“You’re Being Watched”: Edward Snowden Emerges as Source Behind Explosive Revelations of NSA Spying

Democracy Now*

Edward Snowden
Edward Snowden

HAVANA TIMES – Former CIA employee Edward Snowden has come forward as the whistleblower behind the explosive revelations about the National Security Agency and the U.S. surveillance state. Three weeks ago the 29-year-old left his job inside the NSA’s office in Hawaii where he worked for the private intelligence firm Booz Allen Hamilton. Today he is in Hong Kong — not sure if he will ever see his home again.

In a video interview with The Guardian of London, Snowden says he exposed top-secret NSA surveillance programs to alert Americans of expansive government spying on innocents. “Even if you’re not doing anything wrong, you’re being watched and recorded,” Snowden says. “

And the storage capability of these systems increases every year, consistently, by orders of magnitude, to where it’s getting to the point you don’t have to have done anything wrong, you simply have to eventually fall under suspicion from somebody, even by a wrong call, and then they can use this system to go back in time and scrutinize every decision you’ve ever made, every friend you’ve ever discussed something with, and attack you on that basis, to sort of derive suspicion from an innocent life and paint anyone in the context of a wrongdoer. … The public needs to decide whether these programs and policies are right or wrong.”

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to the man who blew the whistle on the National Security Agency and the expanding U.S. surveillance state. On Sunday, The Guardian newspaper revealed the source of its explosive series on the NSA to be a 29-year-old former CIA technical assistant named Edward Snowden. For the past four years, Snowden has been working at the NSA as an employee of various outside contractors, including Booz Allen Hamilton and Dell. Most recently, he was working at the NSA office in Hawaii. On May 20th, he boarded a plane bound for Hong Kong, where he has remained ever since.

Since Wednesday, The Guardian has published a series of articles based on information provided by Snowden. First The Guardian revealed the National Security Agency is collecting telephone records of millions of Verizon customers under a secret court order issued in April. Then The Guardian revealed the existence of a top-secret program codenamed PRISM, where the NSA obtained access to the central servers of nine major Internet companies, including Google, Microsoft, Apple, Yahoo! and Facebook. Then, on Friday, The Guardian exposed how President had ordered his senior national security and intelligence officials to draw up a list of potential overseas targets for U.S. cyber-attacks.

And then The Guardian revealed details about an NSA data-mining tool called Boundless Informant that details and even maps by country the voluminous amount of information it collects from computer and telephone networks. A top-secret NSA “global heat map” shows that in March 2013 the agency collected 97 billion pieces of intelligence from computer networks worldwide. The NSA most frequently targeted Iran, Pakistan, Jordan, Egypt and India. The Boundless Informant documents also showed the agency collected almost three billion pieces of intelligence from U.S. computer networks over a 30-day period ending in March of 2013.

In a few minutes, we’ll be joined by Guardian columnist Glenn Greenwald, who has written these exposés, but first let’s turn to NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden in his own words. He recently sat down with Glenn Greenwald to talk about why he leaked the documents and why he is revealing his identity. The interview was filmed by Laura Poitras. It was filmed in Hong Kong. It was posted on the Guardian website on Sunday.

EDWARD SNOWDEN: My name’s Ed Snowden. I am 29 years old. I work for Booz Allen Hamilton as an infrastructure analyst for NSA in Hawaii.

GLENN GREENWALD: What are some of the positions that you held previously within the intelligence community?

EDWARD SNOWDEN: I have been a systems engineer, systems administrator, a senior adviser for the Central Intelligence Agency, a solutions consultant and a telecommunications information systems officer.

GLENN GREENWALD: One of the things people are going to be most interested in, in trying to understand what—who you are and what you’re thinking, is there came some point in time when you crossed this line of thinking about being a whistleblower to making the choice to actually become a whistleblower. Walk people through that decision-making process.

EDWARD SNOWDEN: When your in positions of privileged access, like a systems administrator for these sort of the intelligence community agencies, you’re exposed to a lot more information on a broader scale than the average employee, and because of that, you see things that may be disturbing. But over the course of a normal person’s career, you’d only see one or two of these instances. When you see everything, you see them on a more frequent basis, and you recognize that some of these things are actually abuses. And when you talk to people about them in a place like this, where this is the normal state of business, people tend not to take them very seriously and, you know, move on from them. But over time that awareness of wrongdoing sort of builds up, and you feel compelled to talk about it. And the more you talk about it, the more you’re ignored, the more you’re told it’s not a problem, until eventually you realize that these things need to be determined by the public, not by somebody who was simply hired by the government.

GLENN GREENWALD: Talk a little bit about how the American surveillance state actually functions. Does it target the actions of Americans?

EDWARD SNOWDEN: NSA and the intelligence community, in general, is focused on getting intelligence wherever it can, by any means possible, that it believes, on the grounds of sort of a self-certification, that they serve the national interest. Originally, we saw that focus very narrowly tailored as foreign intelligence gathered overseas. Now, increasingly, we see that it’s happening domestically. And to do that, they—the NSA specifically targets the communications of everyone. It ingests them by default. It collects them in its system, and it filters them, and it analyzes them, and it measures them, and it stores them for periods of time, simply because that’s the easiest, most efficient and most valuable way to achieve these ends. So while they may be intending to target someone associated with a foreign government or someone that they suspect of terrorism, they’re collecting your communications to do so. Any analyst at any time can target anyone, any selector anywhere. Where those communications will be picked up depends on the range of the sensor networks and the authorities that that analyst is empowered with. Not all analysts have the ability to target everything. But 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.

GLENN GREENWALD: One of the extraordinary parts about this episode is that usually whistleblowers do what they do anonymously and take steps to remain anonymous for as long as they can, which they hope, often, is forever. You, on the other hand, have this attitude of the opposite, which is to declare yourself openly as the person behind these disclosures. Why did you choose to do that?

EDWARD SNOWDEN: I think that the public is owed an explanation of the motivations behind the people who make these disclosures that are outside of the democratic model. When you are subverting the power of government, that that’s a fundamentally dangerous thing to democracy. And if you do that in secret consistently, you know, as the government does when it wants to benefit from a secret action that it took, it will kind of get its officials a mandate to go, “Hey, you know, tell the press about this thing and that thing, so the public is on our side.” 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, watches what happening—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.”

GLENN GREENWALD: Have you given thought to what it is that the U.S. government’s response to your conduct is in terms of what they might say about you, how they might try to depict to, what they might try to do to you?

EDWARD SNOWDEN: Yeah, I could be, you know, rendered by the CIA. I could have people come after me or any of their third-party partners. You know, they work closely with a number of other nations. Or, you know, they could pay off the triads or, you know, any—any of their agents or assets. We’ve got a CIA station just up the road in the consulate here in Hong Kong, and I’m sure they’re going to be very busy for the next week. And that’s a fear I’ll live under for the rest of my life, however long that happens to be. 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.

GLENN GREENWALD: Why should people care about surveillance?

EDWARD SNOWDEN: Because even if you’re not doing anything wrong, you’re being watched and recorded. And the storage capability of these systems increases every year consistently, by orders of magnitude, to where it’s getting to the point you don’t have to have done anything wrong. You simply have to eventually fall under suspicion from somebody, even by a wrong call, and then they can use the system to go back in time and scrutinize every decision you’ve ever made, every friend you’ve ever discussed something with, and attack you on that basis, to sort of derive suspicion from an innocent life and paint anyone in the context of a wrongdoer.

GLENN GREENWALD: We are currently sitting in a room in Hong Kong, which is where we are because you travel here. Talk a little bit about why it is that you came here. And specifically, there are going to be people who will speculate that what you really intend to do is to defect to the country that many see as the number one rival of the United States, which is China, and that what you’re really doing is essentially seeking to aid an enemy of the United States with which you intend to seek asylum. Can you talk a little bit about that?

EDWARD SNOWDEN: Sure. So there’s a couple assertions in those arguments that are sort of embedded in the questioning of the choice of Hong Kong. The first is that China is an enemy of the United States. It’s not. I mean, there are conflicts between the United States government and the Chinese PRC government. But the peoples, inherently, you know, we don’t care. We trade with each other freely. You know, we’re not at war. We’re not, you know, armed conflict, and we’re not trying to be. We’re the largest trading partners out there for each other.

Additionally, Hong Kong has a strong tradition of free speech. People think, “Oh, China, great firewall.” Mainland China does have significant restrictions on free speech, but the Hong Kong—the people of Hong Kong have a long tradition of protesting in the streets, of making their views known. The Internet is not filtered here, no more so than any other Western government. And I believe that the Hong Kong government is actually independent in relation to a lot of other leading Western governments.

GLENN GREENWALD: If your motive had been to harm the United States and help its enemies, or if your motive had been personal material gain, were there things that you could have done with these documents to advance those goals that you didn’t end up doing?

EDWARD SNOWDEN: Absolutely. I mean, anybody in the positions of access with the technical capabilities that I had could, you know, suck out secrets, pass them on the open market to Russia. You know, they always have an open door, as we do. I had access to, you know, the full rosters of everyone working at the NSA, the entire intelligence community, and undercover assets all around the world, the locations of every station we have, what their missions are and so forth. If I had just wanted to harm the U.S., you know, that—you could shut down the surveillance system in an afternoon. But that’s not my intention. And I think, for anyone making that argument, they need to think, if they were in my position, and, you know, you live a privileged life—you’re living in Hawaii, in Paradise, and making a ton of money—what would it take to make you leave everything behind?

The greatest fear that I have regarding the outcome for America of these disclosures is that nothing will change. People will see in the media all of these disclosures. They’ll know the length that the government is going to grant themselves powers, unilaterally, to create greater control over American society and global society, but they won’t be willing to take the risks necessary to stand up and fight to change things, to force their representatives to actually take a stand in their interests. And the months ahead, the years ahead, it’s only going to get worse, until eventually there will be a time where policies will change, because the only thing that restricts the activities of the surveillance state are policy. Even our agreements with other sovereign governments, we consider that to be a stipulation of policy rather than a stipulation of law. And 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, you 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, and it’ll be turnkey tyranny.

AMY GOODMAN: NSA whistleblower Ed Snowden being interviewed by The Guardian‘s Glenn Greenwald. The interview was filmed by award-winning documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras in Snowden’s Hong Kong hotel room on June 6. Edward Snowden left the U.S. for Hong Kong on May 20th, has been there since. When we come back, we’ll be joined by Glenn Greenwald from Hond Kong and then NSA whistleblower William Binney. Stay with us.
(*) See this program on Democracy Now.


10 thoughts on ““You’re Being Watched”: Edward Snowden Emerges as Source Behind Explosive Revelations of NSA Spying

  • Let me guess… you work for PRISM right? That’s the only plausible explanation for, again, those rationalizations.

    You have no morals to say anything, your roof is made of thin glass.

    “That has now happened. That is what Snowden has exposed, with official, secret documents. The NSA, FBI and CIA have, with the new digital technology, surveillance powers over our own citizens that the Stasi – the secret police in the former “democratic republic” of East Germany – could scarcely have dreamed of. Snowden reveals that the so-called intelligence community has become the United Stasi of America.”


  • This to me is very disturbing news, that I just happen to read about the 29 yo guy that left to Hong Kong. Watch out my friend, they may go and kill you for that, and I do hope that someone protect you because yo have done something that I dearly admired from you and from others in the INternet(YOUTUBE) especially. Everything about this Fema, and all of this spying on americans citizens, this is not correct at all, and something needs to be done about it. Personally in my views I did not vote for Obama, because something told me not to, very suspicious of him, and all that they find out about him, live and lies, Did something happened yet to get rid of him?

    People are taking this to slow and easy. If I have to live in this country like I did in Cuba, with all this stupidity and dictators I better get killed or die because i left cuba for that reason, left all what i did owned, lost half of my family,mother, father, grandfather, my uncle hanged himself for the miserable life they live there, and I couldn’t be next to them and help them in their needs and say good bye. I started a new life that is very hard to do, especially in other countries.

    People need to realized, that this guy has something in his mind, all these concentration camps builded lately, underground bases and facilities for them to protect themselves etc. is kind a fishy to me, and need to stop.

    I don’t bother anyone, and I love this country, but in the way is going is detrimental to see this country to go like Cuba is today. Don’t let it happen, because tears will follow. Follow my experiences and will see the results. Whether they like what I write about it or not, I personally don’t care, I am sick of all of this, is a shame for us and what other countries are saying and criticising U.S.A the most powerful and the guidance of the world. JUst because this guy, muslim wants to dictate the people, he needs to go back where he came from or was borned, perhaps they have a better place for him in the jungle. I am sick of this shit.

  • BTW, 245 killed seems like a lot, but to put it in context, around 310 people are struck by lightning in US every year. So yes, the chance of dying in a terrorist attack in the US is about 2/3 the chance of getting struck by lightning.


  • Probably their surveillance goes deeper, but at least is targeted to subjects of interest. For them is easy to play the legal card and request a court order to cover their tracks since they are not trying to track all the population, like is the case of PRISM.

    You sincerely seems persuaded by the metadata obfuscation. Well, “metadata” means everything else that is not content, it includes both caller and receiver numbers, approximate coordinates for cell users (either by reading GPS info or checking tower ids), length of the call, time of the call, etc. And this is just ONE of the tools used. THIS kind of deep surveillance has been the wet dream of every three bit dictator for ages, ironic that was implemented for the first time in the “land of the free, home of the brave”, where the scare of a minor threat like terrorism is enough to throw away both civil rights and the constitution.

    And yes, regardless of the press coverage, terrorism IS is a minor threat. Take a look at the list of terrorist attacks against the US:


    Even if we take in account just the period 2000-2013 (including 9/11 that skews the data A LOT), the average deaths per year as result of terror attacks is 245 with 739 injured (without 9/11 it becomes 18 deaths and 55 injured). And that list contains EVERYTHING, including all mass shootings that are not necessarily terror attacks.

    Terrorism IS a threat that must be eradicated, but IMO is not enough throw away civil liberties and the constitution as they seem to be doing. And don’t get me started about the causes of the terrorism targeting the US…

  • Every country does it, we’re just better t it. You don’t seem to mind the complete and utterly restrictive policies of the Cuban system yet seem to take offense at the US monitoring of electronic communications. Well we can all thank our terrorist friends for that. Regardless, we Americans are very concerned about this Orwellian intrusion into our daily lives….and we’re raising bloody hell about it. We have the ability to effect change in this system but unfortunately our Cuban friends can’t do the same.

    …of course we do want to continue monitoring all international communications….especially yours Luis.

  • That is very interesting, Griffin, and quite amazing. I am absolutely gobsmacked. Could you please give us some more figures and background. I’ve already told my friends. We’re doing it our pants with the angst. Putin and those Chinkies. And those bums at the Cuban Ministry of the Interior. All with global reach recording what we’re eating for breakfast. Gosh, I wont be back there soon. Please advise

  • Rationalizations, stupid rationalizations everywhere.

    ‘Quite limited’ pfft… I wonder if a WORLDWIDE monitoring network could ever be described as such.

    You should be worried more about your own ‘country’ metadata surveillance program and check if your roof is made of glass before throwing stones.

  • The same actions that Nixon would have been successfully impeach for, had he not resigned, Obama now gets a pass on, and is allowed in the name of national security. Already American citizens living abroad are murdered by drones, without due process, and do we really know that they are not already being murdered by C.I.A./N.S.A. assassins at home? Sure! Trust the governent, but at your own peril. It is only a matter of time before this universal spying on all its citizens will be used to surpress democratic, non-violent, opposition to the government and their corporate sponsors (if it isn’t already the case). Likewise, the government and its corporate sponsors are developing robotic soldiers who capable of surpressing opposition, peaceful as well as violent. This will eliminate the worry of soldiers being unwilling to follow orders to fire upon their brothers and sisters during mass demonstrations (for example, as when the Shah’s army refused to shoot down the masses in the streets and squares of Tehran in 1978, or more recently, the Egyptian army failing to fire upon the demonstrators in Tahrir Square in January and February of 2011). Instead, I see these malevelolent “robo-cops” being used as instruments of terror against any population seeking just redress against an unjust system. These new weapons of the corporations and their government are the worst nightmares of science fiction.

  • To be honest, the spying performed by the NSA is quite limited and modest compared to the standard operating procedures of the KGB (and Putin’s secret police today), the Chinese secret police and the Cuban Ministry of Interior.

  • The irony is so sweet it can barely be described with words. In the end, the Orwellian Big Brother turned out to be Uncle Sam.

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