Tom McCarthy / The Guardian & Dan Roberts / The Guardian – 2014-05-30 00:52:00
Edward Snowden: ‘If I Could Go Anywhere
That Place Would Be Home’
Tom McCarthy / The Guardian
NEW YORK (May 29, 2014) — One year after revealing himself as the source of the biggest intelligence leak in US history, Edward Snowden appeared in a long network television interview on Wednesday to describe himself as an American patriot and to make the case that his disclosures were motivated by a desire to help the country.
In his most extensive public comments to date Snowden sought to answer critics who have said his actions damaged US national security or that the threat from the secret government surveillance he revealed was overblown. Snowden was interviewed by the NBC News anchor Brian Williams, who travelled to Moscow for the meeting.
Snowden defended his decision to leak documents to the press, instead of restricting his complaints to internal channels, and explained why he had decided for the moment not to travel back to the United States to face criminal charges.
“If I could go anywhere in the world that place would be home,” Snowden told Williams. “I’ve from day one said that I’m doing this to serve my country . . . I don’t think there’s ever been any question that I’d like to go home.”
Snowden said he had not second-guessed his decision, however, to release an estimated 1.7 million top secret government documents. “My priority is not about myself,” Snowden said. “It’s about making sure that these programs are reformed — and that the family that I left behind, the country that I left behind — can be helped by my actions.”
The interview, which took place at Kempinski Hotel in Moscow last week, followed months of negotiations between the news network and representatives of Snowden. The conversation, which was held in a library and lasted more than four hours, was billed as Snowden’s first interview with a US television network.
Snowden has regularly participated in interviews over the last year, although never on such a large stage, or on one as likely to bring his words — and his argument — into American living rooms. NBC Nightly News, which ran clips from the interview, drew about 8.4 million total viewers per night in May.
On Wednesday Snowden, 30, described for the first time his experience of the 9/11 terror attacks and talked about his views on the threat of terrorism.
“I’ve never told anybody this,” he said. “No journalist. But I was on Fort Meade [Maryland] on September 11th. I was right outside the NSA. So I remember — I remember the tension of that day. I remember hearing on the radio the planes hitting. And I remember thinking my grandfather, who worked for the FBI at the time, was in the Pentagon when the plane hit it.
“I take the threat of terrorism seriously. And I think we all do. And I think it’s really disingenuous for the government to invoke and sort of scandalize our memories, to sort of exploit the national trauma that we all suffered together and worked so hard to come through to justify programs that have never been shown to keep us safe, but cost us liberties and freedoms that we don’t need to give up and our constitution says we should not give up.”
Snowden said he did not consider himself blameless. “I think the most important idea is to remember that there have been times throughout history where what is right is not the same as what is legal,” he said. “Sometimes to do the right thing, you have to break a law.”
In a Pew Research poll of Americans earlier this year 57% of 18 to 29-year-olds said Snowden’s leaks had served the public interest but respondents 65 and over disagreed. A majority of respondents in older age groups supported prosecuting Snowden, while the 18-29 group split 42-42% on the question.
As much as he wanted to return home, Snowden said, he did not plan “to walk into a jail cell”. He repeated a view explained elsewhere by his legal counsel that the charges he faces under the 1917 Espionage Act would not allow him to mount a defense that he had acted in the public interest.
“These are things that no individual should empower himself to really decide, you know, â€˜I’m gonna give myself a parade,'” Snowden said in reply to a question about how he judged his actions. “But neither am I going to walk into a jail cell, to serve as a bad example for other people in government who see something happening, some violation of the constitution, and think they need to say something about it.”
In the year he has lived in Russia as a fugitive from US law, Snowden said, he had not met President Vladimir Putin. “I have no relationship with the Russian government at all,” he said.
NBC News said it had confirmed “with multiple sources” that before he took the story to the press Snowden had raised a concern about possibly illegal surveillance on at least one occasion with intelligence agency superiors. Snowden said he had advanced his concerns on multiple occasions, even sending emails to the office of the NSA general counsel, and that the NSA would have a paper trail. The NSA has denied Snowden took such steps.
Snowden said he remained comfortable with the decision he made.
“I may have lost the ability to travel but I’ve gained the ability to fall asleep at night and know I’ve done the right thing and I’m comfortable with that.”
NSA Releases Email in Dispute over
Snowden’s ‘Internal Whistleblowing’
Dan Roberts / The Guardian
WASHINGTON (May 29, 2014) — The National Security Agency has disputed Edward Snowden’s insistence that he made efforts to raise his concerns about its surveillance practices internally before he decided to go public.
Releasing an email exchange it claimed to be the only record it could find of such an effort by Snowden, the agency said on Thursday he was merely “asking for an explanation of some material that was in a training course he had just completed”.
Six months ago, the agency issued a statement saying it had “not found any evidence to support Mr Snowden’s contention that he brought these matters to anyone’s attention”.
The email exchange with the NSA’s Office of General Counsel, dated April 2013, emerged after Snowden repeated his claim to have attempted an internal whistleblowing during an interview with NBC that aired on Wednesday night.
Snowden told interviewer Brian Williams: “I actually did go through channels, and that is documented. The NSA has records, they have copies of emails right now to their Office of General Counsel, to their oversight and compliance folks, from me raising concerns about the NSA’s interpretations of its legal authorities.
“The response, more or less, in bureaucratic language, was: â€˜You should stop asking questions.'”
Snowden’s description appears to match parts, if not all, of the newly emerged email, which was made public on Thursday via the Senate intelligence chair, Dianne Feinstein.
“Hello, I have a question regarding the mandatory USSID 18 training,” writes Snowden to a redacted address that appears to be in the Office of General Counsel.
He goes on to cite a list provided in the training that ranks presidential executive orders alongside federal statutes in the hierarchy of orders governing NSA behaviour.
“I’m not entirely certain, but this does not seem correct, as it seems to imply Executive Orders have the same precedence as law,” adds Snowden.
“My understanding is that EOs may be superseded by federal statute, but EO’s may not override statute. Am I incorrect in this?”
In a reply which was cc’d to a number of redacted email addresses, Snowden is told by an unnamed individual that he is “correct that EO’s cannot override a statute” but that they have the “force and effect of law”.
The issue is an important one in the context of whether NSA surveillance activities were permissible, as it addresses possible conflict between laws passed by Congress and orders given by the White House.
Senate intelligence committee members Ron Wyden and Mark Udall have long argued the administration may have been in breach of surveillance statutes in its activities. They were prevented from raising many of their concerns in public due to confidentiality requirements.
The NSA, however, disputes that this latest email exchange is proof of Snowden raising concerns about “interpretations of its legal authorities”.
“The email did not raise allegations or concerns about wrongdoing or abuse, but posed a legal question that the Office of General Counsel addressed,” said the agency in a statement released on Thursday.
It added: “There are numerous avenues that Mr Snowden could have used to raise other concerns or whistleblower allegations.
“We have searched for additional indications of outreach from him in those areas and to date have not discovered any engagements related to his claims.”
The denial was repeated by the White House, which went further than it normally does when asked by an NBC reporter about the possibility of Snowden’s return to the US and stated: “Clemency is not on the table.”
“There are avenues available to somebody like Mr Snowden to raise those kind of concerns,” added Obama spokesman Jay Carney.
Senator Feinstein said the email had been provided to her committee on 10 April, in response to a request, and added: “It does not register concerns about NSA’s intelligence activities, as was suggested by Snowden in an NBC interview this week.”
Ben Wizner, Snowden’s legal adviser, said of the email: “This whole issue is a red herring. The problem was not some unknown and isolated instance of misconduct. The problem was that an entire system of mass surveillance had been deployed — and deemed legal — without the knowledge or consent of the public. Snowden raised many complaints over many channels. The NSA is releasing a single part of a single exchange after previously claiming that no evidence existed.”
During the interview, Snowden also repeated his calls for full disclosure of the communication trail.
“I would say one of my final official acts in government was continuing one of these communications with a legal office,” he told NBC.
“And in fact, I’m so sure that these communications exist that I’ve called on Congress to write a letter to the NSA to verify that they do.”
Six months ago, responding to questions on the subject from Washington Post reporter Barton Gellman, the NSA issued a statement claiming there was no evidence of a paper trail at all.
“After extensive investigation, including interviews with his former NSA supervisors and co-workers, we have not found any evidence to support Mr Snowden’s contention that he brought these matters to anyone’s attention,” said the agency.
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