NSA Whistleblower Revealed
TESS VIGELAND, HOST:
It's WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Tess Vigeland.
After a steady drip, drip of leaks to the media about the secret surveillance programs run by the National Security Agency, this afternoon, The Guardian newspapers revealed the name of their source.
EDWARD SNOWDEN: My name is Ed Snowden. I'm 29 years old. I work for Booz Allen Hamilton as an infrastructure analyst for NSA in Hawaii.
VIGELAND: Edward Snowden appears on a video on the newspaper's Web page, a slight young man who is behind what is arguably the most significant revelation about the top secret programs run by the NSA. Joining us now from The Guardian is Glenn Greenwald. Welcome.
GLENN GREENWALD: Good to be here.
VIGELAND: Tell us how you came to be in touch with Mr. Snowden in the first place.
GREENWALD: He had contacted me, as well as an associate of mine, and indicated that he had a story that he thought we might be interested in. And from that point forward, we began speaking with him and got a sense for the scope of what it was that he was interested in having written about and pursued it after that.
VIGELAND: And when and where did this video interview take place?
GREENWALD: It took place in Hong Kong, which is where he went after he had essentially finalized the saving of all of the last documents that he thought the public should see. And after he arrived - a few days after he arrived, we flew out to Hong Kong in order to interview him and go over the documents with him and began writing about them.
VIGELAND: Why did he choose Hong Kong?
GREENWALD: He chose it, I think, for a couple of reasons. One is that he said that there was a history of very vibrant commitment to free speech and free association. There are political protests all of the time in Hong Kong that are very free. People think that because it's technically in China that it's oppressive, but Hong Kong is under its own rule and has a lot of civil liberties.
He also believes, probably correctly, that the Chinese government and the government of Hong Kong will not be simply subservient or complicit in adhering to U.S. dictates regarding what it is that they want to do to him.
VIGELAND: Tell us a little more about Mr. Snowden. Who is he? And also, tell us about Booz Allen Hamilton who were his employers.
GREENWALD: Booz Allen Hamilton was really only his employer for the last few months. He's actually, like so many people in the intelligence community, mostly work for private contractors, even as he works, in fact, for the CIA or the NSA. He was an employee of the CIA for roughly two and a half years up until 2009. And then since then, he's worked for a variety of private contractors, usually tasked to the NSA because most of the intelligence community at this point is privatized.
And prior to that, he enlisted in the Army in 2003 because he wanted to go fight as a member of the Special Forces in Iraq but ended up breaking both of his legs in a training accident, and so dropped out of the Army and went to the CIA after that.
VIGELAND: Why did Mr. Snowden decide to come forward and identify himself?
GREENWALD: He was very clear from the start that this was his intention. He said he knows that the act that he undertook were unusual, that it was outside of the democratic process. He's disclosing information that the law says you shouldn't disclose. And his attitude is that he believes he did absolutely nothing wrong. He did the right thing in his view. And that therefore if somebody does something like he did, the public will rightly want to know why.
And because he feels like he did the right thing, he doesn't want to hide in shame or try and evade public detection. He wants there to be a debate triggered around the policies that are very consequential and yet very secret, or at least were secret, until he helped begin to expose them. And he wants to help drive that debate. And he thinks that by coming forward and explaining himself that that will help fuel those discussions.
VIGELAND: One of the things that he talks about in his interview with you is a detail of exactly who and what he could tap into. Let's listen to that.
(SOUNDBITE OF EDWARD SNOWDEN'S RECORDED INTERVIEW)
SNOWDEN: Any analyst at any time can target anyone. Any selector. Anywhere. Where those communications will be picked up depends on the range of the sensor networks and the authorities that that analyst is empowered with. Not all analysts have the ability to target everything. But I, sitting at my desk, 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.
VIGELAND: Glenn Greenwald, do you think that will surprise Americans, or is this part of the fabric of life now?
GREENWALD: I do. This is one of the things that he is so intent upon making people understand is that this surveillance state that is being constructed really is boundless. It is limitless. There are virtually no checks on what can be done. And he's talking there from experience. He described to us as he - several instances in which he purposely eavesdropped on very prominent people just to demonstrate the weakness in the system and to demonstrate that it could be done.
And so what he's trying to get Americans to understand is that this huge enormous apparatus that has extremely important consequences for all of our lives isn't just being built but is being built in secret and that it's timely learned about what's being done and understand it and decided this is what we really want.
VIGELAND: Is Mr. Snowden concerned for his safety or that of his family, his future?
GREENWALD: He had said on many occasions that he doesn't regret his choice, that he knows that no good things are likely to come to him from this. So he's obviously rationally aware of the fact that he's likely to suffer from recrimination of some sort at somebody's hands. The only time that I ever saw him emotional in any way - a negative emotion - was when he talked about the fact that he was concerned for the welfare of his family, many of whom work - are federal government employees.
And he described how he knows that at this point, he's unable to help them, and sort of had his eyes tear up as he recounted that to me. That was really the only time that I ever saw him express any kind of sadness, remorse, really any anxiety over the choice. Otherwise, he's been very at peace with it.
VIGELAND: Glenn Greenwald is with The Guardian newspapers. He spoke with us from Hong Kong. Thanks so much for being with us.
GREENWALD: My pleasure. Thanks for having me.
VIGELAND: Booz Allen has released a statement on its website confirming that Snowden has been an employee for less than three months. The statement goes on to say that leaks of classified information are, quote, "a grave violation of the code of conduct and core values of the firm."
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