Glenn Greenwald on Asylum Request, Espionage Charge; More Leaks to Come
HAVANA TIMES – The international mystery surrounding National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden has deepened after the former U.S. intelligence contractor failed to board a flight as expected from Moscow to Havana today. Snowden reportedly arrived in Moscow Sunday after fleeing Hong Kong.
The developments come just days after the United States publicly revealed it had filed espionage charges against Snowden for theft of government property, unauthorized communication of national defense information and wilful communication of classified communications intelligence to an unauthorized person.
“The idea that he has harmed national security is truly laughable,” says Guardian columnist Glenn Greenwald, who broke the NSA surveillance stories. “If you go and look at what it is that we published, the only things that we published were reports that the U.S. government was spying, not on the terrorists or the Chinese government, but on American citizens indiscriminately.”
AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s show with the international mystery surrounding Edward Snowden, the former U.S. intelligence contractor who leaked documents about the United States’ secret domestic and global surveillance programs. Snowden reportedly landed in Moscow Sunday after leaving Hong Kong, but his exact whereabouts are unknown. He was expected to fly from Moscow to Cuba today, but journalists aboard the flight said his seat was empty. It was believed Snowden’s final destination would be Ecuador, which has confirmed it was considering an asylum request for Snowden. He has not been seen publicly or photographed since his reported arrival in Moscow on Sunday afternoon from Hong Kong.
The developments come just days after the United States publicly revealed it had filed espionage charges against Snowden for theft of government property, unauthorized communication of national defense information, and wilful communication of classified communications intelligence to an unauthorized person. The criminal complaint was dated June 14th but only came to light on Friday.
The United States has also revoked his passport. On Sunday, Snowden was allowed to fly out of Hong Kong even though Washington asked the Chinese territory to arrest him on espionage charges. In a statement, the Hong Kong government says documents submitted by the U.S. did not, quote, “fully comply with the legal requirements under Hong Kong law,” and it had no legal basis to prevent him from leaving. In addition, the Hong Kong government said in a written statement that it wanted more information alleged hacking of computer systems in Hong Kong by U.S. government agencies.
WikiLeaks is playing a central role in aiding Snowden’s travels. A WikiLeaks activist named Sarah Harrison reportedly accompanied Snowden on his flight from Hong Kong to Moscow. In an interview with The New York Times, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said, quote, “Mr. Snowden requested our expertise and assistance. We’ve been involved in very similar legal and diplomatic and geopolitical struggles to preserve the organization and its ability to publish.”
Snowden, who turned 30 Friday, had anticipated risks for exposing the NSA’s surveillance program.
EDWARD SNOWDEN: You can’t come forward against the world’s most powerful intelligence agencies and be completely free from risk, because they’re such powerful adversaries that no one can meaningfully oppose them. If they want to get you, they’ll get you in time. But at the same time you have to make a determination about what it is that’s important to you. And if living—living unfreely but comfortably is something you’re willing to accept—and I think many of us are; it’s the human nature—you can get up every day, you can go to work, you can collect your large paycheck for relatively little work, against the public interest, and go to sleep at night after watching your shows. But if you realize that that’s the world that you helped create, and it’s going to get worse with the next generation and the next generation, who extend the capabilities of this sort of architecture of oppression, you realize that you might be willing to accept any risk, and it doesn’t matter what the outcome is, so long as the public gets to make their own decisions about how that’s applied.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Edward Snowden being interviewed by The Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald, filmed by Laura Poitras earlier this month in Hong Kong.
Since then, the former contractor has revealed a secret court order showing that the U.S. government had forced the telecom giant Verizon to hand over the phone records of millions of Americans. He also revealed the existence of a secret program called PRISM, which internal NSA documents claim gives the agency access to data held by Google, Facebook, Apple and other U.S. Internet giants.
For more, we go to Glenn Greenwald, the journalist who broke the story. He is a columnist and blogger for The Guardian, also a constitutional lawyer. His recent piece is called “On the Espionage Act Charges Against Edward Snowden.”
First of all, Glenn Greenwald, well, welcome back to Democracy Now! Do you know where Edward Snowden is right now?
GLENN GREENWALD: No, I don’t. I know what news reports are indicating with regard to his whereabouts, and outside of a small circle of people who are traveling with him, it seems that nobody really knows at the moment where he is.
AMY GOODMAN: Where do we—where do you know he last was, where we last know where he was?
GLENN GREENWALD: I mean, I haven’t spoken with him personally since there were reports that he left Hong Kong, and so I can’t say with any firsthand knowledge that he’s been anywhere once he left Hong Kong. I only know what the news media is reporting on that, and there seemed to be confirmation that he was on a flight from Hong Kong to Moscow, that the plan was that he would land in Moscow, spend a night in—either in the airport or in an embassy of Venezuela or Ecuador, and then travel on to Havana on a flight this morning. And there are lots of reporters on that flight, all of whom are reporting that he doesn’t seem to be on that flight. And so, the question is, was there an alternative travel arrangement made for him to go to Ecuador or somewhere else, whether it be an alternative commercial flight or a private plane, or has he been detained by the Russian government, which said that it wouldn’t detain him, or has something else happened to him? I don’t think anybody knows at this point. I certainly don’t.
AMY GOODMAN: Glenn Greenwald, Ed Snowden turned 30 on Friday. Also, then, the charges against him were made known. Can you explain what he has been charged with by the United States?
GLENN GREENWALD: He’s been charged so far with three felony counts, one of which is essentially stealing property that doesn’t belong to him. The other two are the much more serious ones. They’re offenses under the Espionage Act of 1917 that has been amended several times since then, and the statute—the provisions of that law under which he’s been charged were amended most recently in 1950. And they essentially accuse him of releasing classified information that he knew or should have known was likely to harm the United States or result in benefit to its adversaries.
This is the statute that, until President Obama was inaugurated, had only been used a grand total of three times in all of American history to prosecute leakers, people who disclose classified information, as opposed to those who actually do espionage, which is passing secrets to an enemy of the United States or selling it. But for pure leakers, it’s almost never been used. There’s only been three cases before Obama, one of which was Daniel Ellsberg. Since President Obama’s inauguration, there have now been seven—he is now the seventh—leakers or whistleblower who has been prosecuted under the statute, so more than double the number of all previous presidents combined.
The charges, at the moment, each carry a penalty of 10 years in prison, so you’re talking about 30 years in prison. But he’s not even been indicted yet. The pattern of the Obama administration has been to add many more charges once there’s an indictment. And so, it’s almost certain that he will face life imprisonment if the United States ever apprehends him and is able to bring him to trial.
AMY GOODMAN: On Sunday, House Intelligence Committee Chair Mike Rogers said the United States should use every legal avenue to bring Edward Snowden back to face espionage charges. He was speaking to host David Gregory on NBC’s Meet the Press.
REP. MIKE ROGERS: So, if you think about what he says he wants and what his actions are, it defies logic. He has taken information that does not belong to him; it belongs to the people of the United States. He has jeopardized our national security. I disagree with the reporter. Clearly, the bad guys have already changed their way. Remember, these were counterterrorism programs, essentially. And we have seen that bad guys overseas, terrorists who are committing and plotting attacks on the United States and our allies, have changed the way they operate. We’ve already seen that. To say that that is not harmful to the national security of the United States or our safety is just dead wrong.
They should use every legal avenue we have to bring him back to the United States. And, listen, if he believes that he’s doing something good—and, by the way, he went outside all of the whistleblower avenues that were available to anyone in this government, including people who have classified information. We get two or three visits from whistleblowers every single week in the committee, and we investigate every one thoroughly. He didn’t choose that route. If he really believes he did something good, he should get on a plane, come back and face the consequences of his actions.
DAVID GREGORY: Is he gone? Do you think he’s gone, not to return?
REP. MIKE ROGERS: I don’t—I’m not sure I would say gone forever. I do think that we’ll continue with extradition activities wherever he ends up, and we could—should continue to find ways to return him to the United States and get the United States public’s information back.
AMY GOODMAN: House Intelligence Chair Mike Rogers. Your response to this, Glenn Greenwald?
GLENN GREENWALD: First of all, there’s this constant claim that’s made about how Democrats and Republicans are at each other’s throat and have radically different views of the world that are irreconcilable. Mike Rogers is one of the most right-wing members of the Republican House caucus when it comes to national security issues, and yet he sounds exactly the same as Dianne Feinstein, as every single Democrat in the Senate who is speaking about these issues. There’s absolutely no division, and there never is on these questions. The political class binds together every single time to declare to be an enemy anybody who brings transparency to what it is that they’re doing.
Secondly, the idea that he has harmed national security is truly laughable. If you go and loo