Thursday, January 23, 2014

No way I can come home and make my case to a jury' - Snowden

Published time: January 23, 2014 20:31
Edited time: January 23, 2014 21:18
Edward Snowden.(AFP Photo / Wikileaks)

Edward Snowden.(AFP Photo / Wikileaks)

Former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden said on Thursday that whistleblower protection laws in the United States are greatly flawed and in need of serious reform.

Snowden, who fled the US last year after leaking classified documents taken from the National Security Agency, was answering questions from the public over the internet on Thursday when he made the remarks.

“One of the things that has not been widely reported by journalists is that whistleblower protection laws in the US do not protect contractors in the national security arena,” Snowden said in response to a question sent over Twitter from user @VilleThompson.

“There are so many holes in the laws, the protections they afford are so weak and the processes for reporting they provide are so ineffective that they appear to be intended to discourage reporting of even the clearest wrongdoing,” he said. “If I had revealed what I knew about these unconstitutional but classified programs to Congress, they could have charged me with a felony.”

Snowden, 30, has only sparingly conducted interviews with the media since he admitted more than seven months ago to taking a trove of classified files from the United States National Security Agency, or NSA, the likes of which have been published continuously by the international press and have sparked debates about government surveillance around the globe.

For leaking those state secrets, Snowden was charged with espionage and theft by the US Department of Justice. For half-a-year he has been confined to Russia, where he was granted temporary asylum last August.

On Thursday, Snowden fielded questions submitted by Twitter users and answered them on a website set up by supporters with The Courage Foundation.

“One only need to look at the case of Thomas Drake to see how the government doesn’t have a good history of handling legitimate reports of wrongdoing within the system,” Mr. Snowden added in reference to a fellow NSA whistleblower who was reprimanded after accusing the intelligence agency of unjust behavior.

“Despite this, and despite the fact that I could not legally go to the official channels that direct NSA employees have available to them, I still made tremendous efforts to report these programs to co-workers, supervisors and anyone with the proper clearance who would listen,” Snowden wrote. “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.”

According to Snowden, his case “clearly demonstrates the need for comprehensive Whistleblower Protection Act reform.”

“If we had had a real process in place, and reports of wrongdoing could be taken to real, independent arbiters rather than captured officials, I might not have had to sacrifice so much to do what at this point even the president seems to agree needed to be done,” he said.

An hour after he first started fielding questions on Thursday, Snowden responded to a query from CNN journalist Jake Tapper who asked, “Under what conditions would you agree to the US?”

“Returning to the US, I think, is the best resolution for the government, the public and myself, but it’s unfortunately not possible in the face of current whistleblower protection laws, which through a failure in law did not cover national security contractors like myself,” he responded. “

“The hundred-year old law under which I’ve been charged, which was never intended to be used against people working in the public interest, and forbids a public interest defense. This is especially frustrating, because it means there’s no chance to have a fair trial, and no way I can come home and make my case to a jury,” he added. “Maybe when Congress comes together to end the programs the PCLOB just announced was illegal, they’ll reform the Whistleblower Protection Act, and we’ll see a mechanism for all Americans, no matter who they work for, to get a fair trial.”

Mr. Snowden last took questions en masse from the public on June 17, 2013, barely a week after the first news articles were published based off of NSA documents he disclosed to show evidence of vast surveillance operations waged by the US government.

US President Barack Obama gave a highly anticipated speech last week in which he announced plans to reform some of those operations, which Mr. Snowden also addressed during Thursday’s question-and-answer session.

“The timing of his speech seems particularly interesting, given that it was accompanied by so many claims that ‘these programs have not been abused,’” Snowden said. “Even if we accept the NSA’s incredibly narrow definition of abuse, which is ‘someone actually broke the rules so badly we had to investigate them for it,’ we’ve seen more instances of identified, intentional abuse than we have seen instances where this unconstitutional mass phone surveillance stopped any kind of terrorist plot at all — even something less than an attack.”

Evidence of a bulk telephone metadata collection program waged by the NSA was leaked in the first classified document that Snowden disclosed to the media last year. Afterwards, the US government acknowledged that it interprets Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act — the so-called “Business Records” provision — to compel telecommunication companies for the phone records of millions of Americans on a daily basis.

“In light of another independent confirmation of this fact, I think Americans should look to the White House and Congress to close the book entirely on the 215 BR provision,” Snowden said Thursday.

At the same time, however, Snowden told his online crowd this week that “Not all spying is bad.” The problem with surveillance, he said, is that some governments have simply gone overboard.

“The biggest problem we face right now is the new technique of indiscriminate mass surveillance, where governments are seizing billions and billions and billions of innocents’ communication every single day. This is done not because it’s necessary — after all, these programs are unprecedented in US history, and were begun in response to a threat that kills fewer Americans every year than bathtub falls and police officers — but because new technologies make it easy and cheap,” he wrote, adding, “I think a person should be able to dial a number, make a purchase, send an SMS, write an email, or visit a website without having to think about what it’s going to look like on their permanent record.”

“This is a global problem, and America needs to take the lead in fixing it,” he added. “If our government decides our Constitution’s Fourth Amendment prohibition against unreasonable seizures no longer applies simply because that’s a more efficient means of snooping, we’re setting a precedent that immunizes the government of every two-bit dictator to perform the same kind of indiscriminate, dragnet surveillance of entire populations that the NSA is doing.”

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At midday on Friday 5 February, 2016 Julian Assange, John Jones QC, Melinda Taylor, Jennifer Robinson and Baltasar Garzon will be speaking at a press conference at the Frontline Club on the decision made by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention on the Assange case.


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