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 Âclassified-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.