Hero or Traitor: Edward Snowden Leaked NSA Secrets

A former CIA employee who made $200,000 a year at a contracting firm hired by the National Security Agency was responsible for leaking classified information about the the U.S. government’s data program that collected and analyzed private communications of American citizens.

Edward Snowden, 29, told the British Guardian newspaper Sunday that he leaked documents about the NSA’s Prism surveillance program because “I don’t want to live in a society that does these sort of things.” Snowden expressed admiration for Army Private Bradley Manning, who is being court-martialed for his 2010 leaks of classified documents. ”Manning was a classic whistleblower,” Snowden told the Guardian in an interview published Sunday. “He was inspired by the public good.”

Snowden has been holed up in a hotel in Hong Kong since May 20. He said he will seek asylum overseas.

“The only thing I can do is sit here and hope the Hong Kong government does not deport me,” Snowden told the Guardian. “My predisposition is to seek asylum in a country with shared values. The nation that most encompasses this is Iceland. They stood up for people over internet freedom.”

The fact that Snowden fled to Hong Kong, which is controlled by communist China, has raised concerns in Washington, where a former CIA official told CNN authorities “are looking at this as a potential Chinese espionage case.”

Snowden released the classified documents about the NSA program last week and went public on the eve of a meeting between President Obama and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang. “You have to ask what’s going on,” former CIA case officer Bob Baer said on CNN Sunday. “China is not a friendly country and every aspect of that country is controlled. So why Hong Kong? Why didn’t he go to Sweden?”

U.S. officials confirmed Sunday that they are conducting a criminal investigation of the NSA leak. “The Department of Justice is in the initial stages of an investigation into the unauthorized disclosure of classified information by an individual with authorized access,” a spokeswoman told The Hill newspaper.

Revelations about U.S. information-gathering has sparked a fierce debate that transcends partisan politics as usual. The Bush administration was widely criticized by Democrats for what they called “warrantless wiretapping” authorized by the Patriot Act, but the continuation of such surveillance under the Obama administration has been defended by Democrats, including California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, as necessary to combat terrorism.

The NSA program is “lawful,” Feinstein told reporters last week, saying that the program only accessed “metadata” about U.S. residents’ telephone and online communications. “There is no content involved,” said Feinstein, who is the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. “In other words, no content of a communication. … The information goes into a database, the metadata, but cannot be accessed without what’s called, and I quote, ‘reasonable, articulable suspicion’ that the records are relevant and related to terrorist activity. … [T]errorists will come after us if they can and the only thing we have to deter this is good intelligence, to understand that a plot is being hatched and to get there before they get to us.”

President: ‘Nobody Is Listening to Your Telephone Calls’
Obama defended the surveillance, emphasizing that the NSA data-gathering operation had “been authorized by broad, bipartisan majorities [in Congress] repeatedly since 2006″ and that members of Congress were “consistently informed” about the program. “When it comes to telephone calls, nobody is listening to your telephone calls,” the president said at a Friday press conference. “That’s not what this program’s about. … [W]hat the intelligence community is doing is looking at phone numbers and durations of calls. They are not looking at people’s names, and they’re not looking at content. But by sifting through this so-called metadata, they may identify potential leads with respect to folks who might engage in terrorism. … This program … is fully overseen not just by Congress but by the FISA [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] Court, a court specially put together to evaluate classified programs to make sure that the executive branch, or government generally, is not abusing them and … consistent with the Constitution and rule of law.”

U.S. officials are concerned about further compromises of intelligence by Snowden, who said he was discharged from the Army after a training injury, then worked for the CIA before being hired by contractors to provide computer expertise for the NSA’s top-secret station in Hawaii. In his interview with the Guardian, Snowden boasted that in his job as an intelligence agency contractor he “had access to the full rosters of everyone working at the NSA, the entire intelligence community, and undercover assets all around the world.” Snowden denounced the agency’s surveillance technology as “the architecture of oppression” by the American government.

“For Chinese intelligence, Snowden would be a gold mine of intelligence on U.S. electronic spying capabilities, a known target of … China’s intelligence service,” veteran national security correspondent Bill Gertz wrote at the Washington Free Beacon. “For the U.S. intelligence community, the compromise of top-secret intelligence to China through Snowden would be an intelligence loss of strategic significance, according to analysts.”

Disclosures about the NSA program caused Republican Sen. Rand Paul to compare the surveillance to British abuses that led to the American revolution. “They’re looking at a billion phone calls a day is what I read in the press and that doesn’t sound to me like a modest invasion of privacy,” the Kentucky senator said on the Fox News Sunday program, citing constitutional protections against illegal search and seizures. “The Fourth Amendment says you can look at and ask for a warrant specific to a person, place and the items. This is a general warrant. This is what we objected to and what our Founding Fathers partly fought the revolution over is they did not want generalized warrants where you could go from house to house with soldiers looking for things or now from computer to computer, to phone to phone, without specifying who you’re targeting.”

Officials: How Did Snowden Get Clearance?
Among the U.S. secrets revealed by Snowden were details about a classified NSA data-mining tool called Boundless Informant that collects information from computers and phone networks. A spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence issued a statement saying that authorities are “reviewing the damage” to U.S. security by Snowden’s illegal disclosures: “Any person who has a security clearance knows that he or she has an obligation to protect classified information and abide by the law.”

Several former intelligence officials said details about Snowden’s career raised questions about how he obtained security clearance.

Snowden told the Guardian he is a North Carolina native who did not graduate from high school, but earned a General Equivalency Diploma (GED) after his family moved to Maryland.  Snowden said he studied computers at a community college and enlisted in the Army in 2003 under the 18X program for recruits seeking to join the elite Special Forces, but was discharged after breaking both his legs in a training accident. He said his Army experience disillusioned him about the Iraq war because “most of the people training us seemed pumped up about killing Arabs, not helping anyone.” After leaving the Army, he was hired as a security guard at an NSA facility in Maryland, Snowden said, then worked as an information technology specialist for the CIA, which in 2007 stationed him in Switzerland under diplomatic cover. ”Much of what I saw in Geneva really disillusioned me about how my government functions and what its impact is in the world,” Snowden told the Guardian. “I realized that I was part of something that was doing far more harm than good.”

One former U.S. intelligence official told the Washington Post that Snowden’s clearance may have been fast-tracked because of the government’s effort to ramp up its computer counter-terrorism programs after the devastating attacks of Sept. 11, 2001:  “Like a lot of things after 9/11, they just went on a hiring binge, and in the technical arena young, smart nerds were in high demand.” Another official, formerly with the CIA, told the Post it was extremely unusual for the agency to employ people with Snowden’s background: “I just have never heard of anyone being hired with so little academic credentials.”




  1. Pingback : Da Tech Guy On DaRadio Blog » Blog Archive » Edward Snowden: Rosenburg, Roeder, Brutus or Rommel?

  2. Pingback : Holy Freaking Crap! How Did NSA Leaker Edward Snowden Get Security Clearance? : The Other McCain

  3. June 10, 2013  2:52 pm by McGehee Reply

    “I just have never heard of anyone being hired with so little academic credentials.”

    Me either, but why is he talking about Obama?

  4. June 10, 2013  3:38 pm by Penny Manser Reply

    Did he have anything to do with the death of that other worker in Hong Kong recently?!!!!

  5. Pingback : Let’s Debate Fourth Amendment Rights, and Also Send Snowden to Leavenworth : The Other McCain

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