.net programming, computers and assorted technology rants

NSA Whistleblower reveals himself

Courtesy Megan Geuss, ArsTechnica


The Guardian

The Guardian released an interview today with the man who has been the paper’s source for a few now-infamous leaked documents that revealed a vast dragnet maintained by the NSA for gathering information on communications in America. That source, is Edward Snowden, 29, an employee of American defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton and a former technical assistant for the CIA.

When The Guardian published a leaked document on Wednesday of last week that showed a Fisa court granting the NSA power to collect the metadata pertaining to phone calls from all of Verizon’s customers over a period of three months, it became one of the biggest exposures of privacy invading actions taken by the government without the public’s knowledge.

That is, until the next day, when The Guardian and The Washington Post revealed slides pertaining to another NSA project called PRISM, which apparently gathered vast swaths of information on users of Google services, Facebook, Apple, and more. While the companies named in the PRISM slides have all denied participation in such a program, President Obama and a number of senators confirmed the collection of phone call metadata on Friday.

Snowden, it seems, was prepared to have his leaked documents blow up in the news and chose to expose himself. "I have no intention of hiding who I am because I know I have done nothing wrong," he told The Guardian’s Glen Greenwald. Still, Snowden knows that he will probably be made to suffer for leaking the documents he did. As The Guardian writes:

Having watched the Obama administration prosecute whistleblowers at a historically unprecedented rate, he fully expects the US government to attempt to use all its weight to punish him. "I am not afraid," he said calmly, "because this is the choice I’ve made."

The 29-year old hails from Elizabeth City, North Carolina, attended community college in Maryland (where he studied computing but never completed the coursework), and enlisted in the Army in 2003. After he broke both his legs on a training accident, he worked as a security guard at an NSA facility in Maryland and then entered into the CIA, working on IT security. He was able to rise through the ranks quickly after showing considerable talent for the work.

As Snowden, who sports Electronic Frontier Foundation and Tor Project stickers on his laptop, tells it, he started identifying abuses of privacy early on, but he remained quiet as the Obama Administration came into office, believing that the abuses would be checked. But, Snowden told the Guardian, he "watched as Obama advanced the very policies that I thought would be reined in," and decided to act.

On May 20, he told his NSA supervisor that he needed to take a few weeks off to treat his epilepsy and went to Hong Kong where he has been living in a hotel ever since. As The Guardian reports:

He has had "a very comfortable life" that included a salary of roughly $200,000, a girlfriend with whom he shared a home in Hawaii, a stable career, and a family he loves. "I’m willing to sacrifice all of that 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."

According to Greenwald’s account, Snowden showed no remorse or sadness about his actions, except for when reflecting on the fate of his family, “The only thing I fear is the harmful effects on my family, who I won’t be able to help any more,” Snowden told The Guardian. But, he said, what the NSA is doing poses "an existential threat to democracy" because “the government has granted itself power it is not entitled to. There is no public oversight. The result is people like myself have the latitude to go further than they are allowed to.”

When asked about his future, Snowden acknowledged that he might be extradited, or captured by the CIA, or maligned as aiding China because he chose to ensconce himself in Hong Kong after leaving the US. To the latter concern, Snowden is quoted as saying, "There are more important things than money. If I were motivated by money, I could have sold these documents to any number of countries and gotten very rich." To the former fears, The Guardian reports that Snowden hopes to find asylum in an privacy-friendly country like Iceland, but is prepared for the consequences if that does not happen.

On whether he sees himself as akin to well-known leaker of documents Bradley Manning, Snowden draws something of a distinction: “I carefully evaluated every single document I disclosed to ensure that each was legitimately in the public interest," he said. "There are all sorts of documents that would have made a big impact that I didn’t turn over, because harming people isn’t my goal. Transparency is."

Read the whole article and see a video interview with Snowden on The Guardian‘s website here.


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