them as villains either. I don’t think Snowden should get a pardon but I probably wouldnt object if he were to get one either.

  39. Jean Henry
    Posted January 3, 2017 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

    The issue is important; the people involved less so. I liked Citizen Four in part because I came away not liking anyone. Many people saw the same film and came out seeing Snowden and Greenwald as a hero. Poitras’ points about the surveillance state are more important than any of the characters in her film, even her. She also put together a great exhibit at the Whitney this fall addressing surveillance and the state. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/05/arts/design/laura-poitras-astro-noise-examines-surveillance-and-the-new-normal.html She has had to relocate to Berlin to escape govt harassment. Government surveillance capacity is more concerning to me now than ever. Obama really set Trump up with everything he needs to ensure compliance from the people– surveillance, a proto-registry of muslims, limits to public demonstration and a very expensive, mostly empty illegal prison in Cuba waiting to be ‘filled’ according to candidate Trump. I know Obama is scrambling to undo some of this in his last month, but he has set Trump up for the wrong kind of success.
    Why do I suspect Snowden and Assange are happy about that?

4 Trackbacks

  1. […] Edward Snowden can put his life on the line, I figure the least we can do is add our name to a petition, […]

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  4. […] live their lives without fear while our country devotes its considerable resources to finding Edward Snowden and brining him to justice… I don’t know about you, but I think it’s time that we […]

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