Snowden says online he had to ‘get out’ of the U.S. before leaks
WASHINGTON (CNN) — The man who admitted leaking classified documents about U.S. surveillance programs purportedly went online live on Monday to declare the truth would come out even if he is jailed or killed, and said President Barack Obama did not fulfill his promises and expanded several “abusive” national security initiatives.
According to the Guardian newspaper, Edward Snowden answered questions in an online chat about why he revealed details of the National Security Agency’s secret surveillance of U.S. citizens.
Snowden said he did so because Obama campaigned for the presidency on a platform of ending abuses. But instead, he said Obama “closed the door on investigating systemic violations of law, deepened and expanded several abusive programs, and refused to spend the political capital to end the kind of human rights violations like we see in Guantanamo, where men still sit without charge.”
Snowden also wrote that he had to get out of the United States before the leaks were published by the Guardian and Washington Post to avoid being targeted by the government.
Now, he wrote, the U.S. government “predictably destroyed any possibility of a fair trial at home” by “openly declaring me guilty of treason.”
Snowden, who is believed to be in Hong Kong, also wrote that the truth about surveillance programs he disclosed will come out, and “the U.S. government is not going to be able to cover this up by jailing or murdering me.”
Snowden, 29, worked for the NSA through a private contractor firm until May, when he decamped to Hong Kong.
He went public a week ago as the source of articles by the newspapers, saying the agency’s efforts pose “an existential threat to democracy.”
The revelations about the NSA’s collection of millions of records from U.S. telecommunications and technology firms have led to a furious debate within the United States about the scale and scope of surveillance programs that date from the days after the 2001 al Qaeda attacks on New York and Washington.
Defenders say the programs — approved by Congress after a warrantless surveillance effort under the Bush administration was revealed in 2005 — have protected American lives by helping agents break up terrorism plots.
Critics call the programs an unconstitutional overreach of authority under the Patriot Act, the law that authorized increased government surveillance in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.
In a new development, the Guardian reported Sunday that Britain’s electronic intelligence agency monitored delegates’ phones and tried to capture their passwords during an economic summit held there in 2009.
Targets included British allies such as Turkey and South Africa, the newspaper reported. The Guardian cited documents provided by Snowden.
According to the newspaper, the documents show that the British “signals intelligence” agency GCHQ used “ground-breaking intelligence capabilities” to intercept calls made by members of the G-20 conference delegations at meetings in London.
Analysts received round-the-clock summaries of calls that were being made, and GCHQ set up Internet cafes for delegates in hopes of intercepting e-mails and capturing keystrokes, the Guardian reported. One briefing slide explained the intercepts would give intelligence agencies the ability to read delegates’ e-mails “before/as they do,” providing “sustained intelligence options against them even after (the) conference has finished.”
GCHQ is Britain’s equivalent of the secretive NSA in the United States. The Guardian reported that the NSA had attempted to eavesdrop on then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev during the conference as his phone calls passed through satellite links to Moscow and briefed its British counterparts on the effects.
The latest report was published on the eve of a smaller economic summit hosted by the British government — the Group of Eight gathering in Northern Ireland.
Shawn Turner, a spokesman for the U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence, said Sunday he was aware of the Guardian’s latest report but declined to comment on it.
“What we should be focused on is how irresponsible and egregious these recent leaks are,” he told CNN. “It’s impossible to know exactly how much damage is being done by these disclosures, but they will have an effect on our counterterrorism efforts.”
Retired Gen. Michael Hayden, a former NSA director, said on CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria GPS” that what the agency collects are “essentially billing records” that detail the time, duration and phone numbers involved in a call.
The records are added to a database that agents can query in cases involving a terror investigation overseas, and agents can’t eavesdrop on Americans’ calls without an order from a secret court that handles intelligence matters, he said.
If a phone number related to an investigation has links to a domestic phone number, “We’ve got to go back to the court,” he said.
However, critics such as Sen. Mark Udall, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, had raised questions about the scale of the program even before Snowden’s leak. Udall said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday that he doesn’t believe the program is making Americans any safer, “and I think it’s ultimately, perhaps, a violation of the Fourth Amendment.”
“I think we owe it to the American people to have a fulsome debate in the open about the extent of these programs,” said Udall, a Colorado Democrat. “You have a law that’s been interpreted secretly by a secret court that then issues secret orders to generate a secret program. I just don’t think this is an American approach to a world in which we have great threats.”
President Barack Obama does not feel that he has violated the privacy of any American, his chief of staff, Denis McDonough, said on the CBS program “Face the Nation.” McDonough said the president will be discussing the need to “find the right balance, especially in this new situation where we find ourselves with all of us reliant on Internet, on e-mail, on texting.”
Shortly after the stories broke, Obama publicly defended the NSA programs as “modest encroachments on privacy” that help prevent terrorism.
CNN’s Matt Smith and Jessica Yellin contributed to this report.