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|Born||Edward Joseph Snowden|
June 21, 1983
Elizabeth City, North Carolina, U.S.
|Residence||Russia (temporary asylum)|
|Employer||Booz Allen Hamilton|
Kunia, Hawaii, US
(until June 10, 2013)
|Known for||Revealing details of classified United States government surveillance programs|
|Theft of government property, unauthorized communication of national defense information, and willful communication of classified intelligence to an unauthorized person (June 2013).|
|Awards||Sam Adams Award|
|Born||Edward Joseph Snowden|
June 21, 1983
Elizabeth City, North Carolina, U.S.
|Residence||Russia (temporary asylum)|
|Employer||Booz Allen Hamilton|
Kunia, Hawaii, US
(until June 10, 2013)
|Known for||Revealing details of classified United States government surveillance programs|
|Theft of government property, unauthorized communication of national defense information, and willful communication of classified intelligence to an unauthorized person (June 2013).|
|Awards||Sam Adams Award|
National Security Agency surveillance
Edward Joseph "Ed" Snowden (born June 21, 1983) is an American computer professional. A former system administrator for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and a counterintelligence trainer at the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), he later went to work for the private intelligence contractor Dell, inside a National Security Agency (NSA) outpost in Japan. In March 2013, he joined the consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton inside the NSA center in Hawaii. In June 2013, he came to international attention after disclosing to several media outlets thousands of classified documents that he acquired while working as an NSA contractor for Dell and Booz Allen Hamilton. Snowden's release of NSA material was called the most significant leak in U.S. history by Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg.
On May 20, 2013, Snowden flew from Hawaii to Hong Kong, where in early June he met with journalists Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras, releasing numerous NSA documents to them. On June 9, four days after the first NSA program was exposed by the press, Snowden revealed his identity in a video filmed by Poitras and published by The Guardian. On June 14 the U.S. Department of Justice charged Snowden with two counts of violating the Espionage Act and theft of government property, punishable by up to 30 years in prison. The U.S. Department of State revoked his passport on June 22. According to Russian President Vladimir Putin, Snowden met with Russian diplomats while in Hong Kong and on June 23, Snowden—who later said he had been ticketed for onward travel via Havana—flew to Moscow's Sheremetyevo International Airport. ABC News reported that Snowden "could not enter Russia because he did not have a Russian visa and he could not travel to safe haven opportunities in Latin America because the United States had canceled his passport." Snowden remained stranded in the airport transit zone for 39 days, during which time he applied for asylum in 21 countries. On August 1, Russian authorities granted him a one-year temporary renewable asylum.
Snowden's leaked documents uncovered the existence of numerous global surveillance programs, many of them run by the NSA and the Five Eyes with the cooperation of telecommunication companies and European governments. In 2013, the existence of the Boundless Informant was revealed, along with the PRISM electronic data mining program, the XKeyscore analytical tool, the Tempora interception project, the MUSCULAR access point and the massive FASCIA database, which contains trillions of device-location records. In 2014, Britain's Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group was revealed, along with the Dishfire database, Squeaky Dolphin's real-time monitoring of social media networks, and the bulk collection of private webcam images via the Optic Nerve program. In May 2014, The Intercept reported that the NSA was working in partnership with the U.S. DEA, and was recording the content of all cell phone calls made in the Bahamas.
A subject of controversy, Snowden has been variously called a hero, a whistleblower, a dissident, a traitor, and a patriot. Snowden's "sole motive" for leaking the documents was, in his words, "to inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them." The disclosures have fueled debates over mass surveillance, government secrecy, and the balance between national security and information privacy. Two court rulings since the initial leaks have split on the constitutionality of the NSA's bulk collection of telephone metadata. In early 2014, some media outlets and politicians called for leniency in the form of clemency, amnesty or pardon, while others called for him to be imprisoned. Ex-CIA director James Woolsey said that Snowden should be hanged if convicted of treason, although U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder had previously made clear that the theft and espionage charges against Snowden do not carry the possibility of a death penalty and that the United States would not seek the death penalty "even if Mr. Snowden were charged with additional death penalty-eligible crimes." In July 2014, Navi Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, told a news conference in Geneva that the U.S. should abandon its efforts to prosecute Snowden, since his leaks were in the public interest.
He lives in an undisclosed location in Russia and is seeking asylum in the European Union. On August 7, 2014, six days after Snowden's asylum expired, his Russian lawyer announced that Snowden had received a three-year residency permit allowing him to travel freely within the country and to go abroad for not longer than three months. Snowden currently holds a three-year post as Rector of the University of Glasgow and serves on the Freedom of the Press Foundation board of directors. In March 2014, he participated by teleconference as a featured speaker before two prominent technology conferences: South by Southwest Interactive and TED. Snowden's first television interview aired January 26, 2014 on Germany's NDR. On May 28, NBC's Brian Williams presented the first interview for American television.
Edward Joseph Snowden was born on June 21, 1983, in Elizabeth City, North Carolina. His maternal grandfather, Edward J. Barrett, was a rear admiral in the United States Coast Guard who became a senior official with the FBI and was in the Pentagon on September 11, 2001 when it was struck by an airliner hijacked by al-Qaeda terrorists. Edward's father, Lonnie Snowden, a resident of Pennsylvania, was also an officer in the Coast Guard, and his mother, Wendy, a resident of Ellicott City, Maryland, is a clerk at the United States District Court in Maryland. His older sister, Jessica, became a lawyer at the Federal Judicial Center in Washington. "Everybody in my family has worked for the federal government in one way or another," Snowden told James Bamford in June 2014 for an interview published two months later in Wired. "I expected to pursue the same path." His parents divorced in 2001, and his father remarried. Friends and neighbors described Snowden as shy, quiet and nice. One longtime friend said that he was always articulate, even as a child. "We always considered Ed the smartest one in the family," said his father, who was not surprised when his son scored above 145 on two separate IQ tests. Snowden's father described his son as "a sensitive, caring young man" and "a deep thinker."
In the early 1990s, while still in grade school, Snowden moved with his family to Maryland. Mononucleosis caused him to miss high school for almost nine months. Rather than return, he passed the GED test and enrolled in Anne Arundel Community College. Although Snowden had no Bachelor's degree, ABC News reported that he worked online toward a Master's degree at the University of Liverpool in 2011. In 2010, while visiting India on official business at the U.S. embassy, Snowden trained for six days in core Java programming and advanced ethical hacking. Snowden was reportedly interested in Japanese popular culture, had studied the Japanese language, and worked for an anime company domiciled in the U.S. He also said he had a basic understanding of Mandarin Chinese and was deeply interested in martial arts; at age 20, he listed Buddhism as his religion on a military recruitment form, noting that the choice of agnostic was "strangely absent." Snowden told The Washington Post that he was an ascetic, rarely left the house and had few needs. He is reportedly vegetarian.
Snowden has said that in the 2008 presidential election, he voted for a third-party candidate. He has stated he had been planning to make disclosures about NSA surveillance programs at the time, but he decided to wait because he "believed in Obama's promises." He was later disappointed that Obama "continued with the policies of his predecessor." For the 2012 election, political donation records indicate that he once contributed to the primary campaign of Republican candidate Ron Paul.
A week after publication of his leaks began, technology news provider Ars Technica confirmed that Snowden, under the pseudonym "TheTrueHOOHA," had been an active participant in the site's chat rooms from 2001 through May 2012, discussing a variety of topics. In a January 2009 entry, TheTrueHOOHA exhibited strong support for the United States' security state apparatus and said he believed leakers of classified information "should be shot in the balls." However, in February 2010, TheTrueHOOHA wrote, "Did we get to where we are today via a slippery slope that was entirely within our control to stop? Or was it a relatively instantaneous sea change that sneaked in undetected because of pervasive government secrecy?"
In accounts published in June 2013, interviewers noted that Snowden's laptop displayed stickers supporting internet freedom organizations including the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the Tor Project. Snowden considers himself "neither traitor nor hero. I'm an American."
On May 7, 2004, Snowden joined the United States Army Reserve as a Special Forces candidate through its 18X enlistment option but did not complete training. He said he wanted to fight in the Iraq War because he "felt like [he] had an obligation as a human being to help free people from oppression." Snowden stated that he was discharged after breaking both of his legs in a training accident. He was discharged on September 28, 2004.
He was next employed for less than a year in 2005 as a "security specialist" at the University of Maryland's Center for Advanced Study of Language, a non-classified facility. In June 2014, Snowden told Wired that this was "a top-secret facility" where his job as a security guard required a high-level security clearance, for which he passed a polygraph exam and underwent a stringent background check.
After attending a job fair focused on intelligence agencies, Snowden was offered a position at the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), which he joined in 2006. He was assigned to the global communications division at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. In May 2006, Snowden wrote in Ars Technica that he had no trouble getting work because he was a "computer wizard." After distinguishing himself as junior man on the top computer team, Snowden was sent to the CIA's secret school for technology specialists, where he lived in a hotel for six months while studying and training full-time.
In March 2007, the CIA stationed Snowden with diplomatic cover in Geneva, Switzerland, where he was responsible for maintaining computer network security. Assigned to the U.S. mission to the United Nations, Snowden was given a diplomatic passport and a four-bedroom apartment near Lake Geneva. According to Greenwald, while there Snowden was "considered the top technical and cybersecurity expert" in that country and "was hand-picked by the CIA to support the president at the 2008 NATO summit in Romania." Snowden described his CIA experience in Geneva as "formative," stating that the CIA deliberately got a Swiss banker drunk and encouraged him to drive home. Snowden said that when the latter was arrested, a CIA operative offered to help in exchange for the banker becoming an informant. The revelations were said to have come at a sensitive time as the United States was pressing the Swiss government to increase banking transparency. Anonymous officials alleged that Snowden was reprimanded by CIA superiors on suspicion of attempting to obtain classified information without authorization. The CIA officially stated that no such report was filed. Snowden said that he reported a security flaw in the CIA's computer system. Snowden resigned from the CIA in February 2009.
In 2009 Snowden began work as a contractor for Dell, which manages computer systems for multiple government agencies. Assigned to an NSA facility at Yokota Air Base near Tokyo, Snowden instructed top officials and military officers on how to defend their networks from Chinese hackers. During his four years with Dell, he rose from supervising NSA computer system upgrades to working as what his résumé termed a "cyberstrategist" and an "expert in cyber counterintelligence" at several U.S. locations. In 2011 he returned to Maryland, where he spent a year as lead technologist on Dell's CIA account. In that capacity, he was consulted by the chiefs of the CIA's technical branches, including the agency's chief information officer and its chief technology officer. U.S. officials and other sources familiar with the investigation said Snowden began downloading documents describing the government's electronic spying programs while working for Dell in April 2012. Investigators estimated that of the 50,000 to 200,000 documents Snowden gave to Greenwald and Poitras, most were copied by Snowden while working at Dell.
In March 2012, Dell reassigned Snowden to Hawaii as lead technologist for the NSA's information-sharing office. At the time of his departure from the United States in May 2013, he had been employed for 15 months inside the NSA's Hawaii regional operations center, the last three of which were with consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton. While intelligence officials have described his position there as a "system administrator," Snowden has said he was an "infrastructure analyst," which meant that his job was to look for new ways to break into Internet and telephone traffic around the world. On March 15, 2013—three days after what he later called his "breaking point" of "seeing the Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, directly lie under oath to Congress"—Snowden quit his job at Dell. Although he has stated that his "career high" annual salary was $200,000, Snowden said he took a pay cut to work at Booz Allen, where he sought employment in order to gather data on NSA surveillance around the world so he could leak it. According to a Reuters story by Mark Hosenball, while in Hawaii, Snowden "may have persuaded between 20 and 25 fellow workers" to give him their logins and passwords "by telling them they were needed for him to do his job as a computer systems administrator." NBC News reported that the NSA sent a memo to Congress and "[w]hile the memo's account is sketchy, it suggests that, contrary to Snowden's statements, he used an element of trickery to retrieve his trove of tens of thousands of classified documents." This report was disputed, with Snowden himself saying in January 2014, "With all due respect to Mark Hosenball, the Reuters report that put this out there was simply wrong. I never stole any passwords, nor did I trick an army of co-workers." On June 10, 2013, Booz Allen terminated Snowden's employment "for violations of the firm's code of ethics and firm policy."
A former NSA co-worker told Forbes that although the NSA was full of smart people, Snowden was "a genius among geniuses," who created a backup system for the NSA that was widely implemented and often pointed out security bugs to the agency. The former colleague said Snowden was given full administrator privileges, with virtually unlimited access to NSA data. Snowden was offered a position on the NSA's elite team of hackers, Tailored Access Operations, but turned it down to join Booz Allen.
A source "with detailed knowledge on the matter" told Reuters that hiring screeners for Booz Allen had found some details of Snowden's education that "did not check out precisely," but decided to hire him anyway; Reuters stated that the element which triggered these concerns, or the manner in which Snowden satisfied the concerns, were not known. The résumé stated that Snowden attended computer-related classes at Johns Hopkins University. A spokesperson for Johns Hopkins said that the university did not find records to show that Snowden attended the university, and suggested that he may instead have attended Advanced Career Technologies, a private for-profit organization which operated as "Computer Career Institute at Johns Hopkins." The University College of the University of Maryland acknowledged that Snowden had attended a summer session at a UM campus in Asia. Snowden's résumé stated that he estimated that he would receive a University of Liverpool computer security master's degree in 2013. The university said that Snowden registered for an online master's degree program in computer security in 2011 but that "he is not active in his studies and has not completed the program."
Snowden said that, using "internal channels of dissent", he had told multiple employees and two supervisors about his concerns that the NSA programs were unconstitutional. An NSA spokesperson responded, saying they had "not found any evidence to support Mr. Snowden's contention that he brought these matters to anyone's attention." Snowden elaborated in January 2014, saying "[I] made tremendous efforts to report these programs to co-workers, supervisors, and anyone with the proper clearance who would listen. The reactions of those I told about the scale of the constitutional violations ranged from deeply concerned to appalled, but no one was willing to risk their jobs, families, and possibly even freedom to go to through what Drake did." In March 2014, during testimony to the European Parliament, Snowden wrote that before revealing classified information he had reported "clearly problematic programs" to ten officials, who he said did nothing in response. In a May 2014 interview, Snowden told NBC News that after bringing his concerns about the legality of the NSA spying programs to officials, he was told to stay silent on the matter. Snowden said:
The NSA has records—they have copies of emails right now to their Office of General Counsel, to their oversight and compliance folks from me raising concerns about the NSA's interpretations of its legal authorities. I had raised these complaints not just officially in writing through email, but to my supervisors, to my colleagues, in more than one office. I did it in Fort Meade. I did it in Hawaii. And many, many of these individuals were shocked by these programs. They had never seen them themselves. And the ones who had, went, 'You know, you're right. … But if you say something about this, they're going to destroy you.
In May 2014, U.S. officials released a single email that Snowden had written in April 2013 inquiring about legal authorities but said that they had found no other evidence that Snowden had expressed his concerns to someone in an oversight position. In June 2014, the NSA said it had not been able to find any records of Snowden raising internal complaints about the agency's operations. That same month, Snowden explained that he himself has not produced the communiqués in question because of the ongoing nature of the dispute, disclosing for the first time that "I am working with the NSA in regard to these records and we're going back and forth, so I don't want to reveal everything that will come out."
In his May 2014 interview with NBC News, Snowden accused the U.S. government of trying to use one position here or there in his career to distract from the totality of his experience, downplaying him as a "low level analyst." In his words, he was "trained as a spy in the traditional sense of the word in that I lived and worked undercover overseas—pretending to work in a job that I'm not—and even being assigned a name that was not mine." He said he'd worked for the NSA undercover overseas, and for the DIA had developed sources and methods to keep information and people secure "in the most hostile and dangerous environments around the world. So when they say I'm a low-level systems administrator, that I don't know what I'm talking about, I'd say it's somewhat misleading." In a June interview with Globo TV, Snowden reiterated that he "was actually functioning at a very senior level." In a July interview with The Guardian, Snowden explained that, during his NSA career, "I began to move from merely overseeing these systems to actively directing their use. Many people don’t understand that I was actually an analyst and I designated individuals and groups for targeting."
The exact size of Snowden's disclosure is unknown, but Australian officials have estimated 15,000 or more Australian intelligence files and British officials estimate at least 58,000 British intelligence files. NSA Director Keith Alexander initially estimated that Snowden had copied anywhere from 50,000 to 200,000 NSA documents. Later estimates provided by U.S. officials were on the order of 1.7 million. In July 2014, The Washington Post reported on a cache previously provided by Snowden from domestic NSA operations consisting of "roughly 160,000 intercepted e-mail and instant-message conversations, some of them hundreds of pages long, and 7,900 documents taken from more than 11,000 online accounts."
In March 2014, Army General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the House Armed Services Committee, "The vast majority of the documents that Snowden … exfiltrated from our highest levels of security … had nothing to do with exposing government oversight of domestic activities. The vast majority of those were related to our military capabilities, operations, tactics, techniques and procedures." When retired NSA director Keith Alexander was asked in a May 2014 interview to quantify the number of documents Snowden stole, Alexander answered, "I don't think anybody really knows what he actually took with him, because the way he did it, we don't have an accurate way of counting. What we do have an accurate way of counting is what he touched, what he may have downloaded, and that was more than a million documents."
According to Snowden, he did not indiscriminately turn over documents to journalists, stating that "I carefully evaluated every single document I disclosed to ensure that each was legitimately in the public interest. There are all sorts of documents that would have made a big impact that I didn't turn over" and that "I have to screen everything before releasing it to journalists … If I have time to go through this information, I would like to make it available to journalists in each country."
In late June 2014, the NSA's recently installed director, U.S. Navy Admiral Michael S. Rogers, claimed that some terrorist groups had altered their communications to avoid surveillance techniques revealed by Snowden, but that the alleged damage done was not significant enough to conclude that "the sky is falling."
The New York Times' James Risen reported that Snowden's decision to leak NSA documents "developed gradually, dating back at least to his time working as a technician in the Geneva station of the CIA." Snowden first made contact with Glenn Greenwald, a journalist working at The Guardian, in late 2012. He contacted Greenwald anonymously as "Cincinnatus" and said he had "sensitive documents" that he would like to share. Greenwald found the measures that the source asked him to take to secure their communications, such as encrypting email, too annoying to employ. Snowden then contacted documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras in January 2013. According to Poitras, Snowden chose to contact her after seeing her New York Times documentary about NSA whistleblower William Binney. The Guardian reported that what originally attracted Snowden to both Greenwald and Poitras was a Salon article written by Greenwald detailing how Poitras' controversial films had made her a "target of the government."
Greenwald began working with Snowden in either February or April 2013, after Poitras asked Greenwald to meet her in New York City, at which point Snowden began providing documents to them. Barton Gellman, writing for The Washington Post, says his first "direct contact" was on May 16, 2013. According to Gellman, Snowden approached Greenwald after the Post declined to guarantee publication of all 41 of the PRISM PowerPoint slides within 72 hours and publish online an encrypted code allowing Snowden the ability to later prove that he was the source.
According to Gellman, prior to their first meeting in person, Snowden wrote, "I understand that I will be made to suffer for my actions, and that the return of this information to the public marks my end." Snowden also told Gellman that until the articles were published, the journalists working with him would also be at mortal risk from the United States Intelligence Community "if they think you are the single point of failure that could stop this disclosure and make them the sole owner of this information."
In May 2013, Snowden was permitted temporary leave from his position at the NSA in Hawaii, on the pretext of receiving treatment for his epilepsy. In mid-May, Snowden gave an electronic interview to Poitras and Jacob Appelbaum which was published weeks later by Der Spiegel.
After disclosing the copied documents, Snowden promised that nothing would stop subsequent disclosures. In June 2013, he said, "All I can say right now is the US government is not going to be able to cover this up by jailing or murdering me. Truth is coming, and it cannot be stopped."
On May 20, 2013, Snowden flew to Hong Kong, where he was staying when the initial articles based on the leaked documents were published, beginning with The Guardian on June 5. Within months, documents had been obtained and published by media outlets worldwide, most notably The Guardian (Britain), Der Spiegel (Germany), The Washington Post and The New York Times (U.S.), O Globo (Brazil), Le Monde (France), and similar outlets in Sweden, Canada, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Spain, and Australia. In 2014, NBC broke its first story based on the leaked documents. In February 2014, for reporting based on Snowden's leaks, journalists Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras, Barton Gellman and The Guardian′s Ewen MacAskill were honored as co-recipients of the 2013 George Polk Award, which they dedicated to Snowden. The NSA reporting by these journalists also earned The Guardian and The Washington Post the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service for exposing the "widespread surveillance" and for helping to spark a "huge public debate about the extent of the government's spying". The Guardian's chief editor, Alan Rusbridger, credited Snowden, saying "The public service in this award is significant because Snowden performed a public service."
The ongoing publication of leaked documents has revealed previously unknown details of a global surveillance apparatus run by the United States' NSA in close cooperation with three of its Five Eyes partners: Australia (ASD), the United Kingdom (GCHQ), and Canada (CSEC).
The Guardian's editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger said in November 2013 that only one percent of the documents had been published. Officials warned that "the worst is yet to come," a sentiment echoed by Glenn Greenwald and by Lon Snowden.
Media reports documenting the existence and functions of classified surveillance programs and their scope began on June 5, 2013, and continued throughout the entire year. The first program to be revealed was PRISM, with reports from both The Washington Post and The Guardian published an hour apart. PRISM allows for a court-approved, front-door access to Americans' Google and Yahoo accounts. The Post's Barton Gellman was the first journalist to report on Snowden's documents. He said the U.S. government urged him not to specify by name which companies were involved, but Gellman decided that to name them "would make it real to Americans." Reports also revealed details of Tempora, a British black-ops surveillance program run by the NSA's British partner, GCHQ. The initial reports included details about NSA call database, Boundless Informant, and of a secret court order requiring Verizon to hand the NSA millions of Americans' phone records daily, the surveillance of French citizens' phone and internet records, and those of "high-profile individuals from the world of business or politics." XKeyscore, which allows for the collection of "almost anything done on the internet," was described by The Guardian as a program that "shed light" on one of Snowden's most controversial statements: "I, sitting at my desk [could] wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant, to a federal judge or even the president, if I had a personal email."
It was revealed that the NSA was harvesting millions of email and instant messaging contact lists, searching email content, tracking and mapping the location of cell phones, undermining attempts at encryption via Bullrun and that the agency was using cookies to "piggyback" on the same tools used by internet advertisers "to pinpoint targets for government hacking and to bolster surveillance." The NSA was shown to be "secretly" tapping into Yahoo and Google data centers to collect information from "hundreds of millions" of account holders worldwide by tapping undersea cables using the MUSCULAR program.
The NSA, the U.S. CIA and GCHQ spied on users of Second Life and World of Warcraft by creating make-believe characters as a way to "hide in plain sight." Leaked documents showed NSA agents spied on their "love interests," a practice NSA employees termed LOVEINT. The NSA was also shown to be tracking the online sexual activity of people they termed "radicalizers," in order to discredit them. The NSA was accused of going "beyond its core mission of national security" when articles were published showing the NSA's intelligence-gathering operations had targeted Brazil's largest oil company, Petrobras. The NSA and the GCHQ were also shown to be surveilling charities including UNICEF and Médecins du Monde, as well as allies such as the EU chief and the Israeli Prime Minister.
By October 2013, Snowden's disclosures had created tensions between the U.S. and some of its close allies after they revealed that the U.S. had spied on Brazil, France, Mexico, Britain, China, Germany, and Spain, as well as 35 world leaders, most notably German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who said "spying among friends" was "unacceptable" and compared the NSA with the Stasi. Leaked documents published by Der Spiegel in 2014 appeared to show that the NSA had targeted 122 "high ranking" leaders.
The NSA's top-secret "black budget," obtained from Snowden by The Washington Post, exposed the "successes and failures" of the 16 spy agencies comprising the U.S. intelligence community, and revealed that the NSA was paying U.S. private tech companies for "clandestine access" to their communications networks. The agencies were allotted $52 billion for the 2013 fiscal year.
An NSA mission statement titled "SIGINT Strategy 2012-2016" affirmed that the NSA plans for continued expansion of surveillance activities. Their stated goal was to "dramatically increase mastery of the global network" and "acquire the capabilities to gather intelligence on anyone, anytime, anywhere." Leaked slides revealed in Greenwald's book No Place to Hide, released in May 2014, showed that the NSA's stated objective was to "Collect it All," "Process it All," "Exploit it All," "Partner it All," "Sniff it All" and "Know it All."
Snowden stated in a January 2014 interview with German television that the NSA does not limit its data collection to national security issues, accusing the agency of conducting industrial espionage. Using the example of German company Siemens, he stated, "If there's information at Siemens that's beneficial to US national interests—even if it doesn't have anything to do with national security—then they'll take that information nevertheless." In August 2014, German national newspaper Die Welt reported that, in the wake of Snowden's revelations and in response to an inquiry from the Left Party, Germany's domestic security agency Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz (BfV) investigated and found no "concrete evidence" (Konkrete Belege) that the U.S. conducted economic or industrial espionage in Germany.
In February 2014, during testimony to the European Union, Snowden said of the remaining "undisclosed programs": "I will leave the public interest determinations as to which of these may be safely disclosed to responsible journalists in coordination with government stakeholders."
In March 2014, documents disclosed by Glenn Greenwald writing for The Intercept showed the NSA, in cooperation with the GCHQ, has plans to infect millions of computers with malware using a program called "Turbine." Revelations included information about "QUANTUMHAND," a program through which the NSA set up a fake Facebook server to intercept connections.
According to a report in The Washington Post in July 2014, relying on information furnished by Snowden, 90% of those placed under surveillance in the U.S. are ordinary Americans, and are not the intended targets. The newspaper said it had examined documents including emails, message texts, and online accounts, that support the claim.
Snowden's identity was made public by The Guardian at his request on June 9, 2013. He explained: "I have no intention of hiding who I am because I know I have done nothing wrong." He added that by revealing his identity he hoped to protect his colleagues from being subjected to a hunt to determine who had been responsible for the leaks. According to Poitras, who filmed the interview with Snowden in Hong Kong, he had initially not wanted to be seen on camera, because "he didn't want the story to be about him." Poitras says she convinced him it was necessary to have him give an account of the leaked documents' significance on film: "I knew that the mainstream media interpretation would be predictable and narrow, but because to have somebody who understands how this technology works, who is willing to risk their life to expose it to the public, and that we could hear that articulated, would reach people in ways that the documents themselves wouldn't." Snowden explained his actions saying: "I don't want to live in a society that does these sort of things [surveillance on its citizens] … I do not want to live in a world where everything I do and say is recorded … My sole motive is to inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them." In a later interview Snowden declared:
For me, in terms of personal satisfaction, the mission's already accomplished. I already won. As soon as the journalists were able to work, everything that I had been trying to do was validated. Because, remember, I didn't want to change society. I wanted to give society a chance to determine if it should change itself. All I wanted was for the public to be able to have a say in how they are governed.
When Snowden met with representatives of human rights organizations on July 12, he said:
The 4th and 5th Amendments to the Constitution of my country, Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and numerous statutes and treaties forbid such systems of massive, pervasive surveillance. While the US Constitution marks these programs as illegal, my government argues that secret court rulings, which the world is not permitted to see, somehow legitimize an illegal affair ….
I believe in the principle declared at Nuremberg in 1945: "Individuals have international duties which transcend the national obligations of obedience. Therefore individual citizens have the duty to violate domestic laws to prevent crimes against peace and humanity from occurring."
Snowden said that in the past, whistleblowers had been "destroyed by the experience," and that he wanted to "embolden others to step forward" by demonstrating that "they can win." In October, Snowden spoke out again on his motivations for the leaks in an interview with The New York Times, saying that the system for reporting problems does not work. "You have to report wrongdoing to those most responsible for it," Snowden explained, and pointed out the lack of whistleblower protection for government contractors, the use of the 1917 Espionage Act to prosecute leakers, and his belief that had he used internal mechanisms to "sound the alarm," his revelations "would have been buried forever."
In December 2013, upon learning that a U.S. federal judge had ruled the collection of U.S. phone metadata conducted by the NSA as likely unconstitutional, Snowden stated: "I acted on my belief that the NSA's mass surveillance programs would not withstand a constitutional challenge, and that the American public deserved a chance to see these issues determined by open courts … today, a secret program authorized by a secret court was, when exposed to the light of day, found to violate Americans' rights. It is the first of many." Also that month, Snowden spoke to the question of "who elected" him to expose the NSA surveillance programs:
Dianne Feinstein elected me when she asked softball questions [in committee hearings]. Mike Rogers elected me when he kept these programs hidden …. The FISA court elected me when they decided to legislate from the bench on things that were far beyond the mandate of what that court was ever intended to do. The system failed comprehensively, and each level of oversight, each level of responsibility that should have addressed this, abdicated their responsibility.
It wasn't that they put it on me as an individual—that I'm uniquely qualified, an angel descending from the heavens—as that they put it on someone, somewhere … You have the capability, and you realize every other [person] sitting around the table has the same capability but they don't do it. So somebody has to be the first.
In January 2014, Snowden said his "breaking point" was "seeing the Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, directly lie under oath to Congress." This referred to testimony on March 12, 2013—three months after Snowden first sought to share thousands of NSA documents with Greenwald, and nine months after the NSA says Snowden made his first illegal downloads during the summer of 2012—in which Clapper denied to the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that the NSA wittingly collects data on millions of Americans. Snowden said, "There’s no saving an intelligence community that believes it can lie to the public and the legislators who need to be able to trust it and regulate its actions. Seeing that really meant for me there was no going back. Beyond that, it was the creeping realization that no one else was going to do this. The public had a right to know about these programs." In May 2014, Vanity Fair reported that Snowden said he first contemplated leaking confidential documents around 2008, but that "Snowden held back, in part because he believed Barack Obama, elected that November, might introduce reforms."
In March 2014, Snowden stated that he had reported policy or legal issues related to spying programs to more than 10 officials, but as a contractor had no legal avenue to pursue further whistleblowing.
In May 2013 Snowden took a leave of absence, telling his supervisors he was returning to the mainland for epilepsy treatment, but instead left Hawaii for Hong Kong where he arrived on May 20. Snowden told Guardian reporters in June that he had been in his room at the Mira Hotel since his arrival in the city, rarely going out. On June 10, correspondent Ewen MacAskill said "He's stuck in his hotel every day; he never goes out. I think he's only been out about three times since May 20th and that was only briefly." Mira staff told Wall Street Journal reporters, however, that Snowden did not check in to the hotel until June 1.
Snowden vowed to challenge any extradition attempt by the U.S. government, and had reportedly approached Hong Kong human rights lawyers. Snowden told the South China Morning Post that he planned to remain in Hong Kong until "asked to leave," adding that his intention was to let the "courts and people of Hong Kong" decide his fate. While in Hong Kong Snowden told the Post that "the United States government has committed a tremendous number of crimes against Hong Kong. The PRC as well," going on to identify Chinese Internet Protocol addresses that the NSA monitored and stating that the NSA collected text-message data for Hong Kong residents. Glenn Greenwald explained the leak as reflecting "a need to ingratiate himself to the people of Hong Kong and China."
In late August, the Russian newspaper Kommersant reported that Snowden was living at the Russian consulate shortly before his departure from Hong Kong to Moscow. Ben Wizner, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and legal adviser to Snowden, said in January 2014, "Every news organization in the world has been trying to confirm that story. They haven't been able to, because it's false." Likewise rejecting the Kommersant story was Anatoly Kucherena, who became Snowden's lawyer in July 2013, when Snowden asked him for help with seeking temporary asylum in Russia. Kucherena stated that Snowden "did not enter into any communication with our diplomats when he was in Hong Kong." In early September 2013, however, Russian president Vladimir Putin acknowledged that, a few days before boarding a plane to Moscow, "Mr. Snowden first appeared in Hong Kong and met with our diplomatic representatives." In June 2014, investigative journalist Edward Jay Epstein wrote that a U.S. official had told him that on three occasions in June 2013, Snowden had been observed on CCTV cameras entering the Hong Kong tower where the Russian consulate is located.
U.S. officials revoked Snowden's passport on June 22. On June 23, Snowden boarded the commercial Aeroflot flight SU213 to Moscow, accompanied by Sarah Harrison of WikiLeaks. Hong Kong authorities said that Snowden had not been detained as requested by the United States, because the United States' extradition request had not fully complied with Hong Kong law, and there was no legal basis to prevent Snowden from leaving.[Notes 1] On June 24, U.S. State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said "we're just not buying that this was a technical decision by a Hong Kong immigration official. This was a deliberate choice by the government to release a fugitive despite a valid arrest warrant … though the Privacy Act prohibits me from talking about Mr. Snowden's passport specifically, I can say that the Hong Kong authorities were well aware of our interest in Mr. Snowden and had plenty of time to prohibit his travel." That same day, Julian Assange said that WikiLeaks had paid for Snowden's lodging in Hong Kong and his flight out.
In October 2013, Snowden said he gave all the classified documents he had obtained to journalists he met in Hong Kong, before flying to Moscow, and did not keep any copies for himself. In January 2014, he told a German TV interviewer that he gave all of his information "to American journalists who are reporting on American issues." During his first American TV interview, in May 2014, Snowden said he had protected himself from Russian leverage "by destroying the material that I was holding before I transited through Russia."
On June 23, 2013, Snowden landed at Moscow's Sheremetyevo international airport. WikiLeaks stated that he was "bound for the Republic of Ecuador via a safe route for the purposes of asylum." Snowden had a seat reserved to continue to Cuba but did not board that onward flight, saying in a January 2014 interview that he was "stopped en route" despite an intention to be "only transiting through Russia." He stated, "I was ticketed for onward travel via Havana—a planeload of reporters documented the seat I was supposed to be in—but the State Department decided they wanted me in Moscow, and cancelled my passport." He said the U.S. wanted him there so "they could say, 'He's a Russian spy.'" Greenwald's account differs on the point of Snowden being already ticketed. According to Greenwald, Snowden's passport was valid when he departed Hong Kong but was revoked during the hours he was in transit to Moscow, meaning "he could no longer get a ticket and leave Russia." Snowden was thus, Greenwald says, forced to stay in Moscow and seek asylum.
According to one Russian report, Snowden planned to fly from Moscow through Havana to Latin America; however, Cuba informed Moscow it would not allow the Aeroflot plane carrying Snowden to land. Anonymous Russian sources claimed that Cuba had a change of heart after receiving pressure from U.S. officials, leaving him stuck in the transit zone because at the last minute Havana told officials in Moscow not to allow him on the flight. Fidel Castro called claims that Cuba would have blocked Snowden's entry to his country a "lie" and a "libel." The Washington Post said "[t]hat version stands in contrast to widespread speculation that the Russians never intended to let the former CIA employee travel onward." Russian president Putin said that Snowden's arrival in Moscow was "a surprise" and "like an unwanted Christmas gift." Putin said that Snowden remained in the transit area of Sheremetyevo, noted that he had not committed any crime on Russian soil, and declared that Snowden was free to leave and should do so. He denied that Russia's intelligence agencies had worked or were working with Snowden.
Following Snowden's arrival in Moscow, the White House expressed disappointment in Hong Kong's decision to allow him to leave, with press secretary Jay Carney stating, "We very clearly believe that Mr. Snowden ought to be returned to the United States to face the charges that have been set against him," and the director of the State Department's press office concurred: "We are deeply disappointed by the decision of the authorities in Hong Kong to permit Mr. Snowden to flee despite a legally valid U.S. request to arrest him for purposes of his extradition under the U.S.-Hong Kong Surrender Agreement. We hope that the Russian Government will look at all available options to return Mr. Snowden back to the U.S. to face justice for the crimes with which he's charged." An anonymous U.S. official not authorized to discuss the passport matter told AP Snowden's passport had been revoked before he left Hong Kong, and that although it could make onward travel more difficult, "if a senior official in a country or airline ordered it, a country could overlook the withdrawn passport." In a July 1 statement, Snowden said, "Although I am convicted of nothing, [the US government] has unilaterally revoked my passport, leaving me a stateless person. Without any judicial order, the administration now seeks to stop me exercising a basic right. A right that belongs to everybody. The right to seek asylum."
After Snowden received asylum in Russia, international criminal defense lawyer Douglas McNabb commented that "absent of Mr. Snowden attempting to travel to Latin America, as long as he stays in Russia, he’s apparently safe." Julian Assange agreed with this assessment, saying in a December 2013 Rolling Stone interview, "While Venezuela and Ecuador could protect him in the short term, over the long term there could be a change in government. In Russia, he's safe, he's well-regarded, and that is not likely to change. That was my advice to Snowden, that he would be physically safest in Russia."
Four countries offered Snowden permanent asylum: Ecuador, Nicaragua, Bolivia, and Venezuela. ABC News reported that no direct flights between Moscow and Venezuela, Bolivia or Nicaragua exist, and that "the United States has pressured countries along his route to hand him over." Snowden explained in July 2013 that he decided to bid for asylum in Russia because he did not feel there was any safe travel route to Latin America. Snowden said he remained in Russia because "when we were talking about possibilities for asylum in Latin America, the United States forced down the Bolivian President’s plane", citing the Morales plane incident. On the issue, he said "some governments in Western European and North American states have demonstrated a willingness to act outside the law, and this behavior persists today. This unlawful threat makes it impossible for me to travel to Latin America and enjoy the asylum granted there in accordance with our shared rights." He said that he would travel from Russia if there was no interference from the U.S. government.
On July 1, 2013, president Evo Morales of Bolivia, who had been attending a conference of gas-exporting countries in Russia, suggested during an interview with Russia Today that he would be "willing to consider a request" for asylum. The following day, Morales' plane en route to Bolivia was rerouted to Austria and reportedly searched there after France, Spain and Italy denied access to their airspace. U.S. officials had raised suspicions that Snowden may have been on board. Morales blamed the U.S. for putting pressure on European countries, and said that the grounding of his plane was a violation of international law.
Snowden applied for political asylum to 21 countries. A statement attributed to him contended that the U.S. administration, and specifically Vice President Joe Biden, had pressured the governments to refuse his asylum petitions. Biden had telephoned President Rafael Correa days prior to Snowden's remarks, asking the Ecuadorian leader not to grant Snowden asylum. Ecuador had initially offered Snowden a temporary travel document but later withdrew it; on July 1, President Rafael Correa said the decision to issue the offer had been "a mistake."
In a July 1 statement published by WikiLeaks, Snowden accused the U.S. government of "using citizenship as a weapon" and using what he described as "old, bad tools of political aggression." Citing Obama's promise to not allow "wheeling and dealing" over the case, Snowden commented, "This kind of deception from a world leader is not justice, and neither is the extralegal penalty of exile." Several days later, WikiLeaks announced that Snowden had applied for asylum in six additional countries, which WikiLeaks declined to name "due to attempted U.S. interference."
The French interior ministry rejected Snowden's request for asylum, saying, "Given the legal analysis and the situation of the interested party, France will not agree." Poland refused to process his application because it did not conform to legal procedure. Brazil's Foreign Ministry said the government "does not plan to respond" to Snowden's asylum request. Germany, Finland and India rejected Snowden's application outright, while Austria, Ecuador, Norway and Spain said he must be on their territory to apply. Italy cited the same reason in rejecting his request, as did the Netherlands.
Putin said on July 1 that if Snowden wanted to be granted asylum in Russia, he would be required to "stop his work aimed at harming our American partners." A spokesman for Putin subsequently said that Snowden had withdrawn his asylum application upon learning of the conditions.
In a July 12 meeting at Sheremetyevo Airport with representatives of human rights organizations and lawyers, organized in part by the Russian government, Snowden said he was accepting all offers of asylum that he had already received or would receive in the future, noting that his Venezuela's "asylee status was now formal." He also said he would request asylum in Russia until he resolved his travel problems. Russian Federal Migration Service officials confirmed on July 16 that Snowden had submitted an application for temporary asylum. According to Kucherena, Snowden agreed to meet Putin's condition for granting asylum, and would not further harm U.S. interests "by releasing more intelligence secrets." On July 23 Kucherena said his client intended to settle in Russia.
Amid media reports in early July 2013 attributed to U.S. administration sources that Obama's one-on-one meeting with Putin, ahead of a G20 meeting in St Petersburg scheduled for September, was in doubt due to Snowden's protracted sojourn in Russia, top U.S. officials repeatedly made it clear to Moscow that Snowden should immediately be returned to the United States to, in the words of White House press secretary Jay Carney, "face the charges that have been brought against him for the unauthorized leaking of classified information." Snowden needed asylum, according to his Russian lawyer, because "he faces persecution by the U.S. government and he fears for his life and safety, fears that he could be subjected to torture and capital punishment."
In a letter to Russian Minister of Justice Alexander Konovalov dated July 23, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder sought to eliminate the "asserted grounds for Mr. Snowden's claim that he should be treated as a refugee or granted asylum, temporary or otherwise." Holder asserted that the theft and espionage charges against Snowden do not carry the possibility of a death penalty and that the United States would not seek the death penalty "even if Mr. Snowden were charged with additional death penalty-eligible crimes." Holder said Snowden is free to travel from Moscow despite the June 22 revocation of his U.S. passport. He is, Holder explained, immediately eligible for a "limited validity passport" good for direct return to the United States. Holder also assured Konovalov that Snowden would not be tortured. "Torture is unlawful in the United States," Holder wrote. "If he returns to the United States, Mr. Snowden would promptly be brought before a civilian court convened under Article III of the United States Constitution and supervised by a United States District Judge. … Mr. Snowden would be appointed (or if so chose, could retain) counsel." The same day, the Russian president's spokesman reiterated the Kremlin's position that it would "not hand anyone over"; he also noted that Putin was not personally involved in the matter as Snowden "has not made any request that would require examination by the head of state" and that the issue was being handled through talks between the FSB and the FBI.
On June 14, 2013, United States federal prosecutors filed a criminal complaint against Snowden, charging him with theft of government property, and two counts of violating the U.S.' 1917 Espionage Act through unauthorized communication of national defense information and "willful communication of classified communications intelligence information to an unauthorized person." Each of the three charges carries a maximum possible prison term of ten years. The charge was initially secret and was unsealed a week later.
Snowden was asked in a January 2014 interview about returning to the U.S. to face the charges in court, as Obama had suggested a few days prior. Snowden explained why he rejected the request: "What he doesn't say are that the crimes that he's charged me with are crimes that don't allow me to make my case. They don't allow me to defend myself in an open court to the public and convince a jury that what I did was to my benefit. … So it's, I would say, illustrative that the President would choose to say someone should face the music when he knows the music is a show trial." Snowden's legal representative, Jesselyn Radack, wrote that "the Espionage Act effectively hinders a person from defending himself before a jury in an open court, as past examples show," referring to Thomas Drake, John Kiriakou and Chelsea Manning. Radack said that the "arcane World War I law" was never meant to prosecute whistleblowers, but rather spies who sold secrets to enemies for profit. Under this law, she states, "no prosecution of a non-spy can be fair or just."
Snowden left the Moscow airport on August 1 after 39 days in the transit section. He had been granted temporary asylum in Russia for one year; the asylum grant can be extended indefinitely on an annual basis. According to his Russian lawyer, Snowden went to an undisclosed location kept secret for security reasons. In response to the asylum grant, the White House stated that it was "extremely disappointed," cancelled a previously scheduled meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and some U.S. legislators urged the President to boycott the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
In late July 2013, Lon Snowden said he believed his son would be better off staying in Russia, and didn't believe he would receive a fair trial in the U.S. In mid-October, he visited his son in Moscow, later telling the press that he was pleased with Edward's situation, and still believed Russia was the best choice for his asylum, saying he wouldn't have to worry about people "rushing across the border to render him." Snowden commented that his son found living in Russia "comfortable," and Moscow "modern and sophisticated." Snowden's Russian lawyer, Anatoly Kucherena, announced on October 31 that his client had found a website maintenance job at one of Russia's largest websites, but refused to identify the site for "security reasons." Jesselyn Radack, one of Snowden's American lawyers, said she was "not aware" of any new job. Asked about this by The Moscow Times in June 2014, The Guardian correspondent Luke Harding replied, "Kucherena is completely unreliable as a source. We [The Guardian] did the rounds of Russian IT companies when he made that claim last year and none of them—none of the big ones, at least—confirmed this."
Former CIA analyst Ray McGovern, who had traveled to Russia to give Snowden a whistleblower award, said that Snowden did not give any storage devices such as hard drives or USB flash drives to Russia or China, and that the four laptops he carried with him "were a 'diversion' and contained no secrets." U.S. officials said they assumed that any classified materials downloaded by Snowden had fallen into the hands of China and Russia, though they acknowledged they had no proof of this. In an October 2013 interview, Snowden maintained that he did not bring any classified material into Russia "because it wouldn't serve the public interest." He added, "There's a zero percent chance the Russians or Chinese have received any documents."
WikiLeaks released video of Snowden on October 11 taken during the Sam Adams Award reception in Moscow, his first public appearance in three months. Former U.S. government officials attending the ceremony said they saw no evidence Snowden was under the control of Russian security services. The whistleblower group said he was in good spirits, looked well, and still believes he was right to release the NSA documents. In the video, Snowden said "people all over the world are coming to realize" that the NSA's surveillance programs put people in danger, hurt the U.S. and its economy, and "limit our ability to speak and think and live and be creative, to have relationships and associate freely" as well as putting people "at risk of coming into conflict with our own government."
On October 31, German lawmaker Hans-Christian Ströbele traveled to Moscow to meet with Snowden, whom he invited to testify before the German parliament to assist investigations into NSA surveillance of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's phone since 2002. After the visit, Snowden indicated a willingness to testify, though not from Moscow as Germany requested. Snowden said he would rather give testimony before the U.S. Congress, his second choice being Berlin.
Also in October, journalist Glenn Greenwald commented on Snowden's Russian asylum: "[Snowden] didn't choose to be there. He was trying to get transit to Latin America, and then the U.S. revoked his passport and threatened other countries out of offering Snowden safe passage." WikiLeaks representative Sarah Harrison, who accompanied Snowden from Hong Kong to Moscow, left Russia in early November after waiting until she felt confident he had "established himself and was free from the interference of any government."
NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake, who was also charged with espionage for leaking classified materials, said he believes Snowden would not be able to return to the U.S. in the "foreseeable future," as he has "essentially been declared enemy of the State number 1, exhibit number 1." According to Ströbele, Snowden was seeking asylum "in a 'democratic' country" such as Germany or France, and wanted to leave Russia at the end of his year-long asylum. Snowden's legal advisors Radack and Kucherena indicated that Snowden would remain in Russia, however, with Radack saying in January 2014 that Snowden "hopes that [his temporary asylum] will be renewed for another year or into a permanent asylum because he is safe there [in Russia] and he knows that." In Russia "he is protected from a lot of people who would like to harm him," Radack noted.
On December 17, 2013, Snowden wrote an open letter to the people of Brazil offering to assist the Brazilian government in investigating allegations of U.S. spying, and added that he continued to seek, and would require, asylum. Snowden wrote, "Until a country grants permanent political asylum, the U.S. government will continue to interfere with my ability to speak … going so far as to force down the Presidential Plane of Evo Morales to prevent me from traveling to Latin America!" Brazil had been in an uproar since Snowden revealed that the U.S. was spying on Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, her senior advisors, and Brazil's national oil company, Petrobras. Rousseff and officials of the Brazilian foreign ministry said in response that they could not consider asylum for Snowden because they had not received any formal request. A representative of the foreign ministry said that a fax requesting asylum had been sent to the Brazilian embassy in Moscow in July but it had not been signed and could not be authenticated. David Miranda, the Brazilian partner of Glenn Greenwald, launched an internet petition urging the Brazilian president to consider offering Snowden asylum.
Snowden met with Barton Gellman of The Washington Post six months after the disclosure for an exclusive interview spanning 14 hours, his first since being granted temporary asylum. Snowden talked about his life in Russia as "an indoor cat," reflected on his time as an NSA contractor, and discussed at length the revelations of global surveillance and their reverberations. Snowden said, "In terms of personal satisfaction, the mission's already accomplished … I already won. As soon as the journalists were able to work, everything that I had been trying to do was validated." He commented "I am not trying to bring down the NSA, I am working to improve the NSA … I am still working for the NSA right now. They are the only ones who don't realize it." On the accusation from former CIA and NSA director Michael Hayden that he had defected, Snowden stated, "If I defected at all, I defected from the government to the public." In 2014, Snowden said that he lives "a surprisingly open life" in Russia and that he is recognized when he goes to computer stores.
According to BuzzFeed, in January 2014 an anonymous Pentagon official said that he wanted to kill Snowden, claiming that “By [Snowden] showing who our collections partners were, the terrorists have dropped those carriers and email addresses." Other intelligence analysts expressed their anger to BuzzFeed as well, with an Army intelligence officer complaining that Snowden's leaks had increased his "blindness" and expressing his hope that Snowden would be killed in a covert way. Snowden's Russian attorney, Kucherena, said "This is a real death threat and we are concerned about the fact it has prompted no reaction from anybody … We will ask the [Russian] law enforcers to examine and investigate all such statements." When asked about the BuzzFeed story, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said death threats were "totally inappropriate" and had “no place in our discussion of these issues." Kucherena had also expressed his concern for Snowden's safety the previous August, however, Andrei Soldatov told the Associated Press at that time that "American intelligence does not kidnap or assassinate people in Russia, that's a fact. [Kucherena's statements about Snowden's safety are] just a pretext."
On Meet the Press in late January 2014, speculation arose from top U.S. officials in the House and Senate Intelligence Committees that Snowden might have been assisted by Russian intelligence, prompting a rare interview during which Snowden spoke in his defense. He told The New Yorker "this 'Russian spy' push is absurd," adding that he "clearly and unambiguously acted alone, with no assistance from anyone, much less a government." The New York Times reported that investigations by the NSA and the FBI "have turned up no evidence that Mr. Snowden was aided by others." Days later, Feinstein stated that she had seen no evidence that Snowden is a Russian spy. Germany's Der Spiegel suggested the accusations were part of a "smear campaign" by U.S. officials. For Snowden, the smears did not "mystify" him; he said that "outlets report statements that the speakers themselves admit are sheer speculation."
In late January 2014, US attorney general, Eric Holder in an interview with MSNBC indicated that the U.S. could allow Snowden to return from Russia under negotiated terms, saying he was prepared to engage in conversation with him, but that full clemency would be going too far.
According to German politician Hans-Christian Ströbele, Snowden is seeking permanent asylum in a "democratic" country such as Germany or France. On March 12, 2014, the international advocacy group European Digital Rights (EDRi) reported that the European Parliament, in adopting a Data Protection Reform Package, rejected amendments that would have dropped charges against Snowden and granted him asylum or refugee status. Snowden's legal adviser, Jesselyn Radack, said in January 2014 that Snowden would eventually like to return to the U.S. "if the conditions were right," but that he knows he is safe in Russia for the present.
On April 17, 2014, Snowden made an appearance on video from an undisclosed location, questioning Putin about Russian surveillance during the President's live, annual Q&A exchange with the public. After speaking about the US debate about surveillance, he said: "Now, I've seen little public discussion of Russia's own involvement in the policies of mass surveillance. So I'd like to ask you, does Russia intercept, store or analyze in any way the communications of millions of individuals, and do you believe that simply increasing the effectiveness of intelligence or law enforcement investigations can justify placing societies rather than subjects under surveillance?" Putin responded that there was "no mass surveillance in our country" and that "our surveillance activities are strictly controlled by the law." Reactions to this appearance were split. Critics said it looked like a "highly-scripted propaganda stunt for Vladimir Putin" and that Snowden is "bought and paid for entirely by the Russians." Snowden insisted his question was designed to hold the Russian president accountable. In an op-ed for The Guardian, Snowden said his question was intended "to mirror the now infamous exchange in US Senate intelligence committee hearings between senator Ron Wyden and the director of national intelligence, James Clapper, about whether the NSA collected records on millions of Americans, and to invite either an important concession or a clear evasion." Snowden called Putin's response "evasive". A few days later, The Daily Beast reported that Snowden himself "instantly regretted" asking Putin the "softball question", which was crafted with several of his key advisers, and that he was mortified by the reaction. Ben Wizner, one of Snowden's legal advisers, told the Beast that Snowden hadn't realized how much his appearance with Putin would be seen as a Kremlin propaganda victory, and that Snowden saw the question as "his first foray into criticizing Russia." Wizner said, "He was genuinely surprised that in reasonable corridors it was seen as the opposite." Wizner expressed hope that Snowden's op-ed would silence the "Snowden-Putin truthers" who he said are convinced that the Russian security services are behind Snowden's every move, but he had doubts: "If Snowden demanded Putin's resignation, they'd see it as another piece of evidence that he's Putin's pawn." Wizner acknowledged, "I know this is hard to believe. I know if I was just watching from afar, I'd think, 'Wow, they forced him to do this.' But it's not true. He just fucking did it."
In June 2014, The Washington Post reported that during his first year of Russian asylum, Snowden had received "tens of thousands of dollars in cash awards and appearance fees from privacy organizations and other groups," fielded inquiries about book and movie projects, and was considering taking a position with a South African foundation that would support work on security and privacy issues. "Any moment that he decides that he wants to be a wealthy person," said Snowden's attorney Ben Wizner, "that route is available to him," although the U.S. government could attempt to seize such proceeds.
On July 13, 2014, The Guardian published its first story based on an exclusive, seven-hour interview newly conducted with Snowden in a Moscow city centre hotel. Snowden condemned the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Bill announced to the UK's House of Commons on July 10 bolstering the state's right to keep personal data held by Internet and phone companies. Snowden said it was very unusual for a public body to pass such emergency legislation except during total war. "I mean we don't have bombs falling. We don't have U-boats in the harbor. It defies belief." The Daily Mail reported that Snowden had "caused fury" by attacking Britain. "His critics said the new surveillance Bill was being pushed through Parliament today largely because of his treachery in leaking Britain's spy secrets." On July 13 and 17, The Guardian posted video clips, of about 2 minutes and 14 minutes in length, excerpted from the full interview. On July 18, The Guardian published a nearly 10,000-word "edited transcript" of their Snowden interview. A year after arriving in Moscow, Snowden said he is still learning Russian. He keeps late and solitary hours, effectively living on U.S. time. He does not drink, cooks for himself but doesn't eat much. "I don't live in absolute secrecy," he says. "I live a pretty open life—but at the same time I don't want to be a celebrity." He does not work for a Russian organization, yet is financially secure thanks to substantial savings from his years as a well-paid contractor and more recently numerous awards and speaking fees from around the world.
Of his time as an NSA analyst, directing the work of others, Snowden recalled a moment when he and his colleagues began to have severe ethical doubts. Snowden said 18- to 22-year-old analysts were suddenly "thrust into a position of extraordinary responsibility, where they now have access to all your private records. In the course of their daily work, they stumble across something that is completely unrelated in any sort of necessary sense—for example, an intimate nude photo of someone in a sexually compromising situation. But they're extremely attractive. So what do they do? They turn around in their chair and they show a co-worker … and sooner or later this person's whole life has been seen by all of these other people." As Snowden observed it, this behavior was routine, happening "probably every two months," but was never reported, being considered among "the fringe benefits of surveillance positions."
On August 7, 2014, six days after Snowden's one-year temporary asylum expired, his Russian lawyer announced that Snowden had received a three-year residency permit. "He will be able to travel freely within the country and go abroad," said Anatoly Kucherena. "He'll be able to stay abroad for not longer than three months." Kucherena explained that Snowden had not been granted political asylum, which would allow him to stay in Russia permanently but requires a separate process. "In the future," he added, "Edward will have to decide whether to continue to live in Russia and become a citizen or to return to the United States."
Snowden's release of NSA material was called the most significant leak in U.S. history by Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg. Ellsberg said "Snowden's disclosures are a true constitutional moment" enabling the press to hold the Executive branch of the U.S. federal government accountable, while the legislative and judiciary branch refused to do so. The "accountability" mechanisms of the U.S. government, he said, are "a one-sided secret court, which acts as a rubber stamp, and a Congressional 'oversight' committee, which has turned into the NSA's public relations firm." On January 14, 2014, Ellsberg posted to his Twitter page: "Edward Snowden has done more for our Constitution in terms of the Fourth and First Amendment than anyone else I know."
On June 9, 2013, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper condemned Snowden's actions as having done "huge, grave damage" to U.S. intelligence capabilities.
A We the People petition was launched on June 9 via the whitehouse.gov website to seek "a full, free, and absolute pardon for any crimes [Snowden] has committed or may have committed related to blowing the whistle on secret NSA surveillance programs". The petition attained 100,000 signatures within two weeks, thus meeting the threshold and requiring an official response from the White House. In March 2014, the Administration still had not responded to the petition, but gave no reason for the nine-month delay.
Ex-CIA director James Woolsey said in December 2013 that if Snowden was convicted of treason, he should be hanged. One of Snowden's legal advisers, Jesselyn Radack, said that Snowden "has concerns for his safety" based on this and joking remarks between Hayden and House Intelligence Committee chairman Mike Rogers about putting Snowden on a "kill list."
According to Mike Rogers and ranking member Dutch Ruppersberger, a classified Pentagon report written by military intelligence officials contends that Edward Snowden's leaks had put U.S. troops at risk and prompted terrorists to change their tactics, and that "most files copied" were related to current U.S. military operations. Glenn Greenwald and Ben Wizner, an ACLU lawyer representing Snowden, disputed these claims, stating that Snowden's leaks overwhelmingly relate to NSA activities and noting that similar claims were made about the Pentagon Papers.
On January 1, 2014, the editorial board of The New York Times praised Snowden as a whistleblower and wrote in favor of granting him clemency or "at least a substantially reduced punishment," arguing that while Snowden may have broken the law, he had "done his country a great service" by bringing the abuses of the NSA to light. "When someone reveals that government officials have routinely and deliberately broken the law," they wrote, "that person should not face life in prison at the hands of the same government." The Times further criticized James Clapper for lying to Congress about the NSA's surveillance activities and cast doubt on the claim made by Snowden's critics that he had damaged national security. The editorial concluded with a request to President Obama to discontinue the "vilification" of Snowden and to offer Snowden "an incentive to return home." The article garnered an unusual amount of "heat" for an editorial, with responses from multiple media outlets. The editorial board of The Guardian called for a pardon in an article coincidentally published on the same day. The board asked President Obama to "use his executive powers to treat [Snowden] humanely and in a manner that would be a shining example about the value of whistleblowers and of free speech itself."
In his article dated January 4, 2014, "Moves to Curb Spying Help Drive the Clemency Argument for Snowden," Peter Baker of The New York Times laid out the polarization of opinions throughout the U.S. and the impetus toward clemency gained by the public reaction to the revelations of the surveillance. He noted that officials in the intelligence establishment "warn that letting Mr. Snowden off the hook would set a dangerous precedent" and contrasted that with the statement of attorney Bruce Fein about the protections afforded by the First Amendment, "It prohibits government from punishing communications that expose government lawlessness whether or not the illegality is classified. Calling government to account for breaking the law is a compelling civic duty of all citizens." The author also noted that similar polarization has arisen in judicial review, citing one federal judge's ruling that the surveillance program in question "was probably unconstitutional," implying that laws passed to enable such programs could be struck down.
In January 2014, U.S. President Barack Obama mentioned Snowden in a speech covering proposed reforms to the NSA's surveillance program and said that "our nation's defense depends in part on the fidelity of those entrusted with our nation's secrets. If any individual who objects to government policy can take it into their own hands to publicly disclose classified information, then we will not be able to keep our people safe, or conduct foreign policy." Obama also objected to the "sensational" way the leaks had been reported, saying the reporting often "shed more heat than light." He went on to assert that the disclosures had revealed "methods to our adversaries that could impact our operations."
The Republican Party in January 2014 voted unanimously to pass a "Resolution To Renounce The National Security Agency's Surveillance Program" which called for a "special committee to investigate, report, and reveal to the public the extent of this domestic spying." They said that Snowden's revelations had uncovered "an invasion into the personal lives of American citizens that violates the right of free speech and association afforded by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution" and that "the mass collection and retention of personal data is in itself contrary to the right of privacy protected by the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution." The resolution endorses legislation proposed by Congressman Justin Amash.
In February 2014, former congressman Ron Paul began a petition urging the Obama Administration to grant Snowden clemency. Paul released a video on his website saying, "Edward Snowden sacrificed his livelihood, citizenship, and freedom by exposing the disturbing scope of the NSA's worldwide spying program. Thanks to one man's courageous actions, Americans know about the truly egregious ways their government is spying on them."
Speaking at The Wall Street Journal's CIO Network on February 4, 2014, Mike McConnell—former NSA Director and current Vice Chairman at Booz Allen Hamilton—said that Snowden was motivated by revenge when the NSA did not offer Snowden the job he wanted. "At this point," said McConnell, "he being narcissistic and having failed at most everything he did, he decides now I'm going to turn on them."
In March 2014, former U.S. president Jimmy Carter said that if he were still president today he would "certainly consider" giving Snowden a pardon were he to be found guilty and imprisoned for his leaks.
In April 2014, former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton insinuated that she found Snowden's motives suspicious. "When he emerged and when he absconded with all that material, I was puzzled because we have all these protections for whistle-blowers. If he were concerned and wanted to be part of the American debate, he could have been," said Clinton, speaking at the University of Connecticut. "But it struck me as—I just have to be honest with you—as sort of odd that he would flee to China, because Hong Kong is controlled by China, and that he would then go to Russia—two countries with which we have very difficult cyberrelationships, to put it mildly." Clinton added, "I think turning over a lot of that material—intentionally or unintentionally—drained, gave all kinds of information, not only to big countries, but to networks and terrorist groups and the like. So I have a hard time thinking that somebody who is a champion of privacy and liberty has taken refuge in Russia, under Putin's authority." Supporters and advisers of Snowden called Clinton's remarks unrealistic and pointed out several misunderstandings, telling Politico that Snowden could not have availed himself of whistleblower protections because he was a contractor, not a government employee, and because his claims would not have been seen as exposing impropriety, since the NSA telephone program was legal. Glenn Greenwald noted that to date, no evidence had emerged showing leaked material had reached foreign governments, besides that released by media. Snowden attorney Ben Wizner said Snowden knew how to clear electronic devices of information and prevent interception by foreign governments because he used to show Clinton's diplomats how to do that. On July 4, 2014, Hillary Clinton said that if Snowden wished to return to the U.S., "knowing he would be held accountable," he would have the right "to launch both a legal defense and a public defense, which can of course affect the legal defense." Clinton stated that Snowden "certainly can stay in Russia, apparently under Putin's protection, for the rest of his life if that's what he chooses. But if he is serious about engaging in the debate then he could take the opportunity to come back and have that debate. But that's his decision."
In May 2014, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Snowden had "damaged his country very significantly" and "hurt operational security" by telling terrorists how to evade detection. "The bottom line," Kerry added, "is this man has betrayed his country, sitting in Russia where he has taken refuge. You know, he should man up and come back to the United States."
In June 2014, interviewed at the Southland technology conference in Nashville, Tennessee, former U.S. Vice President Al Gore said Snowden "clearly violated the law so you can't say OK, what he did is all right. It's not. But what he revealed in the course of violating important laws included violations of the U.S. constitution that were way more serious than the crimes he committed. In the course of violating important law, he also provided an important service. … Because we did need to know how far this has gone."
In the U.S., Snowden's actions precipitated an intense debate on privacy and warrantless domestic surveillance. President Obama was initially dismissive of Snowden, saying "I'm not going to be scrambling jets to get a 29-year-old hacker." (The President said this on June 27, 2013—six days after Snowden's 30th birthday.) In August, Obama rejected the suggestion that Snowden was a patriot, and in November said that "the benefit of the debate he generated was not worth the damage done, because there was another way of doing it."
In June 2013, U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont wrote on his blog, "Love him or hate him, we all owe Snowden our thanks for forcing upon the nation an important debate. But the debate shouldn't be about him. It should be about the gnawing questions his actions raised from the shadows."
Snowden said in December 2013 that he was "inspired by the global debate" ignited by the leaks, and stated that NSA's "culture of indiscriminate global espionage … is collapsing."
At the end of 2013, The Washington Post noted that the public debate, lawsuits, "presidential task forces, and attempts at legislative remedy" had not brought about any "meaningful policy change." They printed: "… the status quo continues, if with forced disclosures and administration arguments that the public just doesn't understand how difficult it is to prevent the next 9/11 – even though there's been no evidence publicly revealed so far that these measures have prevented the next 9/11."
In February 2014, Intelligence Squared held an "Oxford style" debate in New York City titled "Snowden Was Justified" addressing the opposing, widely held views that Snowden was a "whistleblower," and alternately, a "traitor." Ex-CIA director R. James Woolsey and former federal prosecutor Andrew C. McCarthy argued against the motion, while ACLU lawyer representing Snowden, Ben Wizner, and Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg argued in favor. Prior to arguments, the audience was split on the matter at 29 percent. After the debate, 54 percent found that Snowden was justified and 35 percent were against.
In August 2013, President Obama said that he had called for a review of U.S. surveillance activities even before Snowden had begun revealing details of the NSA's operations. Obama announced that he was directing DNI James Clapper "to establish a review group on intelligence and communications technologies" that would brief and later report to the president. In December, the task force issued 46 recommendations that, if adopted, would subject the NSA to additional scrutiny by the courts, Congress, and the president, and would strip the NSA of the authority to infiltrate American computer systems using "backdoors" in hardware or software. Panel member Geoffrey R. Stone said there was no evidence that the bulk collection of phone data had stopped any terror attacks. In July 2014, The Washington Post reported that, according to a large cache of NSA-intercepted conversations provided by Edward Snowden, months of tracking by the NSA of communications across more than 50 alias Internet accounts "led directly to the 2011 capture in Abbottabad of Muhammad Tahir Shahzad, a Pakistan-based bomb builder, and Umar Patek, a suspect in a 2002 terrorist bombing on the Indonesian island of Bali." The Post said that, at the request of CIA officials, it was "withholding other examples that officials said would compromise ongoing operations."
On June 6, 2013, in the wake of Snowden's leaks, conservative public interest lawyer and Judicial Watch founder Larry Klayman filed a lawsuit claiming that the federal government had unlawfully collected metadata for his telephone calls and was harassing him. In Klayman v. Obama, Judge Richard J. Leon referred to the NSA's "almost-Orwellian technology" and ruled the bulk telephony metadata program to be probably unconstitutional. Snowden later described Judge Leon's decision as "vindication."
On June 11, the ACLU filed a lawsuit against James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, alleging that the NSA's phone records program was unconstitutional. In December 2013, ten days after Judge Leon's ruling, Judge William H. Pauley III came to the opposite conclusion. In ACLU v. Clapper, although acknowledging that privacy concerns are not trivial, Pauley found that the potential benefits of surveillance outweigh these considerations and ruled that the NSA's collection of phone data is legal.
Gary Schmitt, former staff director of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, wrote that "The two decisions have generated public confusion over the constitutionality of the NSA's data collection program—a kind of judicial 'he-said, she-said' standoff."
Crediting the Snowden leaks, the United Nations General Assembly unanimously adopted Resolution 68/167, a symbolic "anti-spying resolution" to "protect the right to privacy against unlawful surveillance" in the wake of reports that 35 foreign leaders were subjects of U.S. eavesdropping. The non-binding resolution "unequivocally states that the same rights that people have off-line must also be protected online."
The European Parliament invited Snowden to make a pre-recorded video appearance to aid their NSA investigation. Snowden gave written testimony in which he said that he was seeking asylum in the EU, but that he was told by European Parliamentarians that the U.S. would not allow EU partners to make such an offer. He told the Parliament that the NSA was working with the security agencies of EU states to "get access to as much data of EU citizens as possible." The NSA's Foreign Affairs Division, he claimed, lobbies the EU and other countries to change their laws, allowing for "everyone in the country" to be spied on legally.
In July 2014, Navi Pillay, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, told a news conference in Geneva that the U.S. should abandon its efforts to prosecute Snowden, since his leaks were in the public interest.
Surveys conducted by news and professional polling organizations originally found public opinion more supportive of Snowden outside the United States than within. A June 2013 Emnid poll revealed that 50 percent of Germans considered Snowden a hero, and 35 percent would hide him in their homes. In October 2013, 67 percent of Canadians considered Snowden a hero, as did 60 percent of UK respondents. In an April 2014 UK YouGov poll, 46 percent of British people thought that newspapers reporting on the materials given to them by Snowden was good for society, while 22 percent thought it was bad for society and 31 percent didn't know.
When Americans were asked in June 2013 to describe Snowden in a single word, 12 percent said he was a hero and 21 percent called him a traitor. Six months later, 8 percent said hero and 23 percent traitor. When Americans were asked for their general impression in June 2013, 40 percent felt favorably and 39 percent unfavorably towards Snowden. Six months later, 43 percent responded favorably and 41 percent unfavorably. Asked specifically whether his disclosures were beneficial or detrimental, in June 2013, 49 percent said Snowden had served the public interest, and 44 percent thought he'd harmed national security. Six months later, 40 percent believed the leaks had been helpful, and 46 percent said they'd been bad for the country. In June 2013, Americans were split when asked if Snowden was right or wrong to leak the NSA documents to the press, with 44 percent saying he was right and 42 percent that he was wrong. Americans saying Snowden was wrong to leak reached a high of 55 percent in November 2013. Asked whether or not the U.S. government ought to pursue a criminal case against Snowden, in June 2013, 54 percent said he should be prosecuted and 38 percent disagreed. By March 2014, those favoring prosecution had declined to 45 percent, with 34 percent opposed.
A 2014 Pew/USA Today poll revealed that 18- to 29-year-old Americans were significantly more supportive than those over 65, and were the only age group where a majority did not favor prosecution, being evenly split 42 percent to 42 percent on whether Snowden should be tried. Fifty-seven percent of 18- to 29-year-olds thought he had served rather than harmed public interest. A YouGov survey at the end of May 2014 found that 55 percent of Americans thought Snowden was right to leak details of the PRISM program. Twenty percent of Americans aged 16–34 thought Snowden’s actions were wrong, while 41 percent of those 55 and over held this view. On May 20, NBC News asked viewers to weigh in via Twitter on whether they thought Snowden was a "patriot" or "traitor." Prior to airing its Snowden interview, viewers were closely split on the matter; after the program aired, 60 percent said they considered him a "patriot". A subsequent NBC News poll of registered voters, published on June 1, found that 34 percent opposed Snowden's leaks, 24 percent backed him and another 40 percent had no opinion. Among those who closely followed the story, 49 percent opposed his actions and 33 percent supported them. "These overall numbers," said NBC News, "are essentially unchanged from a January 2014 NBC News/Wall Street Journal [poll], when 23 percent of registered voters said they supported Snowden's actions, versus 38 percent who opposed them."
In July 2014, the Pew Research Center released the results of its Spring 2014 Global Attitudes Survey, which found widespread worldwide opposition to U.S. eavesdropping and a decline in the view that the U.S. respects the personal freedoms of its own people, but "little evidence this opposition has severely harmed America's overall image." While the majority of Americans and others around the world condoned spying on suspected terrorists, they agreed it is unacceptable to spy on American citizens.
In August 2014, Vanity Fair published the results of a poll conducted in June on behalf of CBS News that asked a random sample of 1,017 adult Americans nationwide, "Did Edward Snowden act ethically?" In response, 54% said no, 27% said yes, and 19% didn't know.
The 2013 list of leading Global Thinkers, published annually by Foreign Policy placed Snowden in first place due to the impact of his revelations. FP's "Global Conversation visualization" showed that Snowden "occupied a role in 2013's global news media coverage just slightly less important than President Barack Obama himself."
He headed the Ten Tech Heroes of 2013 at TechRepublic, the site of an online newsletter circulated among IT professionals. Editor Jack Wallen placed Snowden in the number one position of his list and wrote, "Prior to this leak, the public was unaware of the depth of surveillance and the true nature of government secrecy. His disclosures have also had major implications for those in the technology field."
Snowden was named Time′s Person of the Year runner-up in 2013, behind Pope Francis. Time was criticized for not placing him in the top spot. In 2014, Snowden was named among Time's 100 Most Influential People in the world.
Snowden joined the board of directors of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, co-founded by Daniel Ellsberg, in January 2014. Journalists Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras serve as staff members of the organization.
In July 2014, Freie Universität Berlin announced that Snowden had accepted its offer of honorary membership in recognition of what the university called "his extraordinary achievements in defense of transparency, justice, and freedom." Apart from the honor, there are no rights, privileges or duties involved.
Edward Snowden was awarded the biennial German "whistleblower prize" in August 2013, in absentia, with an accompanying award equal to 3,000 euro. Established in 1999, the award is sponsored by the German branch of the International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms and by the Association of German Scientists. Organizers in Berlin said the prize was to acknowledge his "bold efforts to expose the massive and unsuspecting monitoring and storage of communication data, which cannot be accepted in democratic societies." Snowden responded to the award, saying it was "a great honor to be recognized for the public good created by this act of whistleblowing," and that it was not he, but the public who effected "this powerful change to abrogation of basic constitutional rights by secret agencies."
In October 2013, the Sam Adams Award was presented to Snowden in Moscow by a group of four visiting American former intelligence officers and whistleblowers. After two months as an asylee, Snowden made his first public appearance to accept the award, a candlestick holder meant to symbolize "bringing light to dark corners." One of the presenters, FBI whistleblower Jesselyn Radack of the Government Accountability Project, told The Nation, "We believe that Snowden exemplifies Sam Adams's courage, persistence and devotion to truth—no matter what the consequences. We wanted Snowden to know that, as opposed to the daily vitriol from the U.S. government and mainstream media, 60 percent of the United States supports him, including thousands in the national security and intelligence agencies where we used to work."
Snowden was chosen to give Britain's 2013 "Alternative Christmas Message," Channel 4's alternative to the Royal Christmas Message by Queen Elizabeth II. The Message is normally given by non-establishment figures. In what was Snowden's first television appearance since arriving in Russia, the address focused on the importance of privacy and the need for an end to government surveillance. In the 1.5-minute segment he said that the recently revealed "worldwide mass surveillance," a system resulting from teamwork between governments, the danger of which George Orwell warned in Nineteen Eighty-Four, a novel about a society controlled by an ever-present Big Brother. The difference is, Snowden noted, that today's surveillance capabilities far surpass those Orwell described, saying "We have sensors in our pockets that track us everywhere we go … A child born today [will] never know what it means to have a private moment to themselves, an unrecorded, un-analyzed thought. That's a problem because privacy matters; [it] allows us to determine who we are, and who we want to be." The piece was filmed, edited and produced by Laura Poitras.
On February 18, 2014, Snowden was elected as Rector of the University of Glasgow, a position widely described as symbolic. Snowden became the first American Rector in the position's 366-year history. Snowden beat three competitors and received over half of the 6,560 votes. The nomination was arranged by a group of Glasgow University students along with the help of Snowden's lawyer. Snowden was officially installed on April 23. Like past rector Winnie Mandela, Snowden will not visit the campus in person and will not be expected to fulfil his duties as rector, a job which involves representing student issues to senior management. He will serve for three years.
At German Big Brother Awards gala on April 11, 2014, Edward Snowden was honored with the first-ever “positive” award, named the “Julia and Winston Award” after the two main rebellious characters in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. The award was endowed with one million stickers calling on the German government to grant asylum to Edward Snowden. The award’s organizers, Digitalcourage, made the stickers available for free online orders to enable the public to distribute the stickers throughout Germany.
In April 2014 Snowden, together with Laura Poitras, was awarded the Ridenhour Truth-Telling Prize, given by The Nation Institute and The Fertel Foundation for transparency and whistleblowing. Snowden and Poitras each appeared on video at the National Press Club to accept the award. Snowden gave a speech and took questions from the audience, who according to The Nation greeted him with "numerous standing ovations". During his speech, he questioned why James Clapper had not been reprimanded for his "famous lie". In contrast, Snowden noted that charges were brought against him soon after going public as the source of the NSA leaks. He said "When I began this, I never expected to receive the level of support that I did from the public. Having seen what happened to the people that came before, specifically Thomas Drake, it was an intimidating thing." Both Poitras and Snowden said the act of whistleblowing needs to be viewed differently by the government, and called for changes. Afterwards, Ralph Nader, who was in the audience, criticized mainstream media for failing to cover the award ceremony.
Snowden spoke at the South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive technology conference in Austin, Texas, in front of 3,500 attendees on March 10, 2014. He participated by teleconference carried over multiple routers running the Google Hangouts platform. On-stage moderators were Christopher Soghoian and Snowden's legal counsel Wizner, both from the ACLU. Snowden said that the NSA was "setting fire to the future of the internet," and that the SXSW audience was "the firefighters." Attendees could use Twitter to send questions to Snowden, who answered one by saying that information gathered by corporations was much less dangerous than that gathered by a government agency, because "governments have the power to deprive you of your rights." Representative Mike Pompeo of the House Intelligence Committee had tried unsuccessfully to get the SXSW management to cancel Snowden's appearance; instead, SXSW director Hugh Forrest said that the NSA was welcome to respond to Snowden at the 2015 conference.
Later the same month, Snowden appeared by teleconference at the TED conference in Vancouver, British Columbia. Represented on stage by a robot with a video screen, video camera, microphones and speakers, Snowden conversed with TED curator Chris Anderson, and told the attendees that online businesses should act quickly to encrypt their websites. He described the NSA's PRISM program as the U.S. government using businesses to collect data for them, and that the NSA "intentionally misleads corporate partners" using, as an example, the Bullrun decryption program to create backdoor access. Snowden said he would gladly return to the U.S. if given immunity from prosecution, but that he was more concerned about alerting the public about abuses of government authority. Anderson invited internet pioneer Tim Berners-Lee on stage to converse with Snowden, who said that he would support Berners-Lee's concept of an "internet Magna Carta" to "encode our values in the structure of the internet."
The Economist speculated that "the big consequence" of the "Snowden Effect"[clarification needed] will be that "countries and companies will erect borders of sorts in cyberspace." In The Nation, the Snowden effect was described thusly: "[Snowden's] actions have sparked a debate about the intersection of national security and individual privacy that we weren't having six months ago, but should have been." In Forbes, the effect was seen as evidenced by a rare bipartisan movement in the U.S. Congress: "a divided, intransigent Congress seems nearly united over the idea that the massive domestic intelligence gathering system that grew after 9/11 has simply gone too far." In its Spring 2014 Global Attitudes Survey, the Pew Research Center attributed to the Snowden effect their finding that "The image of the United States has been tarnished by Snowden's revelations about National Security Agency monitoring of communications around the world, especially in Europe and Latin America."
In August 2014, Government Executive reported that "among the many actions the Obama administration took in the 'post-Snowden' era" was to appoint William Evanina, a former FBI special agent with a counter-terrorism specialty, as the new government-wide National Counterintelligence Executive in May 2014. "Instead of getting carried away with the concept of leakers as heroes," said Evanina, "we need to get back to the basics of what it means to be loyal. Undifferentiated, unauthorized leaking is a criminal act. … We need to ensure that both the employees and the individuals doing the background checks are solid." While dealing with insider threats had been an intelligence community priority since WikiLeaks published Chelsea Manning's disclosures in 2010, Evanina said that in the aftermath of Snowden's June 2013 revelations, the process "sped up from a regional railway to the Acela train." A year later, 100,000 fewer people had security clearances. "That's a lot," said Evanina.
In the technology industry, the Snowden effect had a profound impact after it was revealed that the NSA was tapping into the information held by some U.S. cloud-based services. Google, Cisco, and AT&T lost business internationally due to the "outcry" over their roles in NSA spying. It has been estimated that the cloud-based computing industry could lose up to $35 billion in the next three years. The Wall Street Journal reported that the "Snowden effect" was the top tech story of 2013, saying the Snowden leaks "taught businesses that the convenience of the cloud cuts both ways." The Journal predicted the "effect" would top 2014 news as well, given the number of documents yet to be revealed. In China, the most profitable country for U.S. tech companies, all are "under suspicion as either witting or unwitting collaborators" in the NSA spying, and are "on the defensive", according to the director of the Research Center for Chinese Politics and Business at Indiana University. The effect was also seen in changes to investment in the industry, with security "back on the map."
After revelations that German Chancellor Angela Merkel's mobile was being tapped, the tech industry rushed to create a secure cell phone. According to TechRepublic, revelations from the NSA leaks have "rocked the IT world" and have had a "chilling effect". The three biggest impacts were seen as: increased interest in encryption, business leaving U.S. companies, and a reconsideration of the safety of cloud technology.
The Blackphone, which The New Yorker calls "a phone for the age of Snowden"—described as "a smartphone explicitly designed for security and privacy", created by the makers of GeeksPhone, Silent Circle, and PGP, is designed to provide encryption for phone calls, emails, texts, and Internet browsing.
Since Snowden's disclosures, Americans are using the Internet less for things like email, online shopping and banking, according to an April 2014 poll. Also in April 2014, former NSA deputy director Col. Cedric Leighton told the Bloomberg Enterprise Technology Summit in New York City that Snowden's leaks had performed a "significant disservice" to the worldwide health of the Internet by leading Brazil and other countries to reconsider the Internet's decentralized nature. Leighton suggested that nation states' efforts to create their own versions of the Internet were the beginning of the end for the Internet as we know it. "When you have a situation where all of a sudden, everyone goes into 'tribal' mode—a German cloud, a Swiss cloud, or any other separate Internet—they are significant nationalistic attempts," said Leighton. "What happened with Snowden, it's more of an excuse than a policy, it's more of an excuse to re-nationalize the Internet."
In March 2014, The New York Times reported that economic fallout from Snowden's leaks had been a boon for foreign companies, to the detriment of U.S. firms. "It's clear to every single tech company that this is affecting their bottom line," said Daniel Castro, a senior analyst at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, who predicted that the United States cloud computing industry could lose $35 billion by 2016. Matthias Kunisch, a German software executive who spurned U.S. cloud computing providers for Deutsche Telekom, said, "Because of Snowden, our customers have the perception that American companies have connections to the NSA." Security analysts estimated that U.S. tech companies had since Snowden collectively spent millions and possibly billions of dollars adding state-of-the-art encryption features to consumer services and to the cables that link data centers.
In July 2014, the nonpartisan New America Foundation summarized the impact of Snowden's revelations on U.S. businesses. The erosion of trust, said the report, has had serious consequences for U.S. tech firms. IT executives in France, Hong Kong, Germany, the UK, and the U.S. confirmed that Snowden's leaks directly impacted how companies around the world think about information and communication technologies, particularly cloud computing. A quarter of British and Canadian multinational companies surveyed were moving their data outside the U.S. Among U.S. companies attributing drops in revenue to, in part, fallout from Snowden's leaks were Cisco Systems, Qualcomm, IBM, Microsoft, and Hewlett-Packard. Proposed laws in more than a dozen foreign countries, including Germany, Brazil, and India, would make it harder for U.S. firms to do business there. The European Union is considering stricter domestic privacy legislation that could result in fines and penalties costing U.S. firms billions of dollars.
In August 2014, Massachusetts-based big data firm Recorded Future announced it had found a direct connection between Snowden's leaks and dramatic changes in how operatives of al-Qaeda and associated groups interacted online. Just months after the leaks, said Recorded Future, the terrorists completely overhauled their 7-year-old encryption methods, which included "homebrewed" algorithms, adopting instead more sophisticated open-source software and newly available downloads that enabled encryption on cellphones, Android products, and Macs, to help disguise their communications.
The owner of a secure email service that Snowden used, Lavabit, shut down the service after being forced to release the secure keys to his site to the FBI, exposing all 410,000 users to the FBI's resulting ability to read all email routed via Lavabit. The move was mirrored days later by a similar email provider called Silent Circle. Three months later, owners of the two companies joined forces and announced their new email service, "Dark Mail Alliance", designed to be resistant to government surveillance.
Snowden's passage through Hong Kong inspired a local production team to produce a low-budget five-minute film entitled Verax. The film, depicting the time Snowden spent hiding in the Mira Hotel while being unsuccessfully tracked by the CIA and China's Ministry of State Security, was uploaded to YouTube on June 25, 2013.
A dramatic thriller about Edward Snowden, Classified: The Edward Snowden Story, is scheduled for release on September 19, 2014. The film is being crowdfunded and plans are to release the final product as a free download. The feature-length film is directed by Jason Bourque and produced by Travis Doering; actor Kevin Zegers plays the character of Edward Snowden. Michael Shanks stars as journalist Glenn Greenwald and Carmen Aguirre plays filmmaker Laura Poitras.
In September 2013, the TV series South Park parodied the Snowden revelations, with Eric Cartman standing in for Snowden. The episode, titled "Let Go, Let Gov," received the highest ratings for the show in two years.
In the District of Columbia, the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund (PCJF), a free speech advocacy group, sponsored ads that said "Thank You Edward Snowden" and were featured on the sides of DC city buses for 4 weeks in late 2013. The controversial, crowdfunded campaign included an online message of support which gathered 14,000 signatures by the time it had begun. PCJF co-founder Carl Messineo said, "It's time to stop the NSA from seizing and searching my emails, my gmail, logging my telephone calls. I never signed up for this. The US citizenry does not want this. And I want the people who see the bus to know that there are millions of others thinking the exact same thing." The ad was initially planned for one bus in December 2013, but the organizers said they received enough support from around the world to sponsor partial ads on 5 more buses in 2014.
Snowden has been featured in video games and has an action figure made in his image. Although not endorsed by Snowden, proceeds from the $99 doll are donated to Freedom of the Press Foundation, where he serves on the board of directors. In May 2014, Beyond: Edward Snowden, a graphic novel by Marvel Comics writer Valerie D'Orazio, illustrated by Dan Lauer, appeared in both print and digital editions as part a new series from Bluewater Productions, which the publisher said would reveal "stories about the secret and suppressed, the stories 'They' don't want you to know!"
In June 2014, The Guardian reported that film director Oliver Stone had bought the rights to Time of the Octopus, a forthcoming novel based on Snowden's life and written by his Russian lawyer, Anatoly Kucherena. Stone said he would use both Kucherena's book and Luke Harding's nonfiction The Snowden Files for the screenplay of his movie, due to begin production later in 2014.
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