In a live chat on the Guardian website this morning, NSA leaker-on-the-run Edward Snowden claimed he fled because the U.S. government “immediately and predictably destroyed any possibility of a fair trial at home.”
“Openly declaring me guilty of treason and that the disclosure of secret, criminal, and even unconstitutional acts is an unforgivable crime,” Snowden said in the chat hosted by the author of the leak article, Glenn Greenwald. “That’s not justice, and it would be foolish to volunteer yourself to it if you can do more good outside of prison than in it.”
“Let’s be clear: I did not reveal any US operations against legitimate military targets. I pointed out where the NSA has hacked civilian infrastructure such as universities, hospitals, and private businesses because it is dangerous. These nakedly, aggressively criminal acts are wrong no matter the target,” Snowden continued.
“Not only that, when NSA makes a technical mistake during an exploitation operation, critical systems crash. Congress hasn’t declared war on the countries – the majority of them are our allies – but without asking for public permission, NSA is running network operations against them that affect millions of innocent people. And for what? So we can have secret access to a computer in a country we’re not even fighting? So we can potentially reveal a potential terrorist with the potential to kill fewer Americans than our own Police? No, the public needs to know the kinds of things a government does in its name, or the ‘consent of the governed’ is meaningless,” he said.
“All I can say right now is the US Government is not going to be able to cover this up by jailing or murdering me. Truth is coming, and it cannot be stopped.”
When asked why he didn’t fly to Iceland, his preferred country for asylum, Snowden said “leaving the US was an incredible risk, as NSA employees must declare their foreign travel 30 days in advance and are monitored.”
“There was a distinct possibility I would be interdicted en route, so I had to travel with no advance booking to a country with the cultural and legal framework to allow me to work without being immediately detained. Hong Kong provided that,” he said. “Iceland could be pushed harder, quicker, before the public could have a chance to make their feelings known, and I would not put that past the current US administration.”
Snowden checked out of his Hong Kong hotel a week ago and hasn’t been seen since.
When asked whether he lied about his salary — Booz Allen Hamilton said he earned $122,000 in Hawaii, while Snowden told Greenwald he walked away from $200,000 a year — Snowden said he was referring to his “career high” salary. “I had to take pay cuts in the course of pursuing specific work. Booz was not the most I’ve been paid,” he said.
One questioner asked why he waited until President Obama’s term to leak the information about the surveillance programs.
“Obama’s campaign promises and election gave me faith that he would lead us toward fixing the problems he outlined in his quest for votes. Many Americans felt similarly,” Snowden responded. “Unfortunately, shortly after assuming power, he closed the door on investigating systemic violations of law, deepened and expanded several abusive programs, and refused to spend the political capital to end the kind of human rights violations like we see in Guantanamo, where men still sit without charge.”
Snowden promised “more detail on how direct NSA’s accesses are [sic] is coming.”
“But in general, the reality is this: if an NSA, FBI, CIA, DIA, etc analyst has access to query raw SIGINT databases, they can enter and get results for anything they want. Phone number, email, user id, cell phone handset id (IMEI), and so on – it’s all the same. The restrictions against this are policy based, not technically based, and can change at any time. Additionally, audits are cursory, incomplete, and easily fooled by fake justifications. For at least GCHQ, the number of audited queries is only 5% of those performed,” he said.
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence tried to push back at talk over the ability of intelligence services to eavesdrop at will, but their statement yesterday dealt more with permissions than capabilities.
“The statement that a single analyst can eavesdrop on domestic communications without proper legal authorization is incorrect and was not briefed to Congress,” the agency said in reference to a claim by Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.). “Members have been briefed on the implementation of Section 702, that it targets foreigners located overseas for a valid foreign intelligence purpose, and that it cannot be used to target Americans anywhere in the world.”
Snowden said today he stands by his original assertion that he “certainly had the authorities to wiretap anyone, from you, or your accountant, to a federal judge, to even the President if I had a personal email.”
“US Persons do enjoy limited policy protections (and again, it’s important to understand that policy protection is no protection – policy is a one-way ratchet that only loosens) and one very weak technical protection – a near-the-front-end filter at our ingestion points. The filter is constantly out of date, is set at what is euphemistically referred to as the ‘widest allowable aperture,’ and can be stripped out at any time,” he said. “Even with the filter, US comms get ingested, and even more so as soon as they leave the border. Your protected communications shouldn’t stop being protected communications just because of the IP they’re tagged with.”
Asked if he’ll give information to the Chinese or other governments in exchange for asylum, Snowden slammed the question as “a predictable smear that I anticipated before going public, as the US media has a knee-jerk ‘RED CHINA!’ reaction to anything involving HK or the PRC, and is intended to distract from the issue of US government misconduct.”
“Ask yourself: if I were a Chinese spy, why wouldn’t I have flown directly into Beijing? I could be living in a palace petting a phoenix by now.” He later stated he’s had no contact with the Chinese government.
Snowden vowed that “if the Obama administration responds with an even harsher hand against me, they can be assured that they’ll soon find themselves facing an equally harsh public response.”
“This disclosure provides Obama an opportunity to appeal for a return to sanity, constitutional policy, and the rule of law rather than men. He still has plenty of time to go down in history as the President who looked into the abyss and stepped back, rather than leaping forward into it.”
He said initially he was “encouraged” by the media response to the leaks.
“Unfortunately, the mainstream media now seems far more interested in what I said when I was 17 or what my girlfriend looks like rather than, say, the largest program of suspicionless surveillance in human history,” Snowden said.