29-year old former CIA technical assistant and current NSA third-party contractor Edward Snowden has decided to out himself as the source of the leaked national security documents exposing the U.S. government's massive secret telephone records collection and secret access to nine major Internet services providers, as published by journalist Glenn Greenwald of the Guardian over the course of the past week.
"Any analyst, at any time, can target anyone...anywhere," he tells Greenwald in a video interview published this morning by the Guardian, as recorded in Hong Kong where Snowden has taken refuge for the time being. He adds that, "increasingly", secret intelligence collection is "happening domestically."
"Not all analysts have the ability to target everything," he explains. "But I, sitting at my desk, certainly had the authorities to wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant to a federal judge or even the President if I had a personal email."
Prior to his decision to leak certain classified and top secret documents about "this massive surveillance machine" he said is being secretly built by the government --- documents which, he says, he reviewed specifically to make sure nobody was personally exposed by them --- Greenwald reports, in a separate article, that he "had 'a very comfortable life' that included a salary of roughly $200,000, a girlfriend with whom he shared a home in Hawaii, a stable career, and a family he loves."
"I carefully evaluated every single document I disclosed to ensure that each was legitimately in the public interest," he is quoted as telling the Guardian. "There are all sorts of documents that would have made a big impact that I didn't turn over, because harming people isn't my goal. Transparency is."
Thanks to his leaks from the NSA, "Snowden will go down in history as one of America's most consequential whistleblowers alongside Daniel Ellsberg and Bradley Manning" writes Greenwald, with fellow Guardian journalists Ewen MacAskill and Laura Poitras today.
"The public needs to decide whether these programs and policies are right or wrong," Snowden tells Greenwald in the fascinating video interview...
A decade ago, Snowden had enlisted in the U.S. Army in hopes of going to Iraq with the Special Forces, the Guardian reports. He became disenchanted, he says, when "Most of the people training us seemed pumped up about killing Arabs, not helping anyone." Following a serious injury during training, he was discharged, and eventually made his way into the intelligence field, and now the pages of history.
When asked why he decided to expose these programs, and now come out publicly about them at this time, as opposed to staying in the shadows until otherwise discovered, Snowden explains in the video...
But they rarely, if ever, do that when an abuse occurs. That falls to individual citizens, but they're typically maligned. You know, it becomes a thing of 'these people are against the country, they're against the government'.
But, I'm not. I'm no different from anybody else. I don't have special skills. I'm just another guy who sits there day to day in the office and watches what's happening and goes 'This is something that's not our place to decide.' The public needs to decide whether these programs and policies are right or wrong. And I'm willing to go on the record to defend the authenticity of them, and say I didn't change these, I didn't modify the story. This is the truth. This is what's happening. You should decide whether we need to be doing this.
"Why should people care about surveillance?," Greenwald asked Snowden, who replies:
In a two-page September 21, 2011 letter sent by Democratic Senators Ron Wyden (OR) and Mark Udall (CO), both members of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee, to Attorney General Eric Holder, stressing their concern about government misrepresentation of our current surveillance laws, the Senators pointed out what they describe as a stark gap between our current laws and our actual, secret implementation of those policies.
"We have been concerned for some time," they wrote, "that the U.S. Government is relying on secret interpretations of surveillance authorities that --- in our judgement --- differ significantly from the public's understanding of what is permitted under U.S. law."
The two men, privy to many of the classified policies now partially exposed thanks to Snowden's leaks, said that they believed there needs to be more public transparency of those policies and programs.
"We believe that policymakers can have legitimate differences of opinion about what types of domestic surveillance should be permitted, but we also believe that the American people should be able to learn what their government thinks that the law means, so that voters have the ability to ratify or reject decisions that elected officials make on their behalf."
While Snowden was not asked specifically, during the Guardian video, to speak to the concerns of the Senators, his closing response seemed to do exactly that:
Because of that, a new leader will be elected, they'll flip the switch, say that 'because of the crisis, because of the dangers that we face in the world' --- ya know, some new and unpredicted threat --- 'we need more authority, we need more power.' And there will be nothing the people can do at that point to oppose it. It'll be turnkey tyranny.
As progressive blogger "Digby" observed, about the video interview with Snowden taped three days ago and released this morning: "Whistleblowers are often an odd lot. You have to be to take on the powerful like this. I know that I would never in a million years have the balls to do what he has done. Except for his amazing bravery, he seems surprisingly normal."
Indeed, he does. There is little doubt that he will now be maligned in the way that Greenwald, remarkably, has been over the past several days. While Greenwald was one of the staunchest, unyeilding critics of the Bush Administration for years, attacked regularly as a 'radical liberal' by the Right at that time, he is now being similar assaulted by Democrats who are furious about his consistent stand on issues of civil liberties.
What has been most remarkable, however, from my observations over the past several weeks --- beginning initially with the news that the Obama Administration's DoJ had secretly subpoenaed broad telephone records from Associated Press reporters and had identified Fox "News" journalist James Rosen as a "co-conspirator" in another leak case, right up to the disclosures over the past week --- is how many Democrats have taken up virtually identical talking points and positions in order to defend the Obama Administration, as those used by Republicans to defend George W. Bush while he was carrying out many of the exact same actions.
Curiously, many Obama loyalists don't seem to notice the astounding irony of using those same tactics and talking points to defend the President after having decried them when used by Bush loyalists during the first decade of the century.
At the same time, many Bush loyalists are conveniently pretending to forget the nearly-identical arguments once made in blind defense of Bush, now that they hope to use them to attack President Obama. Either that, or, like Dubya's former Press Secretary Ari Fleisher who said yesterday that he's "proud, actually, as a Republican to be backing what President Obama has done", they are simply ringing in to endorse the same Big Government policies they once supported under Bush, even while falsely claiming, both then and now, to be "conservatives" who staunchly oppose broad government overreach and unbridled intrusion into the private lives and Constitutional rights of American citizens.
The political world has, in some respects, now completely turned upside down. But whether or not you agree with Snowden's brave decision to leak this information to the public, or whether or not you agree with the policies exposed by them, we are all now much better educated about what our government is doing in our name, and, therefore, better able to make informed decisions about that government and those policies.
That is, of course, the very point of the very best whistleblowing, which 2008 candidate Obama once described as "acts of courage and patriotism, which can sometimes save lives and often save taxpayer dollars [and that] should be encouraged rather than stifled as they have been during the Bush administration."
And now we have the "courage and patriotism" of yet another American whistleblower and several dedicated and unflinching journalists (from a British publication) to thank for it.
CORRECTION: I had initially misidentified the states represented by Senators Wyden and Udall. That has now been corrected above. My apologies for the error.