“Most Wanted Man In The World” Edward Snowden sat down with Wired journalist James Bamford to discuss the impact of his whistleblowing, and what life is like now that he has been exiled from the United States.
While a number of whistleblowers have become famous for their acts (such as Chelsea Manning and Wikileaks founder Julian Assange), none have been so controversial as Edward Snowden.
The former NSA employee has shaken the entire world with his massive leak, which showed the unbelievable scale of US and global intelligence. It has included shocking revelations about the extent of citizen monitoring, and just how powerful the US agencies in particular have become following Bush-era policies.
Since entering Russia, some tried to claim he was working with the country all along. However, this has been accepted by many as a propaganda tactic to lessen the sweeping impact of his document leaks. Certainly, whatever his motivations would not lessen the truth or meaning of the documents themselves.
So, what is life like now that he is living in Russia?
According to Snowden, people will occasionally recognize him in the streets. In an attempt to avoid problems, he quietly puts a finger to his lips to keep them quiet, and hurries away. He does not want the publicity of being found in the street. Or the potential consequences.
That isn’t to say he is not willing to face the music for his decisions. In the interview, he states that he has offered officials his capture. As long as his sentence serves the right purpose, and isn’t used as a method of making him a scapegoat to bully others into remaining silent.
“I care more about the country than what happens to me. But we can’t allow the law to become a political weapon or agree to scare people away from standing up for their rights, no matter how good the deal. I’m not going to be part of that.”
Already, we have seen that happen. Chelsea Manning was sentenced by a military tribunal to 35 years for releasing a tape showing soldiers gunning down civilians in Iraq. She also released internal memos, war logs, and diplomatic cables that implicate the US military and others in illegal activities. These include war crimes.
The US is unforgiving about leaks. While many claim ignorance about what goes on behind the scenes, it doesn’t change the facts or the horrors that are often condoned. So is the problem with Edward Snowden: there is no real chance he would be jailed without the veiled threat to others who would think of exposing illegal activity on an official level.
Snowden is more idealistic than that. Or, at least he was. When he first took documents he left a trail of breadcrumbs for his fellow researchers. He wanted it to be known just what he had, and what would eventually be released. His hope was that it might make a positive impact by alerting both the government as to the actions taken by the NSA, and the people who were more affected by it. It was supposed to clear his motives, but that did not end up happening.
I figured they would have a hard time. I didn’t figure they would be completely incapable,” he said of the internal audit that claimed he took a full 1.7 million documents. He claims he took many less than that.
His belief? That they are protecting themselves from “political suicide”, because somewhere in the documents was a piece of evidence that could be even more alarming than what has already been released.
There is also a possibility that another leak has taken place, but under Snowden’s name. Those documents may or may not have been taken by the man, and he refuses to confirm or deny the rumor. Bamford believes it is likely, based on his own search through the initially leaked files.
In the interview, Snowden also talks about his time with the CIA, his station with Dell in Japan as a technical analyst, the eventual knowledge about targeted killings and spying, and a great deal more that eventually led to his blowing the whistle.
But his reasoning comes down to one quote that seems to say it all:
“If the government will not represent our interests, then the public will champion its own interests. And whistle-blowing provides a traditional means to do so.”
That might be overly optimistic. Everyone is shocked by the revelations, but Americans seem as lost as anyone else in how to fix it. Our wings were clipped long ago, and the power we are up against seems insurmountable.
Not to mention the numbers who stand on the side of the government, claiming that Snowden in a traitor. They stand behind sweeping statements that he broke the law, but completely ignore the fact that the NSA and other agencies broke it worst.
Revolution does not follow by the confines of regulations put in place by oppressors. We have to stop hiding behind rhetoric on what it means to be a patriot, and start really being one. Just as Mr. Snowden has, just as Chelsea Manning has.