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Edward Snowden … Traitor or Patriot?

By Laura Fawaz, Contributing Reporter

Last week NBC Nightly News’ Brian Williams met in Moscow with Edwards Snowden, in his first public interview since he leaked NSA, National Security Agency, secret documents last year.


Edward Snowden

Even before this interview aired, members of the Obama administration already launched a frontal attack on Snowden, based then only on the portions of the interview NBC released as promo, prior to the one-hour broadcast.  Over time, Snowden says he started thinking it was a perversion of the war on terrorism.  He came willingly to this interview, knowing that there would be no compensations for him, and that no questions were off limits; he just wanted to tell his side of the story.

“I’m not going to be scrabbling jets for a 29-year-old hacker,” said President Barack Obama.

Snowden, have being called the most wanted man in the world, now 30, has been exiled overseas, wanted for espionage in United States for steeling and downloaded classified documents from the NSA, and then handing them over to journalists.  This blew the lid off data-minding programs that were done in the name of 9/11.  As a result of the NSA data steeling, the government is now able to vacuum up phone and internet data from companies such as Verizon, Google, Apple and Yahoo, done to zero in on any and all Americans.

In the name of 9/11, the U.S. government was now able, if they wanted to, to use our computers and phones.  They were now able to reach into American lives and American homes, unbeknownst to their citizens.  “Being a patriot means knowing when to protect your country, knowing when to protect your constitution, knowing when to protect your country men … and those adversaries don’t have to be foreign countries, they can be bad policies, they can be officials who need a little more accountability,” said Snowden.

The NSA, or any intelligence service in the world that has significant funding and a real technological research team, can own that phone the minute it connects to their network.  As soon you turn it on, they can turn it into a microphone, they can take pictures with it, and they can take the data off of it.  Even if the phone is turned off, the government can still access it.  Even minuet details such as getting the scores to a hockey game are an interest to the government.  Because, as Snowden explains, it tells a lot about you and “your pattern of life,” your routine.  It will show if you are you engaged in any activities that the government disapproves of, such as cheating on your spouse.  Even if it’s not technically illegal, all of these things can raise your level of scrutiny.  “The problem is that the capabilities themselves are unregulated, uncontrolled and dangerous,” said Snowden, all because you checked the sports score.

On 9/11, Snowden was outside of the NSA building; his grandfather was in the pentagon as an FBI agent at the time.  So he knows the threat of terrorism personally, but says that it is “disingenuous for the government to invoke and scandalize our memories” as they exploit the national trauma. 

In 2004, Snowden joined the U.S. Army, but was injured very early on in the training program, and left after breaking both of his legs.  “The fact is that I tried, I saw what was going on in the world, I believed the government’s arguments that we were gonna do good things in Iraq, that we were gonna free the oppressed, and I wanted to do my part, and help share the national burden and create not just a better America, but a better world,” Snowden said. 

Though according to Snowden, the problem quickly escalated as he rose to higher levels within the NSA, thus gaining more and more access.  “I realized that so many of the things that were told by the government simply aren’t true.  Much like the arguments of aluminum tubes, and weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, Colin Powell’s speech with the vile of anthrax that Saddam was going to bring against us.  The Iraq war that I signed up for was launched on false premises.  The American people were mislead; now whether that was due to bad faith, or simply mistakes of intelligence, I can’t say for sure, but I can say that it shows the problem of putting too much faith in intelligence systems, without debating them in public,” said Snowden, as he explained where it all began.

The main question that everyone is asking is why didn’t he go through the proper channels and become a whistler bowler instead.  Snowden claims that he did, in person and in writing, “many of these supervisors either did not know of this at all, or were not aware of the severity and details of how much the government can actually do.  But then they followed it up with, ‘if you say something about this, their going to destroy you.  Do you know what happens to people who stand up and talk about this.’”

“There were real problems with the way the NSA was interrupting its legal authorities,” Snowden explained, and continued with “I’m so sure that these communications still exist that I’ve called on congress to write a letter to the NSA to verify that they do, write to the office of general council and say did Mr. Snowden ever communicate any concerns are the NSA’s interpretations of its legal authorities.”

NBC News has learned from multiple sources that Snowden did in fact report his findings to his supervisors, so under the Freedom of Information Act, they requested to receive this, and all other information pertaining to Snowden’s attempts to alerts his superiors of the misuse of intelligence by NSA officials.  Former NSA Agency Chief General Keith Alexander even admitted in recent interviews that they don’t truly know how many documents Snowden had in his possession.  Snowden says that the audits done at the NSA were so poorly managed that any private contractor, not just employee but private contractor, can come in and take what they want from the NSA building.  This is shocking yes because the NSA is a government building, but even worse because they also had the personal, stolen, private information of every single American.

Snowden’s limit on what information he provided to the journalist was only what he thought was necessary for the American public to know, and that would not cause harm to anyone.  He said that a good gauge of what information was provided to the journalist is a representation of what you see in the press.  “Now, the NSA and the defense intelligence agency and some of these other organizations have claimed that lives were at risk, that all this information was out there, that I took all this information about missiles and warheads and tanks, but we don’t see any of that in the newspapers, we haven’t seen any of that,” said Snowden.

Snowden turned over these classified documents to Glenn Greenwald; a lawyer turned journalist, as well as Lara Poitras, a documentary filmmaker.  Greenwald then published his book No place to hide, after he first met Snowden in Hon Kong.  “It was the most real point of no return.  The moment you talk to a journalist, on camera, there’s really no return from there,” exclaimed Snowden.

Snowden said that with him as the source, he made sure that there was the agreement that that Greenwald and Poitras agree to consult with the government so that no individuals or specific harms could be caused by the release.  When asked if Snowden feels as if he is performing a public service, he referred to American history.  “We’ve seen that what is right isn’t always legal, the key is in terms of civil disobedience, you have to make sure that what your risking, what your bringing onto yourself does not serve as a detriment, does not hurt anyone else.  If you’re volunteering yourself to be used as a negative example, if your volunteering to spend a lifetime in prison, rather to spend time in prison, a short time where you’ll advocate, you will emerge stronger and will be able to inspire other people to resist these policies, are you doing good or are you doing bad,” responded Snowden.

So when asked if he should return to the United States to face the music, Snowden said that home is the place he wants to be most in the world, but since we have seen more espionage charges from Presidential Obama’s administration then from all other administrations combined, creates an environment Snowden cannot return to.  The Espionage Act changes the procedure of a typical trial, one where you are not allow you to speak in your defense, and you are not allow you to argue with any of the evidence that is in your favor because it may be classified.  “You have to understand that the music is not an open-court and a fair trial,” said Snowden.

Snowden says he’s a patriot, and that upsets government, especially Secretary of State John Kerry who said “what he’s [Snowden] done is expose for terrorist a lot of mechanisms which now effect operational security of those terrorist and make it harder for the United States to brake-up plots,” hitting why isn’t he home to own up to what he did.

When asked what Snowden thinks should happen to him when if he were to return to the United States, he was reluctant to answer, but said, “I’m not gonna give myself a parade, but I’m not going to go to walk into a jail cell and serve as a bad example for other people in government who see something happen, a violation of the constitution, and feel they have to say something about it.”

Snowden’s legal team is having talks with the United States government, but there have been no negotiations as of yet.  “It’s really frustrating for someone working so hard to expand the domain of our rights and our privacy, to end up stuck in a place where those rights are being challenged in a way that I would say are deeply unfair,” said Snowden when discussing him being stranded in Russia.

Most news agencies and members of government believe that the anger at Snowden does not have to do with not the theft itself, but the undermining it has caused for America’s standing in the world.  Specifically, in terms of the diplomatic standing between America and countries such as Germany for example.  Germany was one of the many countries affected by these NSA documents leaked as it exposed that the United States government was even tapping the phone of Angela Merkel, German Chancellor.  Secretary Kerry travels to such places that were hit by these surveillances, many of which are now even more cautious when dealing with U.S. relations. 

“I may have lost my ability to travel, but I’ve gained the ability to go to sleep at night, to put my head on the pillow, and feel comfortable that I’ve done the right thing, even when it was the hard thing, and I’m comfortable with that,” Snowden said.


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