Snowden in his own words

We are approaching the first anniversary of the publication on June 5, 2013 of the first revelation from Edward Snowden, that the US government had obtained from Verizon without a warrant the phone records of all its customers. I want to reproduce some of the messages that Snowden gave Glenn Greenwald early in their interactions, where he explains what motivates him. These passages are in Greenwald’s book No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the US Surveillance State that I reviewed here.

The first is from late May 2013 where Snowden sought to explain to the journalists to whom he was entrusting the material why he was doing what he was doing.

My sole motive is to inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them. The U.S. government, in conspiracy with client states, chiefest among them the Five Eyes-the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand-have inflicted upon the world a system of secret, pervasive surveillance from which there is no refuge. They protect their domestic systems from the oversight of citizenry through classification and lies, and shield themselves from outrage in the event of leaks by overemphasizing limited protections they choose to grant the governed ….

The enclosed documents are real and original, and are offered to provide an understanding of how the global, passive surveillance system works so that protections against it may be developed. On the day of this writing, all new communications records that can be ingested and catalogued by this system are intended to be held for [] years, and new “Massive Data Repositories” (or euphemistically “Mission” Data Repositories) are being built and deployed worldwide, with the largest at the new data center in Utah. While I pray that public awareness and debate will lead to reform, bear in mind that the policies of men change in time, and even the Constitution is subverted when the appetites of power demand it. In words from history: Let us speak no more of faith in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of cryptography. (p. 23)

The second message was sent later along with the trove of information sent to Greenwald just before the latter went to Hong Kong to meet him and predicts accurately what people in authority will say about him when the news breaks.

Many will malign me for failing to engage in national relativism, to look away from [my] society’s problems toward distant, external evils for which we hold neither authority nor responsibility, but citizenship carries with it a duty to first police one’s own government before seeking to correct others. Here, now, at home, we suffer a government that only grudgingly allows limited oversight, and refuses accountability when crimes are committed. When marginalized youths commit minor infractions, we as a society turn a blind eye as they suffer insufferable consequences in the world’s largest prison system, yet when the richest and most powerful telecommunications providers in the country knowingly commit tens of millions of felonies, Congress passes our nation’s first law providing their elite friends with full retroactive immunity-civil and criminal-for crimes that would have merited the longest sentences in [] history.

These companies … have the best lawyers in the country on their staff and they do not suffer even the slightest consequences. When officials at the highest levels of power, to specifically include the Vice President, are found on investigation to have personally directed such a criminal enterprise, what should happen? If you believe that investigation should be stopped, its results classified above-top-secret in a special “Exceptionally Controlled Information” compartment called STLW (STELLARWIND), any future investigations ruled out on the principle that holding those who abuse power to account is against the national interest, that we must “look forward, not backward;’ and rather than closing the illegal program you would expand it with even more authorities, you will be welcome in the halls of America’s power, for that is what came to be, and I am releasing the documents that prove it.

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. I will be satisfied if the federation of secret law, unequal pardon, and irresistible executive powers that rule the world that I love are revealed for even an instant. If you seek to help, join the open source community and fight to keep the spirit of the press alive and the internet free. I have been to the darkest corners of government, and what they fear is light. (p. 31)

I have noticed that there is a lot less vitriol aimed at Snowden these days by the establishment media and the pundit class. Go back and look at my post from June 12, a week after the first revelation, where I chronicled the disdain many liberals (eager as always to protect Obama) showed for him. Gone are the days when he was described as a clown, grandiose, narcissistic, and other terms of contempt. On June 5, there are bound to be many stories about this whole affair. It will be interesting to see what tone they adopt towards him.

Long after Bush, Cheney, Obama, Clapper, Alexander, and Hayden are consigned to the dustbin of history for the liars and lawbreakers they are, people will talk of Snowden in high regard, as a deeply principled young person who was willing to sacrifice a comfortable life to do what he felt was right.


  1. Compuholic says

    I am concerned about what is going to happen when his Russian visa will run out. I heard it was only limited to one year. Of course one might argue that Putin won’t miss the opportunity to piss off the U.S. government again.

    But I would certainly like to see that we would offer him some security here in Germany. Unfortunately I think that is unlikely to happen as most of our politicians are a bunch of spineless, disgusting cowards.

  2. wilsim says

    @Compuholic – iirc about 2 months ago Snowden had his visa made permanent.

    Manu – your June 12th piece, specifically, is the one thing that made me stop and reconsider Snowden and his actions.

  3. doublereed says

    I wonder if in a few decades the conservative right will say that they were always in favor of Snowden or something like they try with Nelson Mandela and MLK.

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