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Snowden: Society Deserves Chance to 'Govern,' 'Change' Itself

NSA whistleblower declares "mission accomplished" as the debate over spying vindicates his decision to step forward

Jon Queally

“If I defected at all, I defected from the government to the public.”

That's just one of the striking things NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden told the Washington Post's Barton Gellman during two-days of "near constant conversation" in a hotel room in Russia—a rare person-to-person interview with the man who has rocked the world by revealing vast details about how the most powerful spy agencies in the world use clandestine technologies to gaze on an increasingly digitized and interconnected population.

"I didn’t want to change society. I wanted to give society a chance to determine if it should change itself.” –Edward Snowden

In perhaps the most telling exchange, Snowden explained to Gellman that as far as he is concerned, the global conversation that the revelations have made possible has made all the risks to his personal welfare worth it.

“For me, in terms of personal satisfaction, the mission’s already accomplished,” Snowden said. “I already won. As soon as the journalists were able to work, everything that I had been trying to do was validated. Because, remember, I didn’t want to change society. I wanted to give society a chance to determine if it should change itself.”

“All I wanted was for the public to be able to have a say in how they are governed,” he said. “That is a milestone we left a long time ago."

What follows is a few choice selections from Gellman's piece and direct quotes from Snowden. For the entire story, go here.

On breaking oaths and keeping secrets

In his interview with The Post, Snowden noted matter-of-factly that Standard Form 312, the ­classified-information nondisclosure agreement, is a civil contract. He signed it, but he pledged his fealty elsewhere.

“The oath of allegiance is not an oath of secrecy,” he said. “That is an oath to the Constitution. That is the oath that I kept that Keith Alexander and James Clapper did not.”

People who accuse him of disloyalty, he said, mistake his purpose.

“I am not trying to bring down the NSA, I am working to improve the NSA,” he said. “I am still working for the NSA right now. They are the only ones who don’t realize it.”

What entitled Snowden, now 30, to take on that responsibility?

“That whole question — who elected you? — inverts the model,” he said. “They elected me. The overseers.”

He named the chairmen of the Senate and House intelligence committees.

“Dianne Feinstein elected me when she asked softball questions” in committee hearings, he said. “Mike Rogers elected me when he kept these programs hidden. . . . The FISA court elected me when they decided to legislate from the bench on things that were far beyond the mandate of what that court was ever intended to do. The system failed comprehensively, and each level of oversight, each level of responsibility that should have addressed this, abdicated their responsibility.”

“It wasn’t that they put it on me as an individual — that I’m uniquely qualified, an angel descending from the heavens — as that they put it on someone, somewhere,” he said. “You have the capability, and you realize every other [person] sitting around the table has the same capability but they don’t do it. So somebody has to be the first.”

On the right to privacy and probably cause

“I don’t care whether you’re the pope or Osama bin Laden [...] As long as there’s an individualized, articulable, probable cause for targeting these people as legitimate foreign intelligence, that’s fine. I don’t think it’s imposing a ridiculous burden by asking for probable cause. Because, you have to understand, when you have access to the tools the NSA does, probable cause falls out of trees.”

On public debate and "total awareness"

“I believe the cost of frank public debate about the powers of our government is less than the danger posed by allowing these powers to continue growing in secret,” [said Snowden], calling them “a direct threat to democratic governance.”

“What the government wants is something they never had before,” adding: “They want total awareness. The question is, is that something we should be allowing?”

On spying and lying

“It’s the deception of the government that’s revealed,” Snowden said, noting that the Obama administration offered false public assurances after the initial reports about NSA surveillance in Germany “The U.S. government said: ‘We follow German laws in Germany. We never target German citizens.’ And then the story comes out and it’s: ‘What are you talking about? You’re spying on the chancellor.’ You just lied to the entire country, in front of Congress.”

What's on the laptop you got there?

“There’s nothing on it,” he said, turning his laptop screen toward his visitor. “My hard drive is completely blank.”

On personal attacks against him

“Let them say what they want. It’s not about me.”

___________________________________


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