14 Things We Learned From The Q&A With Edward Snowden

The source of the Guardian’s NSA leaks emerged Monday to take a few questions from journalists and readers. He loves his country, hates Dick Cheney, and has seen those pictures of his girlfriend.

The Guardian, File / AP

1. More leaks are (probably) coming.


When asked to define “direct access” — or the term used to describe (or deny) the NSA’s reach into the servers of nine major tech companies — Snowden gave a vague answer with some confusing technical acronyms. But he also said that “more detail on how direct NSA’s accesses are is coming.”

2. He considers himself an enemy of the U.S. government more than ever.


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 …

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.

The government hasn’t technically “openly [declared]” Snowden guilty of treason, though some U.S. senators have. Yet toward the end of the Q&A, Snowden reaffirmed his feeling of patriotism: “This country is worth dying for.”

3. But he says he hasn’t given any information to the Chinese in exchange for protection, as some have theorized.


Ask yourself: If I were a Chinese spy, why wouldn’t I have flown directly into Beijing? I could be living in a palace petting a phoenix by now …

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

4. Though Snowden wants political asylum in Iceland, he didn’t trust the Icelandic government to immediately protect him.


In his big interview with the Guardian, Snowden said he eventually wants to move to Iceland.

He views his best hope as the possibility of asylum, with Iceland – with its reputation of a champion of internet freedom – at the top of his list. He knows that may prove a wish unfulfilled.

This prompted many to wonder why he didn’t go there first instead of Hong Kong. Snowden explains:

Leaving the US was an incredible risk, as NSA employees must declare their foreign travel 30 days in advance and are monitored. There was a distinct possibility I would be interdicted en route, so I had to travel with no advance booking to a country with the cultural and legal framework to allow me to work without being immediately detained. Hong Kong provided that. Iceland could be pushed harder, quicker, before the public could have a chance to make their feelings known, and I would not put that past the current US administration.

Bobby Yip / Reuters

A demonstration outside the U.S. Consulate in Hong Kong on June 15.

5. Obama’s failure to close Guantanamo fueled Snowden’s leaks.


Snowden knew about the NSA’s surveillance programs years ago, but held off on leaking the information until after the election of President Obama, whom Snowden hoped would put an end to them. Snowden made a similar statement before, but here he explained his specific grievances against Obama:

Unfortunately, shortly after assuming power, [Obama] closed the door on investigating systemic violations of law, deepened and expanded several abusive programs, and refused to spend the political capital to end the kind of human rights violations like we see in Guantanamo, where men still sit without charge.

6. But there was no single moment that turned Snowden into a whistleblower.


I imagine everyone’s experience is different, but for me, there was no single moment. It was seeing a continuing litany of lies from senior officials to Congress — and therefore the American people — and the realization that that Congress, specifically the Gang of Eight, wholly supported the lies that compelled me to act.

7. Snowden says he didn’t lie about his salary.


The Guardian reported that Snowden made $200,000 annually. Snowden’s employer Booz Allen Hamilton later came forward to say his salary was $122,000. Snowden clairifies:

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.

8. He stands by his most provocative claim.


“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,” Snowden said in his first published Guardian interview. It was a bold and somewhat frightening claim that many expressed skepticism over. But Snowden doubled down.

Yes, I stand by it. US Persons do enjoy limited policy protections … and one very weak technical protection … [That] filter is constantly out of date, is set at what is euphemistically referred to as the “widest allowable aperture,” and can be stripped out at any time. Even with the filter, U.S. comms get ingested, and even more so as soon as they leave the border. Your protected communications shouldn’t stop being protected communications just because of the IP they’re tagged with.

9. And he really doesn’t like Dick Cheney.


Despite having Cheney’s biography at his bedside in his Hong Kong hotel room, Snowden says:

[It’s] important to bear in mind I’m being called a traitor by men like former Vice President Dick Cheney. This is a man who gave us the warrantless wiretapping scheme as a kind of atrocity warm-up on the way to deceitfully engineering a conflict that has killed over 4,400 and maimed nearly 32,000 Americans, as well as leaving over 100,000 Iraqis dead. Being called a traitor by Dick Cheney is the highest honor you can give an American, and the more panicked talk we hear from people like him, Feinstein, and King, the better off we all are. If they had taught a class on how to be the kind of citizen Dick Cheney worries about, I would have finished high school.

Katiebair.Com / Reuters

Edward Snowden in 2002.

10. According to Snowden, warrants in the intelligence community differ from standard warrants.


In response to the question: “Can analysts listen to content of domestic calls without a warrant?” (Snowden’s says yes, albeit not outright.)

Even in the event of “warranted” intercept, it’s important to understand the intelligence community doesn’t always deal with what you would consider a “real” warrant like a police department would have to, the “warrant” is more of a templated form they fill out and send to a reliable judge with a rubber stamp.

11. And ultimately, you really can’t protect your information from the NSA.


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.

12. Though their leaks and methods were considerably different, Snowden appears to support Bradley Manning.


Snowden previously said that he “carefully evaluated every single document” that he decided to leak. Some took this as a criticism of Bradley Manning, who gave WikiLeaks half a million documents. Snowden clarified it was not.

Wikileaks is a legitimate journalistic outlet and they carefully redacted all of their releases in accordance with a judgment of public interest … I understand that many media outlets used the argument that “documents were dumped” to smear Manning, and want to make it clear that it is not a valid assertion here.

13. He’s not a fan of spying on foreign citizens.


Suspicionless surveillance does not become OK simply because it’s only victimizing 95% of the world instead of 100%. Our founders did not write that “We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all U.S. Persons are created equal.”

More on this here.

14. And he’s seen those photos of his girlfriend.


Unfortunately, the mainstream media now seems far more interested in what I said when I was 17 or what my girlfriend looks like rather than, say, the largest program of suspicionless surveillance in human history.

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