Ed Snowden: I'm Still Working For The NSA; They Are The Only Ones Who Don't Realize It

from the the-interview dept

Barton Gellman, one of the three reporters who received the original stash of documents from Ed Snowden apparently just spent some time in Russia with Snowden, and has published a fantastic interview with Snowden, weaving in various other parts of the story of everything that’s happened concerning the NSA and surveillance over the past few months. It’s well worth reading in its entirety (so go check it out), but we’ll highlight a few key points — many of which further debunk the claims of the NSA’s defenders.

On the question of his motivations, he’s clear:

“I didn’t want to change society. I wanted to give society a chance to determine if it should change itself.”

“All I wanted was for the public to be able to have a say in how they are governed,” he said. “That is a milestone we left a long time ago. Right now, all we are looking at are stretch goals.”

This is entirely consistent with what he’s claimed in the past about his motives. People who keep trying to make something more of his intent have yet to show any evidence to support their wild conspiracy theories.

On the repeated claim that Snowden “broke his oath,” this point has been long debunked. Former covert CIA operative, now author, Barry Eisler had debunked that one within days of Snowden revealing himself, but still people repeat that myth. Snowden more or less repeats exactly what Eisler had said back in June:

In his interview with The Post, Snowden noted matter-of-factly that Standard Form 312, the ?classified-information nondisclosure agreement, is a civil contract. He signed it, but he pledged his fealty elsewhere.

“The oath of allegiance is not an oath of secrecy,” he said. “That is an oath to the Constitution. That is the oath that I kept that Keith Alexander and James Clapper did not.”


On the question of whether or not he is trying to “bring down the NSA,” his response is quite similar to what plenty of people have said concerning the claim that Snowden is “against America.” Working to improve and reform something isn’t being against it — quite the opposite:

“I am not trying to bring down the NSA, I am working to improve the NSA,” he said. “I am still working for the NSA right now. They are the only ones who don’t realize it.”

Perhaps the most interesting sections reveal that, contrary to the claims of many — including House Intelligence Committee boss Rep. Mike Rogers just two days ago, Snowden notes that he tried multiple times to raise his concerns internally, to no avail.

Beginning in October 2012, he said, he brought his misgivings to two superiors in the NSA’s Technology Directorate and two more in the NSA Threat Operations Center’s regional base in Hawaii. For each of them, and 15 other co-workers, Snowden said he opened a data query tool called BOUNDLESSINFORMANT, which used color-coded “heat maps” to depict the volume of data ingested by NSA taps.

His colleagues were often “astonished to learn we are collecting more in the United States on Americans than we are on Russians in Russia,” he said. Many of them were troubled, he said, and several said they did not want to know any more.

“I asked these people, ‘What do you think the public would do if this was on the front page?’ ” he said. He noted that critics have accused him of bypassing internal channels of dissent. “How is that not reporting it? How is that not raising it?” he said.

By last December, Snowden was contacting reporters, although he had not yet passed along any classified information. He continued to give his colleagues the “front-page test,” he said, until April.

In the interview, he gives at least one other example of him raising a concern — this time about how easy it was to take documents without anyone noticing, saying he pushed for two-man control — the security setup that the NSA has finally started implementing because of Snowden’s situation. In other words, he blew the whistle internally on this massive security flaw, noting how it could be used for actual espionage, and when that failed to do anything, he used the same flawed security he warned about to leak a bunch of documents to the public.

The NSA, when contacted about these claims, had a spokesperson say that “there is no record of these conversations,” which is the sort of cop out you’d expect from the NSA. It doesn’t mean they didn’t happen.

Snowden has a good response to the silly argument that tech companies collect all sorts of data on users as well, so why is anyone worried about the government doing the same thing:

At the NSA, he said, “there are people in the office who joke about, ‘We put warheads on foreheads.’ Twitter doesn’t put warheads on foreheads.”

Separately, Snowden notes that a key reason for the American war for independence was to rid ourselves of “general warrants” from England, allowing vast suspicionless searches, and he notes it’s difficult to see how that’s different than the authority the FISA Court now grants the NSA:

Snowden likened the NSA’s powers to those used by British authorities in Colonial America, when “general warrants” allowed for anyone to be searched. The FISA court, Snowden said, “is authorizing general warrants for the entire country’s metadata.”

“The last time that happened, we fought a war over it,” he said.

While there had been various reports that Snowden had set up a dead man’s switch, to reveal documents in the event of his untimely demise, Snowden himself explained to Gellman why that would be stupid:

Some news accounts have quoted U.S. government officials as saying Snowden has arranged for the automated release of sensitive documents if he is arrested or harmed. There are strong reasons to doubt that, beginning with Snowden’s insistence, to this reporter and others, that he does not want the documents published in bulk.

If Snowden were fool enough to rig a “dead man’s switch,” confidants said, he would be inviting anyone who wants the documents to kill him.

Asked about such a mechanism in the Moscow interview, Snowden made a face and declined to reply. Later, he sent an encrypted message. “That sounds more like a suicide switch,” he wrote. “It wouldn’t make sense.”

On the claim that many have been making that he “defected” to Russia, Snowden points out that Russia was not where he intended to go at all, and he wouldn’t be there if the US hadn’t pulled his passport as he was traveling to Latin America. He insisted that he has no relationship with the Russian government at all, and explained:

“If I defected at all,” Snowden said, “I defected from the government to the public.”

I’m sure Snowden critics will dismiss pretty much all of this, but the thing that’s telling to me is that it’s almost entirely consistent with what he’s said in the past and what all the evidence has shown so far. It’s possible that he can keep up a charade for so long, but most people who are telling that kind of story slip and slip repeatedly, and Snowden doesn’t seem to be slipping at all.

Oh and as for that silly prediction from former CIA and NSA boss Michael Hayden that Snowden was likely to become an alcoholic who was “isolated, bored, lonely and depressed”? None of that seems to be happening. Snowden describes how he spends much of his time online, communicating with others and following the latest news. As for the silly based-on-nothing alcoholism prediction?

To this, Snowden shrugged. He does not drink at all. Never has.

There’s a lot more in there that’s worth reading. Go check it out.

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Comments on “Ed Snowden: I'm Still Working For The NSA; They Are The Only Ones Who Don't Realize It”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Hey Mike, I know you’ll defend Snowden to the death, just like you’ll defend every copyright infringer ever, but has it ever occurred to you that he’s both a whistleblower and a traitor?

Are you really OK with anyone leaking any classified document they want? Seriously. I know you won’t discuss ANY of this, because, well, you don’t discuss important issues on the merits, but I’ll ask anyway: Where do you draw the line?

Fin (user link) says:

Re: Re:

The line is clear. The government is effectively there to mediate the will of the people.

The minute they spy or try to undermine that the terrorists have won.

Bringing that to light can never be treason. Having to resort to desperate measures just shows how desperate the situation is.

The only people you need to look at to find the traitors are sitting up in DC

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

If you are going with Mark Felt, the real differences from Snowden are the journalists nationality (Watergate was Washington Post and an internal US situation. The Guardian is from United Kingdom, making the situation international) and Watergate was a specific crime story getting elaborated by Deep Throat as opposed to a security insider reaching out with dizzying amounts of documents in Snowdens case.

In this case, you could argue that UK pretty much is a state in USA, given “the five eyes”. Also, the internet makes the world infinitely smaller.

In the case of specificity of the leaks the defence of Snowden would rely on the journalists filtering but that is rather thin. Snowden didn’t have the smoking gun like Deep Throat. It is a small but significant detail for how the situation will be seen in a historic perspective.

Brazenly Anonymous says:

Re: Re:

Treason is defined in the Constitution. In this country, you have to essentially join some other country’s war against us to commit treason. That line is drawn so very far out for a reason, dissent and disagreement were valued by the framers of the Constitution. Snowden is not a traitor to the US as a whole, though arguments could be made that he is a traitor to certain power structures within the US.

As for leaking classified documents, are you really OK with the government being able to classify whatever it pleases and ensure no one can ever speak up about it? Clearly more nuance is necessary than a simple conclusion of whether or not leaking is good or bad. However, unless they are funneling troop movements to a country we are at war with, leakers still aren’t traitors to the US, even if the things they leak probably shouldn’t have been leaked.

JMT says:

Re: Re:

i>”Are you really OK with anyone leaking any classified document they want?”

Not any document, but certainly the ones revealing illegal, unconstitutional behavior by the USG.

To flip your question, are you really OK with the government keeping their illegal, unconstitutional behavior a secret from the public? Because that’s basically what you’re saying.

out_of_the_blue says:

Actually, this is EXACTLY the NON-CHANGE of a limited hangout.

And it’s all being rolled up as if over. Last week he was talking as if will go to Brazil and never worry about being kidnapped. This week he says “mission accomplished”.

Just to be clear, the AC @ #1 may be right: “both a whistleblower and a traitor”: Yes, he may be a traitor to We The People! OR may be honest but unwittingly used. We don’t know, JUST DON’T ASSUME because you want a hero that Snowden IS. — You should set Snowden aside, HE’S NOT THE STORY.

NSA IS THE STORY. Until you see people indicted, tried, and JAILED for KNOWN crimes against We The People, then it’s all HOOEY.

Nothing has changed except the dolts now vaguely know how much they’re surveilled, and for the worse: NSA’s commercial front Google goes on creeping into every corner of your life and developing killer robots — an item Mike won’t run…

Libertarians are sneaky traitors in the class war who coax the poor into giving up all their weapons until like taking on helicopter gunships with bare hands, defeat is certain.


Anonymous Coward says:

The NSA, when contacted about these claims had a spokesperson say that “there is no record of these conversations,” which is the sort of cop out you’d expect from the NSA. It doesn’t mean they didn’t happen.

Of course there’s not a record of those conversations. The NSA is not in the business of recording anything about itself. Especially not people swinging by the boss’s office to discuss potential problems with the system.

akp (profile) says:

I'll say it again

“Treason” has a very specific definition. Almost no one hyperbolically accused of treason around here is actually a traitor (even if they did what we say they did).

“Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.”

You can argue that Snowden is a criminal, but you can’t argue treason.

Clapper isn’t a traitor. Our Senators aren’t traitors. Someone who lies to the government isn’t a traitor.

You’ve got to specifically renounce your citizenship, and wage war to actually be guilty of treason.

Stop using that word. It doesn’t mean what you think it means.

Fred says:


Ed. Snowden is only playing a psy game intended by the NSA which BTW is dismantling its program to make the world believe it is abandonning its spying program, yet NSA fools no one but the naive people, Snowden could in NO way copy these documents with out a known protocol and being in Russia is more suspicious than in the home of the brave, basically He is on a Mission.

pete w says:

Re: Snowden

Yes. I’m glad some one else has come to this conclusion. His story does not make sense. He’s an actor, a red herring. Disaffected youth on the left listen to him and praise him, but his rhetoric runs within a strict ideological framework. He encourages people to work for change within the system, saying that the NSA is not inherently a problem it just needs to be fixed by us. Notice that he always re-enforces the false paradigm that government “counter-terrorism” measures are necessary (and not an orwellian farce).
quote: “together we can remind the government that if it really wants to know how we feel, asking is always cheaper than spying” – such a naive comment is completely inconsistent with the cultivated image of a defected genius who’s experienced the inner workings of US intelligence.
BB wants us to know (or believe) that any part of our lives could be watched, at a time when key aspects of our lives are increasingly pulled online. It’s a powerful suggestion.

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