NSA Whistleblower: 'I Do Not Expect To See Home Again'

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Photo Gallery: Whistleblower on the Run Photos
REUTERS/ Ewen MacAskill/ The Guardian

He was once a cog in the US intelligence apparatus, but 29-year-old ex-CIA employee Edward Snowden has admitted to making one of the biggest intelligence leaks in history. He now faces severe consequences -- but President Obama also has a lot to answer for.

Edward Snowden sits in a hotel room in Hong Kong. He is pale and unshaven, his voice quiet but firm. For fear of spies, he has sealed off the door with pillows. He says he's only gone outside three times in the past three weeks. When the fire alarm goes off, he suspects that someone is trying to lure him out of hiding.

Snowden is on the run. The scene, as depicted by London newspaper The Guardian , is the latest and most dramatic chapter of a spy thriller that in recent weeks has kept the United States and much of the world in suspense. Snowden is the highly sought-after man who notified the press about the infamous US surveillance program Prism -- probably one of the biggest leak scandals in the history of espionage.

Snowden didn't have to reveal the fact that he is the whistleblower behind the story. But he decided to out himself voluntarily in a 12-minute video interview that the Guardian posted on its website on Sunday night.

Snowden puts a moral spin on his protest against state data surveillance: "I don't want to live in a society that does these sort of things," says the 29-year-old former CIA technical assistant who was last employed by the defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton. "I don't want to live in a world where there's no privacy and therefore no room for intellectual exploration and creativity," he continues.

But for that, it may already be too late. The debate that Snowden hoped to initiate has revealed that the US's virtual surveillance network is nearly all-encompassing -- and that citizens are powerless against it. "Welcome to the future," writes Ross Douthat in the New York Times. "Just make sure you don't have anything to hide."

A Historical Coup in Hawaii

Snowden, too, fears this future. The US government, he says, "are intent on making every conversation and every form of behavior in the world known to them."

Snowden himself was once a cog in the gears of the intelligence apparatus. After a short stint in the US Army, he began his career in the clandestine National Security Agency (NSA), then moved to the CIA. That's where he first began to have doubts. "I realized that I was part of something that was doing far more harm than good," he says.

In 2009, Snowden entered the private sector and ended up at Booz Allen Hamilton, a billion-dollar company with close ties to American espionage circles. His most recent job, as the company confirmed with noticeable consternation, was as an IT contract worker at an NSA facility in Hawaii.

And that's where he made his historical coup. Snowden copied documents exposing two gigantic secret NSA programs -- comprising massive surveillance of telephone and internet communications -- and leaked them to the Guardian and Washington Post.

He then asked his employers for a few weeks off and flew to Hong Kong. He didn't even say anything definite about what was going on to his girlfriend.

Obama's PR Problem

Snowden has had "a very comfortable life," with an annual salary of $200,000 and a house in Hawaii. "I'm willing to sacrifice all of that," he says, "because I can't in good conscience allow the US government to destroy privacy, internet freedom and basic liberties for people around the world with this massive surveillance machine they're secretly building."

What is he facing now? Extradition, abduction, litigation: "All my options are bad," he says. Snowden told the Washington Post on Sunday that he is seeking "asylum from any countries that believe in free speech and oppose the victimization of global privacy."

"I do not expect to see home again," he told the Guardian.

Several times, he mentioned WikiLeaks informant Bradley Manning, who is now facing a military tribunal in one of several cases in which the administration of President Barack Obama has taken a hard line against whistleblowers.

Already Mike Rogers, a Republican congressman who serves as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, has called for a criminal investigation. Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein seconded the call and suggested congressional hearings as well.

The response from the US intelligence community itself was kept to a dry statement: "The matter has been referred to the Department of Justice," a spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said on Sunday.

Obama now faces a huge public relations problem. Wasn't it he who said that he welcomed the debate on government spying? And yet now he has decided to pursue the very man who triggered this debate.

One thing is certain: Snowden is sought after -- by the secret services, by the courts, by journalists. Whether hero or villain, writes Garance Franke-Ruta in the Atlantic, there is one thing the privacy-rights activist seems not to have fully considered: "He is about to become one of the most highly-scrutinized public figures in the world."

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1. battle against invesrted totalitarianism
juangabriel26 06/10/2013
5 years ago the dean of political theory studies, Sheldon Wolin, published a book that provides a lot of context to what Edward Snowden has done: "Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism." I find the concept of inverted totalitarianism very apt to describe what Snowden is fighting against. Following this thread, one may figure out how a democratic regime has been subverted from the inside by the very people who claim to stand for democratic values. Yet, these values are the precise reference point for those who denounce the subversion of democracy. The timing of Snowden's feat is also very appropriate. In the midst of the trial to Bradley Manning, there's a man who reminds us all that a life without freedom is not a good life and that freedom can be found in the battle for it. Let's join people like Edward Snowden, Bradley Manning and Julian Assange. Their cause is our cause.
2. Snowden
eehines 06/10/2013
Mr Snowden thinks of himself as a whistleblower, and so do many who agree with him that the US' PRISM program and its program for collecting metadata from cellphone providers are terribly wrong programs. I agree that the programs are anathema to individual liberty. However, the programs are legal under US law. The only question here is whether the programs' limits and checks are being honored--and that's a matter of trust, since the programs and its procedures are secret. That secrecy and the need for that blind trust in Government (not just the Obama administration, but any Government) form a large part of my dismay over the programs. However, the programs' legality mean Snowden cannot be a whistleblower; he's simply a man who has illegally revealed classified data to the public. What about civil disobedience, then? Is he practicing this honorable means of protest of a government behavior to which he objects? There are many legal avenues of calling legitimate attention to these flawed programs, including, for instance, any of the several formal whistleblower and Inspector General facilities to which he could have taken his case. Given the damage already done by these programs (stipulating arguendo that damage to individual liberty has been done) any additional damage done through the delays of going through these legitimate programs would have been quite trivial. Yet Snowden eschewed these programs and went directly public. From within a foreign country. Were this an act of civil disobedience, it would have had to satisfy two criteria: he would have had first to exhaust his legal remedies. As I noted, he chose not to do so. Secondly, he would have have to have been willing to face the consequences of his actions. It is, after all, those consequences and their absurdity in the face of the disobedience and the thing over which the disobedience is occurring that give force and credibility to the disobedience. Snowden's reason for being in Hong Kong, as stated by him, is to avoid facing those consequences. If Snowden truly believes that what he has done is just, he must return to the US and face the outcomes of his actions in open court. Let him make his case in front of the American people (where he'll find no small measure of support) and convince our representatives in that court case--the jury of his peers--that his act was justified. Of course he risks not being supported by our representatives, that jury, as there also are a large number of Americans who disagree with what he has done. Snowden's flight and so far refusal to return indicates he's unwilling to take that risk, that he does not have the courage of his convictions. In that case, Snowden did not commit an act of civil disobedience; he is simply a small man who is placing his ego above justice. Eric Hines
3. optional
allenels 06/10/2013
I am uncertain if Mr. Hines understands the will and heart of the American people? His convoluted rationale about how this young man should have proceeded as a "whistleblower" in these United States today is quite preposterous, especially based on the fact that the US is largely governed by a minority of less than 35% of the voting electorate. The information revealed is highly suspect as 'classified' because the young man was employed by a private corporation, a private business concern that has only contracted with the US government. There was a time when the 'will' of the people, democracy in other words, was at least a concept that most in the US attempted to achieve. Today the word democracy has been trivialized and has been replaced by corporatocracy. Our 'civil servants', for the most part, have been bought and paid for and the 'will' of the people is typically ignored. The minority that rules the government outside of the massive corporate influence are woefully uneducated and unaware of anything outside their preconceived conservatism that borders mania. There has been little transparency in the Obama administration and it is apparent that his administration, the Justice (translates To Just Us) Department and the ever-growing intelligence community, a gift from the previous administration, knows no bounds. For the few prosecutions of espionage and financial malfeasance, only the whistleblowers have been prosecuted and received jail sentences. So, based on reality and not conjecture, it would appear that Mr. Snowden took the only available, sane route to expose a major wrong in a supposed democratic society!
4. To eehines
ilsehoyle 06/10/2013
However, the programs are legal under US law. If the US' PRISM program and its program for collecting metadata from cellphone providers are legal, why do companies participating in this data gathering deny their involvement?
5.
bonsai.jem@gmail.com 06/10/2013
@eehines If he were to return here, to the States, he would be jailed or 'disappear' almost immediately. There is little to no justice in the US. If you do something to upset a government official, then your life is over. They ruin you. It does not matter if you've done anything wrong or not, they find a way. Please trust me on this. Yes, he isn't much use to the people of the US when he is out of country, but there's nothing to be gained from him returning only to disappear. He did his job, now it's up to the people to decide what to do. Since they are a dull and doughy lot, nothing will happen. This is just another 1-month fad like gay rights, school shootings, or whatever else. Americans have NO drive whatsoever to right the wrongs of society much less their own government.
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