Why Edward Snowden Turned Whistleblower | Joe Rogan

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Edward Snowden

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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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Transcript

Okay, so for those people, first off, who have no idea who the hell I am, I'm the guy who was behind the revelations of global mass surveillance in 2013. I worked for the CIA, I worked for the NSA as a contractor at the NSA, as a staff officer at the CIA. I was undercover working at embassies. And I talk about the difference between this in a book and contractor and government official and how it's all sort of lost its meaning. But I saw something wrong. And I saw basically the government was violating the law and what I believe to be the Constitution of the United States and more broadly, human rights for everyone in the United States and around the world. There were domestic surveillance programs, there were mass surveillance programs that worked internationally. Basically everything that they could monitor, they were monitoring. And this is actually like people go, isn't that obvious? Isn't that what they're supposed to do? This is weird, but the answer actually is no. Under the framework of our Constitution, the government is only supposed to be monitoring people that it has an individualized, particularized suspicion of wrongdoing for. We think about this in the investigative means, right? Like all those TV shows where they're like, go and get a warrant. The reason they have to do that, like we fought a revolution over this a couple hundred years back, is the idea that when we had kings, when we had governments of absolute power, they could simply go in your home and go, you know, is this guy a pot smoker? Get his diary? You know, whatever it is. And just like if you find evidence of a crime, you march them off to prison and it's all good. You found evidence, they're a criminal. Or you didn't find evidence, well, no harm, no foul. You're just doing what government does. We were trying to build a better system. Yes, the government has extraordinary capabilities, but it only uses them where they're necessary, right? Where they're proportionate to the threat that is presented by this person. You know, like we shouldn't be afraid of the person who's got like a baggie of weed in their dresser or something like that. That is not a threat to national security. That is not a threat to public safety. But what happened in the wake of 9-11 was a whole bunch of government officials got together behind closed doors. And this was actually led, interestingly enough, by the vice president of the United States, Cheney. Everybody remembers that name or hopefully can look that name up, Dick Cheney. And his personal attorney, sort of the Giuliani of Dick Cheney, a guy named David Addington. And this lawyer, David Addington, wrote a secret legal interpretation that no one else was allowed to see. It was kept in the vice president safe at the White House. They weren't giving this even when they told people, and it was just a couple people in Congress. Nancy Pelosi was one of them and a couple of these other folks. When they talked to the heads of the agency, the NSA and the CIA and the FBI and all this stuff, they told them the White House and the Office of Legal Counsel and, you know, the president's attorneys, all of these guys had decided this would be legal to do. But we can't tell you why. We can't show you the legal authorization for it. You just got to take our word for it. And so they did this. And this became a mass surveillance program called Stellar Wind, which they said was supposed to monitor the phone calls and internet communications, emails and things like that of everybody in the United States and around the world who they could get access to for Lynx Al-Qaeda. Because if you remember in the wake of the September 11th attacks, they were saying, we thought there could be sleeper cells of Al-Qaeda that were just peppered all throughout the country and they were going to spring up at any moment. Of course, like weapons of mass destruction, it just didn't exist. It was all a power grab. But on that basis, they started doing this in secret and it was completely unconstitutional. It was completely illegal, even under the very loose requirements of the Patriot Act. But they did it for so long that they got comfortable with it and they thought, this is a really powerful capability. What if we started using this for stuff that was other than terrorism? Because it wasn't finding any terrorists because there weren't any terrorists in this context that they were looking for them. And the ones who where there were terrorists, the program wasn't affected because these were guys in Pakistan that weren't using email and phone calls. They were getting on a moped with their cousin who was a courier who was bringing a letter to his guy who runs the food stand or whatever. But bit by bit over time, this grew and grew and grew. There were scandals and if you want to drill down on these later, I'll go into them. But what happened was step by step by step, our constitutional rights were changed and we weren't allowed to know it. We were never granted a vote on it and even the many members of Congress, 535 in the United States. They were prohibited from knowing this and instead they told only a few select people. In the original case, there were only eight members of Congress called the Gang of Eight who knew about this. Then there were the people on the intelligence committees, both in the Senate and the House who were told about this. But they were only told partially about it. They weren't told the full scope of it. And now that they have been told about it because they had security clearances and things like that, they weren't allowed to tell anybody else, even if they objected to it. And we had one Senator, Ron Wyden, and another one, I believe, Tom Udall was the name of him, who did object to this and who wanted something to happen but because they couldn't tell anybody that was happening, they were sort of doing these weird lassie barks to the press where they were like, we have grave concerns about the way these programs are being carried out. But nobody knew what they were talking about. And so journalists were like, you know, they've got concerns. What is that lassie? What are you trying to say? Well, but they were getting it wrong. They couldn't tell what was happening. And so what had happened was that we, the American people, had sort of lost our seat at the table of government. We were no longer a partner to government. We had simply become subject to government. And I think everybody who's in the world today, who is aware of what's going on, whether it's under this administration, the last administration, the one before that, right, they have seen a constant kind of shift where we have, we the public, have less say and less influence over the policy of government with each passing year. There's kind of a new class that's being created, a government class and then the public civil class that are held to different standards of behavior. And when we start talking about leaking and whistleblowing, this becomes even more clear. And so what I did was I wanted to clarify that kind of lassie mark, right? I just wanted everybody to know what was going on. I didn't want to say the government can't do this. I didn't want to say this is how you guys have to live, because that's not for me to say. But I do believe that everybody in the United States and more broadly people in the world who are having their rights violated by a government should have at least an understanding of how that is happening, what the authorities, sort of the policies and programs that are enabling that are so that they can protest them, so that they can cast a vote about them, so that they can say, you know what, you guys say this is okay, but I disagree. This is not okay. I object and I want things to change. And so I gathered evidence of what I believe to be criminal or unconstitutional activity on the part of the government. And I gave this to journalists, right? Now I gave this to journalists under a very strict condition here, which was that they publish no story in this archive of information simply because it was interesting, right? No clickbait, not anything just because they thought it would make news, it would get them awards. They would only publish stories that they were willing to make an institutional judgment and stand behind. And this was three different newspapers that it was in the public interest to know. And so then beyond that, there was additional, because if you could see sort of what I was doing here, what had happened, what had led us into this pitfall was that the system of checks and balances that's supposed to self-regulate our government had failed. The courts had abdicated their role in policing the executive in the Congress because terrorism was such a hot argument at the time. They were worried about being criticized and blamed if something went wrong and an attack did go through. And they didn't have access to the information that the programs were ineffective. So they were just taking the government's word for it. And they didn't want to wait in. Congress, most of them didn't even know, right? And the ones who did know, it was the same thing. They were getting their pockets stuffed with money by the defense contractors that were getting rich for building these systems that were violating the rights of each of us. So they benefited by just saying nothing. And then the executive themselves, whether we're talking about Bush, whether we're talking about Obama or whether we're talking about Trump now, all these guys were okay with a constantly growing surveillance state because they're the ones whose hands were on the lever at the time. They got to aim it. They got to use it. If you had a little search box in front of you, they would give you the email history and of everybody in the United States, anybody you want, if you could pull up their text messages, anybody you want, if you could see anything they ever typed into that Google search box, right? Joe, what is the worst thing you've ever typed into that search box? That lasts forever. And they have a record of that. They can get that from Google. And so this was the whole thing. How do we correct for that? So when you have somebody who wants to inform the public of something, and we'll get into the proper channels arguments later, but you can't go through the institution to get these corrected because the institution knows it's wrong and is doing it anyway, right? That's the whole origin of the program is they want to do something that they're not allowed to do. What do you do? Right? And so I didn't want to say I'm the president of secrets. I didn't want to just put this stuff on the internet and I could have, I'm a technologist, right? I worked with the journalists and then to create an adversarial step, right? Someone who would argue against what I believed and hopefully what the journalists believe once they consulted the documents and basically authenticated them. Can we get the government to play that role? And so before the journalists published any story, this is a controversial thing. People still criticize me for this. Actually they say I was too accommodated in government. They could be right. Is that the journalists would go to the government and give them warning, say, we're about to run this story about this secret program that says you did X, Y, and Z bad thing. One is that right? And the government always go, Oh, no comment, right? Two is this going to cause harm? Is anybody going to get hurt? Is this program effective? Is there something we don't understand, right? Is there something Snowden doesn't understand? Is this guy just not get it, right? Are these documents fake? Whatever you want, say we shouldn't run this story. Every case I'm aware of that process was followed. And that's why, right? Because there's a lot of people out there who don't like me, who criticize me, who go, this was unsafe, this caused harm to people or whatever. We're in 2019 now. I came forward and these stories won the Pulitzer Prize for public service journalism starting way back in June of 2013. We've had six years to show bodies. We've had six years to show harm. And you know, as well as I do, the government's happy to leak things when it's in their interest. Nobody has been hurt as a result of these disclosures because everyone who was involved in them was so careful. We wanted to maximize the public benefit while mitigating the potential risks. And I think we did a pretty good job of it. Just to get back to the main thing, the original thing that got us off on that trail, when I came forward in June of 2013, I gave one interview to the people who were in the room with the documents, Laura Poitras, Glenn Greenwald, Ewan McCaskill. And I said who I was. I said why I was doing this. I said what this was about, why it matters. And that we were constructing a system of turnkey tyranny. And even if you trust that to Obama, you never know whose hand is going to be on that key next. And all they have to do is turn it. And there's nothing we can do to stop it. The only thing that's restraining these programs really is policy more so than law. And the president at any time can sign a napkin and those policies change. Well after that I went six months without giving any interviews because I didn't want people to talk about me. I wanted them to talk about what actually mattered. And the government of course was trying very hard to change the conversation as they always do to be about who is this guy? What have they done? What's wrong with them? What are their problems? Who is this loony guy? So they can controversialize the source of a story rather than having to confront the story itself. And that's why I said I really kind of appreciate your take on the media and everything like that because when you don't tell your story, other people will tell it for you. They'll say so many things about you and they'll have these misimpressions like I did because of something as stupid as the avatar that you were using on Twitter. Where I think it's a certain kind of show with a certain kind of guy and it's this crazy stuff. But when I actually listen to you, when I actually look at the facts, and when I hear you just speak, I go actually this is a thoughtful guy. Actually this is somebody who does care, who does want to look at these things deeply and appearances and our first impressions can be very misleading. I work hard on that. I try to mislead people. It's good. It works to my advantage. You're doing a good job man. Thank you.