Q&A With NSA Leaker Edward Snowden

A supporter holds a picture of Edward Snowden (Photo: AP/Kin Cheung)

Eighteen sets of questions were asked and answered during a live viewer-generated interview with Edward Snowden, the government contractor now famous as the man who leaked about the classified NSA program collecting data on American’s communications.

The live Q&A took place Monday, hosted by the Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald, the reporter who initially broke the story earlier this month about the NSA obtaining metadata from Verizon.

We went through and picked the top six questions and answers from the session with Snowden, who is currently said to be hiding in Hong Kong. Among the revelations: He claims he has had no contact with the Chinese government; he thinks encryption of your data can work; and he says the US government can’t cover this by “jailing or murdering me.”

1. Question: Regarding whether you have secretly given classified information to the Chinese government, some are saying you didn’t answer clearly – can you give a flat no?

Answer: No. I have had no contact with the Chinese government. Just like with the Guardian and the Washington Post, I only work with journalists.

2. Question: What would you say to others who are in a position to leak classified information that could improve public understanding of the intelligence apparatus of the USA and its effect on civil liberties? What evidence do you have that refutes the assertion that the NSA is unable to listen to the content of telephone calls without an explicit and defined court order from FISC?

Answer: This country is worth dying for.

3. Question: Is encrypting my email any good at defeating the NSA survelielance? Is my data protected by standard encryption?

Answer: Encryption works. Properly implemented strong crypto systems are one of the few things that you can rely on. Unfortunately, endpoint security is so terrifically weak that NSA can frequently find ways around it.

4. Question: What are your thoughts on Google’s and Facebook’s denials? Do you think that they’re honestly in the dark about PRISM, or do you think they’re compelled to lie?

Answer: Their denials went through several revisions as it become more and more clear they were misleading and included identical, specific language across companies. As a result of these disclosures and the clout of these companies, we’re finally beginning to see more transparency and better details about these programs for the first time since their inception. They are legally compelled to comply and maintain their silence in regard to specifics of the program, but that does not comply them from ethical obligation. If for example Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Apple refused to provide this cooperation with the Intelligence Community, what do you think the government would do? Shut them down?

5. Question: Did you lie about your salary? What is the issue there? Why did you tell Glenn Greenwald that your salary was $200,000 a year, when it was only $122,000 (according to the firm that fired you.)

Answer: I was debriefed by Glenn and his peers over a number of days, and not all of those conversations were recorded. The statement I made about earnings was that $200,000 was my “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.

6. Question:  1) Why did you choose Hong Kong to go to and then tell them about US hacking on their research facilities and universities? 2) How many sets of the documents you disclosed did you make, and how many different people have them? If anything happens to you, do they still exist?

Answer:  1) First, the US Government, just as they did with other whistleblowers, 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. 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. Second, 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. 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. 2) 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.

As a final thought, Snowden thanked everyone for the support he has received and said “just because you are not the target of a surveillance program does not make it okay.”

“The US Person/foreigner distinction is not a reasonable substitute for individualized suspicion, and is only applied to improve support for the program,” he continued. “This is the precise reason that NSA provides Congress with a special immunity to its surveillance.”

You can read the full Q&A over at The Guardian.