NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden addressed the leading European human rights organization on Tuesday, once again refuting many of the claims made over the last year by members of the national security establishment, journalists, and others.
Speaking to the Council of Europe via videofeed from Russia during a special session on improving the protections of whistleblowers, Snowden denied any connection to the Russian government, and stated that he has stayed in the country not by choice, but as a matter of circumstance.
Snowden's personal appearance was not made possible under the immunity normally accorded to the Council's hearings, even though the body said it had gone to "quite some lengths" to do so.
"I did not travel to Russia with the intention of staying," Snowden told the Council, but was "transiting through Russia to Latin America when the U.S. State Department revoked my passport," after which he applied for asylum in more than 20 countries, including many Western European ones.
Snowden also disputed the notion that his disclosures had harmed national security. "It is a subversion of democratic rule for any authorities to use state secrecy law as a means to implement programs that they know the public would never agree to authorize," he argued. A year after the disclosures, "we have never seen the governments in any country point to any specific harm to any individual or any national security priority," he stated in his defense.
"We saw something very similar to this happen to Chelsea Manning." Snowden pointed out that "at one point the United States government claimed that the publishers [of the Manning documents] would 'have blood on their hands.'"
Snowden maintains that more than a year after his initial disclosures rocked the national security establishment, he is satisfied with the results. "Public affairs have to be known by the public to be handled. We can't be said to be a democracy if we've lost our seat at the table of government," he argued.
"When citizens are reduced to the status of subjects...that diminishes us as a free people, as a society, and as a culture, and I believe that we have not just a right, but a civic obligation to push back when we see lawbreaking, when we see abuse, when we see excesses of simple bad policy,"
Watch a video of the hearing here.
Listen to the audio from it here.