Snowden - How 9/11 Birthed the Modern Surveillance State | Joe Rogan


4 years ago



Edward Snowden

2 appearances

Former CIA contractor turned whistleblower Edward Snowden shocked the world when he revealed the misdeeds of the US intelligence community and its allies. Now living in Russia, he is a noted privacy advocate and author who serves as president of the Freedom of the Press Foundation. His book, Permanent Record, is now available in paperback from Henry Holt and Company.


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I want to bring it back to when you first started with the NSA. You started as a contractor, right? What was your initial impression and when did you know that things were really squirrely with the programs they were implementing? So I'm not saying this to put you on the spot. I know you've been a busy guy. I know you haven't done. I think shows recently. You come back from a break, right? Have you read the book because it'll just help me put things in frame. If you haven't got a chance to read it, you can have a book. No, I have not read your book or got a copy of it. Okay, well I will send you a signed copy, brother. Beautiful. Thank you. I hope you will read it and I hope you will enjoy it. But all right. So I had a really weird history in the intelligence community. I grew up in a federal family. In the shadow of Fort Meade, right? All these little suburban communities in Maryland where basically the entire industry of the state is the federal government of all these different agencies and then all the subcontractors, all the defense industries that serve that government and really are kind of our war making machine, our system of control for the country and the world broadly. All that stuff spreads in a couple hundred mile raise out of DC. My mother worked for the district courts, rather the federal courts and it's kind of funny because she still works there and those are the courts that are trying to throw me in jail for the rest of my life now. My father worked for the Coast Guard, retired after 30 years. My grandfather was an admiral and then he worked for the FBI. As far back as it goes, my family, my whole line of family, even generations back, was working for the government. So it was pretty ordinary, pretty expected for me to go into the same kind of work. Now, I started, I wasn't super successful in school because I felt, and this is the most arrogant thing in the world than anybody says, that I had more to learn from computers than I did from biology class. So I spent more and more time focusing on technology than I got mono and I dropped out of high school. And now it's like, all right, how do I make this up? I say drop out of high school, but I'm actually going to community college, right? They called it concurrent enrollment, where I'm not taking any classes at high school, I'm going to community college instead. And I'm not doing that great there either. It's fine, I'm enjoying it, but school is school. I can't wait to be grown. You're bored. I think a lot of people have felt that, but I ran into somebody at the community college who ran their own home-based business doing web design. And they could see I was kind of technical and they went, hey, do you want to work for me? And I was like, well, that sounds great. And so I started doing web design really, really early on. This is like, gosh, I don't know, probably a 1998 vintage during the big boom and then the collapse that followed. And the funny thing is she worked, she was married to an NSA analyst, a linguist, right? And so she lived on Fort Meade and she ran her business out of their home on Fort Meade that's right up the street from the NSA. So before I'm even working there, I'm driving past this building all of the time and trying to figure out what the next step is going to be. And I enjoy this. It's a good thing for me and it works well. And I start getting trained and certified, all these little industry stamps you've got to get as a technologist to say, oh, you know this program or whatever, and just start climbing the ladder. But then 9-11 happens and I'm on Fort Meade when 9-11 happens. I'm just going into work and I tell this in the book in some detail. And I think it's very much worth reading for people who don't know this because this is forgotten history. How old were you at the time? Nobody. Gosh, I was born in 83, so I was probably 18 years old. And yeah, I had just turned 18 a couple months before. And what people forget is who knew what was going on before anybody else on September 11th, the intelligence community. And what did they do? Did they give out a public warning? Did they tell you guys to evacuate? Did they say do this or that? No, not for everybody, not for a long time. But at the NSA, then director Michael Hayden, he was a general, he later became director of the CIA, ordered the entire campus evacuated of thousands, tens of thousands of people, actually, and just said, go home. The CIA did the same thing. They were running on skeleton crews. At the moment, the country needed them more than they ever had. And I get a call, well, I hear a call, that's from my boss's wife, her husband to her. He's calling from the NSA and saying, hey, you know, I think Ed should leave for the day because I'm the only employee of this business besides her because I think they're going to close the base down. And I'm like, this is crazy. It never closes down. We don't know what's happening. Then we start checking the news, which is through websites, right? Because we're doing all this stuff. And suddenly it's the big story everywhere. And you know, nobody understands how big it is yet. Most of us are like, oh, it's going to mess with our workday. Oh, it's going to mess with our commute. But when I'm leaving, I hear car horns all over the base. It's the craziest thing because this is a military base, right? It's right outside the NSA. And I enter just this absolute state of pandemonium as I go past Canine Road, which is the road that travels right in front of the NSA's headquarters. And it's just a parking lot as far as you can see. They have military police out under the stoplights directing traffic because this is this mass evacuation. And I still have no idea what's happening, like the story is still developing. But I will never forget that image. Why did these people have so much power and so much money and so much authority that if at the moments we need them the most, they're the first ones in the country that are leaving their buildings? And later on, they said, and this is covered in a book, I believe, I think it's James Bamford who interviewed that director of NSA who gave that order about what was happening. He was going, well, he called his wife and he was asking where their kids were and everything like that. And then after that, he wanted to think about, well, where could these other planes that they knew were in the air that hadn't struck yet, where could they be headed? And this sort of shows how self-centric the intelligence community is. This is the DC metro area, right? They could hit the White House, they could hit Congress, they could hit the Supreme Court, right? And they go, oh, they're going to fly their planes into the CIA headquarters or they're going to fly their planes into the NSA headquarters. And of course, it was never realistic that these would be the targets. But on that basis, they were like, oh, let's get our beacon out of the pan. Now, I don't say this. I'm sorry, but in the interest of, wasn't it possible that they could have attacked those places? I mean, they attacked the Pentagon. They knew that there was attacks. No, look, it's absolutely possible they could have attacked your Denny's. Right. But it's a question of risk assessment. If you have planes in the air, if you believe there's an ongoing terrorist attack that's happening in the United States right now, and if you have built history's greatest surveillance agencies, right, the most powerful intelligence forces in the history of the species, you are going to take those off the board, or at least the majority of their personnel off the board then, in a chance that you have no sort of grounds for substantiating them. They could be targeting you to begin with simply because they could. Well, somebody else will get hit with those. As you say, it's going to be the Pentagon, right? It's going to be the World Trade Center. It's going to be someone somewhere. And the more minutes you're in front of that desk, the higher the chances, even if it's a very small chance, even if it's somebody who doesn't work on terrorism, right? Maybe if it's somebody who normally works finance in North Korea, right? But they go, look, this is an emergency. Everybody understands. You don't need to explain this. You just go stop what you're doing, look at financial transactions related to who purchased these plane tickets, do this. You just go full spectrum and go, anything you can do right now. If the building gets hit, we get hit. That's what we signed up for. Nobody wants that, right? That's not the desired outcome. So, if they had asked the staff to do that, they all would have agreed. That's what these people signed up to do. And yet the director goes, no, we're just, no, we're not going to take that risk. And this is, I think it says so much about the bureaucratic character of how government works, right? The people who rise to the top of these governments. It's about risk management for them, right? It's about never being criticized for something. And this is, if we want to get really controversial, and this is something that'll haunt me, because people will bring it up again and again and again, people ask about, people still criticize me. In the book, I talk about aliens and chemtrails and things like that, and the fact that there's no evidence for that. I went looking on the network, right? And I know, Joe, I know you want there to be aliens. I do. I know Neil deGrasse Tyson badly wants there to be aliens. And there probably are, right? But the idea that we're hiding them, if we are hiding them, I had ridiculous access to the networks of the NSA, the CIA, the military, all these groups. I couldn't find anything, right? So if it's hidden, and it could be hidden, it's hidden really damn well, even from people who are on the inside. But the main thing is conspiracy theories, right? Everybody wants to believe in conspiracy theories, because it helps life make sense. It helps us believe that somebody is in control, right? That somebody is calling the shots, that these things all happen for a reason, this, that, and the other. There are real conspiracies, but they're not typically, you know, they've got tens of thousands of people working on them, unless you're talking about the existence of the intelligence community itself, which is basically constructed on the idea that you can get, I think there's 4 million or 1.4 million people in the United States who hold security clearances. And you can get all of these people to not talk, ever, the journalists, this, that, or the other. But when you look back at the 9-11 report, and when you look back at the history of what it actually happened, what we can prove, right? Not what we can speculate on, but what are at least the commonly agreed facts. It's very clear to me, as someone who worked in the intelligence community, not during this period, of course, I was too young, but very shortly thereafter, that these attacks could have been prevented. And in fact, the government says this too. But the government goes, the reason that they, these attacks happened, the reason that they weren't prevented is what they call stove piping, right? There was not enough sharing. They needed to break down the walls and the restrictions that were chaining these poor patriots at the NSA and the CIA and the FBI from all working on the same team. And to some extent, they're correct on this, right? There were limits on the way agencies were supposed to play ball with each other. But I worked there, and I know how much of this is bullshit and how much of this is not. Those are procedural and policy limits, in some cases legal limits on what can be shared without following a process, without doing this, that or the other, without basically asking for permission, without getting a sign off or anything like that. If the FBI wanted to send absolutely everything they had to the CIA, they could have done so. If the CIA wanted to send everything they had to the FBI, they could have done so. They didn't, and people died as a result. Now government goes, bureaucratic proceduralism was responsible, and it's because we had too many restrictions on the intelligence community. And this is what led to the world post-9-11, where all of our rights sort of evaporated, was they went, well, restrictions on what these agencies can do are costing lives. Therefore, naturally, we just have to unchain these guys and everything will be better, right? And if you remember that post-9-11 moment, you can understand how that actually could come off as persuasive. That might be a kind of thing that you go, all right, well, will that make sense? Because everybody was terrified, right? There were people quite quickly who got their heads back on their shoulders the right way. There were some of them who never lost their heads at all, and who protested the Iraq War. At the same time, my own self was signing up to go fight it, volunteering for the Army. We'll get into that in a minute. But everything that has followed in the decades past came from the fact that in a moment of fear, we lost our heads. And we abandoned all the traditional constitutional restraints that we put on these agencies, and we abandoned all of the traditional political restraints and just social constraints, ideological systems of belief about the limitations that the secret police should have in a free and open society. And we went, look, terrorists, we created shows like 24 and Jack Bauer, where he's threatening to knife people's eyeballs out if they won't tell him this, that, or the other. And we entered this era of increasingly unlimited government as a result. And now, in hindsight, we go, oh, we shouldn't have been surprised. At the time, everyone panicked. But if you go back to, did that help? And we know the answer now is, in fact, no, it did not. It made things worse. I don't think any historian is going to look at the Bush administration and go, this improved the position of the United States and the world. But if you go back, wind back the tape to that pre-9-11 moment, wind back the tape to those silos and those walls that they said needed to come down because that was restraining the government. Instead of the rules that said, well, you can share these things, but there's got to be basis, there's got to be a justification. You've got to go, why are we trading people's information like baseball cards and all of this stuff? It's super easy as an intelligence officer to justify sharing information about a suspected terrorist who you think is planning to kill people or is even just in a country they shouldn't be or a place they shouldn't be or doing something you don't think they should be with another agency because no one's going to question that. A judge isn't going to question that. Any judge in the world will stamp that warrant without even thinking about it and then go to bed that night without a care in the world because you're not spying on a journalist. You're not spying on a human rights defender, right? This is not an edge case. This is someone that you believe to be associated with Al-Qaeda or whatever. Now, this is all a lot of preamble to say that essential fact. Government agrees. Everyone agrees. This probably could have been prevented if information had been shared. Why wasn't the information shared? Government says information wasn't shared because of these restrictions and it's half true because every important lie has some kernel of truth to it. There were these barriers, but the reality is why were those barriers respected in the case of a major terrorist plot? Why wasn't the CIA sharing information with the FBI? Why wasn't the FBI sharing information with the NSA? Why wasn't the NSA sharing information with the CIA in the case of a major terrorist plot? If you've worked in government, if you've worked in the intelligence community, if you worked in any large institution, if you worked at a company that sells batteries, you know that every office is fighting the other office for budget, for clout, for promotions. This is the sad reality of what actually happened. Every one of those agencies wanted to be the guy who busted the plot. They wanted to be the one who got credit for it. And they didn't realize how serious it was until it was too late because they were competing with each other rather than cooperating with each other. That's exactly what I was going to ask you if that was the issue, the competition between these agencies because they are very proud of the CIA accomplishing something or the FBI accomplishing something and they want to be the one to take credit for that. Yeah, and I mean, I think it's important like in their defense because nobody else here is going to provide a defense for them, is that that's actually darkly human. Again, this happens in every industry. This happens in every sort of big corporate thing because you want to get promoted and you know, everybody's putting in their like achievements at the end of the year for what they did. And if you're the guy who does that, you're going straight to the top. But their solution instead of... So we have a weird delay here for folks that are listening. So their solution instead of having someone be responsible for bridging the gap and providing that information to each individual agency, their solution was mass surveillance? Well, no, they're different things. This is... 9-11 is what woke these guys up, basically. And they went, well, we screwed up and Americans died as a result. We really don't want to take the hit on them. And to be honest, the government had no interest in putting the hit on them. To be honest, the public had no interest in putting the hit on them at the time because everybody understood terrorism is a real thing. There are bad people in the world and that's true, right? That will always be true. There's always going to be criminals. There's always going to be terrorists. Whether they're at your church, whether they're across the ocean, there are people out there who are angry, they're disenfranchised, they're violent, and they just want to harm something. They want to change something even in a negative way because that's what they feel is all they have left, which these are criminals, right? These are people that we don't need to pity. But if we ever want to stop it, we do need to understand it and where those things come from, where there's drives come from in the first place. But basically everybody went, all right, how do we stop this? Because nobody wants to feel unsafe. Nobody wants to feel like the building's going to come down the next time you go in it. And so everybody just went, I don't care who does it, stop it. And they said this to Dick Cheney, which is a historic mistake because Dick Cheney knows how government works. He was the person in that White House who was best placed to know all the levers of government, all the interagency cooperation, where we were strong, where we were weak, what we could do, what we were not allowed to do. And what he did was he took that little dial on what we're not allowed to do and he changed it all the way until it broke and snapped off and then there was nothing that we couldn't do anymore. And you were there while this was happening? This was? No, I was not. Again, this is 2001. I was 18 years old. I was working on the base. I drove past the building, but that was it. This is all hindsight. This is biography. This is documented history, but this is not the gospel of Edward Snowden. I don't know this, right? This is public record. This is what we all know. What we have, though, the reason that I bring this up is this is a teachable moment because there are so many people right now in the Trump administration who go, look, this guy has too much power. He's abusing it against immigrants. He's abusing it against domestic opponents. He's doing whatever. He's trying to hurt political rivals in the next election. All of this stuff. And we can get into this stuff later if you want in detail. But the bottom line is they're going, this is a guy who's in the White House who's thrown elbows. He doesn't really care. He wants to hurt people as long as he can convince the Americans that those are the bad guys. That's the enemy. It doesn't matter if they're far away. It doesn't matter if they're close at home. Whoever he's against, he's going to harm. And the dark thing is this is actually why he was elected. In moments of fear where the world starts falling apart, and this happens in authoritarian country after country, this is why you have Vladimir Putin in Russia who's been there for 20 years. President for basically 20 years. Think about that. You know, he sort of skipped in the middle there because he had to dodge the fact that presidents can only serve so many consecutive terms. So he dropped down to prime minister and then came back as president. But think about that. How do you get that kind of political longevity? And it's because if you know anything about Russian history, which even I don't know that much about, the 90s after the collapse of the Soviet Union were an extraordinarily dark time. If you look at Russian cinema, all they had were gangster movies. All they had were the disintegration of society, how things are dark and broken. No one trusts each other. Pensions were no longer being paid. Social security is not there anymore. Like there's nothing to buy, there's nothing to do, there's no job. No one had a future. And so they went, if there's somebody who can lead us out of this, if there's somebody who will fix this, who will find us an enemy and defeat that enemy to restore prosperity, we'll put them in office. We see it happen in Turkey with Erdogan, right? We've seen it happen successively with bad governments, even in Western democracies. We see it happening sadly in places like Poland and Hungary. You can even argue it's happening in the United Kingdom, right? And now there are a lot of people arguing that's exactly what we're seeing with Donald Trump's White House in the United States. And this is the lesson that we didn't learn from 2001, is when we become fearful, we become vulnerable, right? To anyone who promises they will make things better, even if they have no ability to make things better, even if they will actively make things worse, even if they will make things better for themselves and their buddies by taking from you. But if they tell you that they'll make things better and you believe them in a moment of fear, that typically leads to unfortunate outcomes. So sorry, let me turn this back over to you because we got way off track there. No, that's all right.