WASHINGTON — Edward Snowden, the man who turned an unlikely career in intelligence gathering into one of the largest leaks of classified data ever, says the federal government shouldn't be snooping on anyone without direct concern he or she is involved in a terrorist plot — and that includes citizens of foreign countries.
In an online chat with staff of The Guardian and the British paper's readers Monday, Snowden said it was wrong for the U.S. intelligence community to spy on anyone who is not seen as a direct threat.
"The 'US Persons' protection in general is a distraction from the power and danger of this system," Snowden wrote. "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 US Persons are created equal.'"
The answer came in response to skepticism about one of Snowden's most incendiary claims: that NSA officials can read the email of anyone in the United States whenever they want and that the only thing stopping them are what he calls flimsy policy restraints.
"I stand by it. US Persons do enjoy limited policy protections (and again, it's important to understand that policy protection is no protection — policy is a one-way ratchet that only loosens) and one very weak technical protection — a near-the-front-end filter at our ingestion points," he wrote. "The filter is constantly out of date, is set at what is euphemistically referred to as the 'widest allowable aperture,' and can be stripped out at any time.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, US 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."
At several points during the live chat, Snowden appeared to take issue with basic functions of America's intelligence services as well as reiterating his contention that those same services have run amok and turned surveillance meant for foreigners onto U.S citizens. Snowden said some of that foreign surveillance is also wrong.
"I pointed out where the NSA has hacked civilian infrastructure such as universities, hospitals, and private businesses because it is dangerous. These nakedly, aggressively criminal acts are wrong no matter the target," he wrote in answer to a question from Glenn Greenwald, the Guardian writer who first published Snowden's information. "Congress hasn't declared war on the countries — the majority of them are our allies — but without asking for public permission, NSA is running network operations against them that affect millions of innocent people. And for what? So we can have secret access to a computer in a country we're not even fighting? So we can potentially reveal a potential terrorist with the potential to kill fewer Americans than our own Police? No, the public needs to know the kinds of things a government does in its name, or the 'consent of the governed' is meaningless."
Though he mocked concerns from some about his trip to China, Snowden said flatly that he has not been in touch with the regime there.
"No. I have had no contact with the Chinese government," he wrote. "Just like with the Guardian and the Washington Post, I only work with journalists."