Transcript: Video interview with Edward Snowden in Hong Kong published on June 9, 2013

Partial transcript of video interview with Edward Snowden in Hong Kong published on June 9, 2013. (CREDIT: Laura Poitras and Glenn Greenwald)

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

Question:
What are some of the positions that you’ve held previously within the intelligence community?

Edward Snowden:
I’ve been a systems engineer, a systems administrator, senior advisor for the Central Intelligence Agency’s solutions consultant, and a telecommunications information systems officer.

Question:
One of the things that people are going to be most interested in in trying to understand 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 a choice to become a whistleblower. Walk people through that decision-making process.

Edward Snowden:
When you’re in positions of privileged access like a system administrator for these sort of 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 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’s simply hired by the government.

Question:
Talk a little bit about how the American surveillance state actually functions and 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, but it believes on the grounds of a sort of 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, the NSA specifically targets the communications of everyone. It ingests them by default. It collects in its system and it filters them and then it analyzes them and measures them, and it stores them for periods of time simply because that’s the easiest, the most efficient, most effective, and most valuable ways to achieve these ends. So while they may be intending to target someone associated with a foreign government or someone they suspect of terrorism, they’re collecting your information to do so.

Any analyst at any time can target anyone, any select or 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.

Question:
One of the extraordinary part about this episode is that whistleblowers do what they do anonymously, takes steps to remain anonymous for as long as they can which they hope often is forever. You on the other hand had decided on 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 of the people who make these disclosures that are outside of the democratic mold. When you are subverting the power of government, that’s a fundamentally dangerous thing to a 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’ll kind of give its officials a mandate to go, “Hey, 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 or 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, just watches what’s happening, and goes “This is not something that’s not our place to decide. The public needs to decide whether these programs or policies are right or wrong.” And I’m willing to go on the record to defend the authenticity of them. 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.

Question:
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 you, what they might try to do to you?

Edward Snowden:
Yeah, you know, I could be rendered by the CIA. I could have people come after me or 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 any of their agents or assets. We’ve got a CIA station just up the road in the consulate here in Hong Kong. I’m sure it’s going to be very busy for them next week. And that’s a fear that 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 risks 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 un-freely 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 everyday, you can go to work, you can collect your large paycheck for relatively little work against the public interest and go to sleep at 9 p.m. after watching your shows. But if you realize that that’s the world you helped create and it’s going to get worse with the next generation and the next generation to 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.

Question:
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 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.

Question:
We are currently sitting in a room in Hong Kong, which is where we are because you traveled here. Talk a little bit about why is it 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 way 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 of 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 in 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 people of Hong Kong have a long tradition of protesting in the streets, making their views known, the Internet is not filtered here 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 government.

Question:
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 in 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 location of every station that we have, what their missions are, and so forth.

If I had just wanted to harm the U.S., you know you could shut down the surveillance system in an afternoon. But that’s not my intention. 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 lengths 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 we face in the world, you know, some new and unpredicted threat, we need more authority and we need more power. And there will be nothing that people can do at that point to oppose it and it’ll be turnkey tyranny.

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One Comment on “Transcript: Video interview with Edward Snowden in Hong Kong published on June 9, 2013

  1. Pingback: U.S. files Espionage Act charges against Snowden | What The Folly?!

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