“I, sitting at my desk, certainly had the authorities to wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant, to a federal judge or even the President, if I had a personal e-mail,” Edward Snowden told the Guardian.
Snowden is twenty-nine; he had worked in a technical capacity for the C.I.A. and then, by way of his employer, Booz Allen Hamilton, as a contractor for the N.S.A. He is the reason our country has, in the last week, been having a conversation on privacy and the limits of domestic surveillance. That was overdue, and one wishes it had been prompted by self-examination on the part of the Obama Administration or real oversight by Congress. But both failed, and it came in the form of Snowden handing highly classified documents—a lot of them—to journalists.
He did so, he said, because he had seen “abuses”—the framework for an “architecture of oppression”—and had come to “realize that these things have to be decided by the public, not someone who is hired by the government.” Snowden, of course, is someone hired by the government, and will be asked why he thought the decision to expose secrets was his. He offered, in his interview, several answers: one is that the normal processes were broken. The second was that he is willing to come out in the open himself. Saturday night, the N.S.A. asked for a criminal investigation into the leaks. As we learn more about him, in the next days, those answers are worth evaluating seriously.
Snowden is now holed up in Hong Kong, in a hotel room where, according to the Guardian, he stuffs pillows against the doors and “puts a large red hood over his head and laptop when entering his passwords.” The interview has the bylines of Glenn Greenwald, Ewen MacAskill, and Laura Poitras. Poitras was also a co-author, with Barton Gellman, of a report in the Washington Post based on documents Snowden provided; and Gellman and Aaron Blake posted their own piece with Snowden later Sunday. [Update: Sunday night, Gellman posted a piece on his interactions with Snowden, who had used the code name Verax.]
So far, the leaks have revealed that the N.S.A. is collecting records from Verizon Business (and, it emerged, from any number of other companies) for every phone call placed in the United States; that, with a program called Prism and some degree of coöperation from technology companies like Google, Facebook, Yahoo, and Apple, it is looking at the private data of both foreigners it targeted and—“incidentally”—Americans a degree or even two removed from them; that another program, called Boundless Informant, processed billions of pieces of domestic data each month, and many times that from abroad. We also learned that James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, flat-out lied to the Senate when he said that the N.S.A. did not “wittingly” collect any sort of data on millions of Americans. And we were reminded of how disappointing President Obama can be. These were all things the public deserved to know.
Snowden never actually questions the good will of the people he worked with at the N.S.A.; he grants them (as we might grant Obama) their belief that they are working in the interests of the United States—that there is no ideology of oppression. Each step is modest, and does start with the goal of looking for foreign threats. But they collect data wherever and however they can. All of the talk about not specifically targeting Americans should not be reassuring: “The NSA specifically targets the communications of everyone. It ingests them by default. It collects them in its system and it filters them and analyzes them and it measures them and it stores them for a period of time.”
And why should this bother us? Snowden:
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.
As he must know, that scrutiny will now be applied to him.
The Guardian reported that Snowden made about two hundred thousand dollars a year and lived in Hawaii, where he had a girlfriend who, he says, didn’t know where he was going or why or when he left for Hong Kong. He had started at the N.S.A. without a high-school diploma, moving along with community-college classes, time in the Army, and technical skill, the Guardian said. (This is somewhat surprising.) In the video, he seems comfortable in his own skin—he will strike some as too at ease, or even pleased. His affect is not that of a haunted informant in the dark corner of a bar. He is the cheeriest major leaker one is likely to come across.
Read the full article at: newyorker.com