Edward Snowden's claim that as systems administrator for a defense contractor in Hawaii he had the authority "to wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant to a federal judge to even the president," just isn't plausible, says a former national security lawyer at the Justice Department and Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
Edward Snowden, seen during a video interview with The Guardian.
Glenn Greenwald/Laura Poitras /EPA /LANDOV
Without discussing the details of how such surveillance programs work and the safeguards that are in place to protect privacy, Cordero says Snowden's claim "does not resemble anything close to what I observed within the intelligence community."
Might he have had the ability to wiretap individuals, if not the authority? Susan Freiwald, a cyber law and privacy expert at the University of San Francisco School of Law, notes that the NSA appears to be collecting huge amounts of "metadata" from communications companies — basically, master files of which numbers are connecting to each other. But Steve says that "for an analyst sitting in Hawaii to initiate a wiretap on anyone anywhere he or she would need much, much more" — perhaps most notably, the ability to "monitor new calls, emails and chats in real time."
The communications and Internet companies, Steve adds, "have said in no uncertain terms that they are not granting the NSA unfettered access to their servers — or turning over data on the scale necessary to make a system like this work."
"I think it's quite likely they are telling the truth," Freiwald says.