Glenn Greenwald, columnist for The Guardian and constitutional lawyer, speaking to us from Hong Kong, where he interviewed NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden for the article revealing Snowden’s identity.
Speaking from Hong Kong where he broke the story of Edward Snowden outing himself as the NSA whistleblower, Guardian columnist Glenn Greenwald joins us to discuss Snowden’s actions and the multiple disclosures he’s revealed about government surveillance. "There is this massive surveillance apparatus being gradually constructed in the United States that already has extremely invasive capabilities to monitor and store the communications and other forms of behavior not just of tens of millions of Americans, but of hundreds of millions, probably billions of people, around the globe," Greenwald says. "It’s one thing to say that we want the U.S. government to have these capabilities. It’s another thing to allow this to be assembled without any public knowledge, without any public debate, and with no real accountability. What ultimately drove [Snowden] forward — and what ultimately is driving our reporting — is the need for a light to be shined on what this incredibly consequential [surveillance] world is all about and the impact it’s having both on our country and our planet."
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: To talk more about the National Security Agency, we’re joined by Guardian columnist Glenn Greenwald from Hong Kong, where he’s broken a series of articles about the NSA over the past week based on information provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. He conducted the interview with Snowden that we just aired.
Since we last spoke to Glenn on Friday, he’s broken two more major stories about the NSA. On Friday, he exposed how President Obama ordered his senior national security and intelligence officials to draw up a list of potential overseas targets for U.S. cyber-attacks. Then Greenwald revealed details about an NSA data-mining tool called Boundless Informant that details and even maps by country the voluminous amount of information it collects from computer and telephone networks. A top-secret NSA "global heat map" shows in March 2013 the agency collected 97 billion pieces of intelligence from computer networks worldwide. The NSA most frequently targeted Iran, Pakistan, Jordan, Egypt and India. The Boundless Informant documents also showed the agency collected more than three billion pieces of intelligence from U.S. computer networks over a 30-day period ending March 2013.
Glenn, welcome to Democracy Now! A lot has happened this weekend. Edward Snowden has come out. We’ve just aired the interview that you did with him. Talk about the significance of this series of exposés that you’re continuing from Hong Kong.
GLENN GREENWALD: The primary point that I think needs to be made from all of these stories, and particularly from the very courageous outing, self-outing, of Ed Snowden, is that there is this massive surveillance apparatus that is being gradually constructed in the United States that already has extremely invasive capabilities to monitor and store the communications and other forms of behavior not just of tens of millions Americans, but of hundreds of millions, probably billions of people, around the globe. And it’s one thing to say that we want the United States government to have these capabilities. It’s another thing to allow this to be assembled without any public knowledge, without any public debate, and with no real accountability. And what ultimately drove him forward—and what ultimately is driving our reporting and will continue to drive our reporting—is the need for a light to be shined on what this incredibly consequential world is all about and the impact that it’s having both on our country and our planet.
AMY GOODMAN: On Saturday, U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper criticized the leaks.
JAMES CLAPPER: It is literally—not figuratively, literally—gut-wrenching to see this happen, because of the huge, grave damage it does to our intelligence capabilities. And, of course, for me, this is a key tool for preserving and protecting the nation’s safety and security. So, every one of us in the intelligence community, most particularly the great men and women of NSA, are very—are profoundly affected by this.
AMY GOODMAN: Glenn Greenwald, your response?
GLENN GREENWALD: This is just the same playbook that U.S. government officials have been using for the last five decades whenever anything gets done that brings small amounts of transparency to the bad conduct that they do in the dark. They immediately accuse those who brought that transparency of jeopardizing national security. They try and scare the American public into believing that they’ve been placed at risk and that the only way they can stay safe is to trust the people in power to do whatever it is they want to do without any kinds of constraints, accountability or light of any kind. This has been going on since Daniel Ellsberg, who now is considered a hero, but back then was accused by the Clappers of the world of being a traitor who jeopardized national security and put the lives of men and women in American uniform in harm’s way.
The reality is that if you look at what it is that we disclosed, we disclosed things like the fact that the U.S.—the National Security Agency is collecting the telephone records of millions of Americans without regard to any wrongdoing, or that they’re tapping into the servers of the largest Internet companies that people around the world use to communicate with one another. It is inconceivable—there’s just no rational, sane argument that one can make that anything that we disclosed in any way alerts the terrorists, who all knew already for many years that the government is trying to monitor them, or in any way enabled attacks to be done on the United States. The only thing that we exposed is the wrongdoing of these political officials. And the only thing that has been damaged is their reputation and credibility. Top-secret designations are more often than not used to protect the political officials from having known what they’re—what they are doing in the eyes of the American people, not protecting national security. And that’s certainly the case of the stories that we published.
AMY GOODMAN: Glenn Greenwald, can you tell us more about Edward Snowden, why he came forward, what he risks, and why even you both are in Hong Kong, why he chose Hong Kong?
GLENN GREENWALD: It’s really one of the most remarkable experiences I’ve ever had, meeting him and having interviewed him for several months now, really, and for the last eight days in person here in Hong Kong. And I say that because he has undertaken actions that he knows are going to result in serious harm to his personal interest and to his well-being, whether that means that he will never see his home again, or he will spend many decades or the rest of his life in a cage or will be passed around from government to government. In the short term, he knows his life has been turned upside down, and he knew that when he did it. And there are all kinds of ways that he could have personally benefited from this information. If he had wanted to get rich, he could have sold it to all sorts of intelligence agencies. If he wanted to harm the United States, he could have dumped it indiscriminately on the Internet or passed it to U.S. enemies and uncovered all sorts of covert operations and covert agents. He chose to do none of that. He did something that doesn’t really benefit him at all. It just benefits the public. It benefits the rest of us, because we learn what our government is doing and how our world is being affected by it. And yet he did that knowing that he would be put into that situation, and he never betrayed, when he talked to us, any degree of fear about it. He was worried about what would happen. We was tense about getting—about seeing what was going to happen. But he never had any regret. He had made his choice, and he was very at peace with it, because he knew that it was the right thing.
As far as coming to Hong Kong, the main reason that he did that was because he has watched, over the past four years, as the U.S. government, under President Obama, has prosecuted whistleblowers more aggressively and more prolifically than any other prior administration in American history by far. And he has watched as the trial of Bradley Manning, that is now underway, takes place in extreme amounts of secrecy, very little transparency, hardcore fundamental abridgments of due process. And he knew that if he stayed in the United States, he was going to be subjected to exactly that treatment, and so he came to a place where he believed that the political values that prevailed were ones that he found amenable, that there’s lots of robust free speech and political dissent. But also he believed that he was coming to a place where the government would not instantly succumb to the demands of the American government when it came to what was done to him, but instead would assert its own interest and principles of law, and he felt like this was the ideal place for that.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the significance of who he worked for, Booz Allen Hamilton, that he had worked at the Central Intelligence Agency and then for several contractors that work within the National Security Agency.
GLENN GREENWALD: Right. So he was never actually directly employed, as you say, by the NSA. He was directly employed by the CIA, where he was stationed with diplomatic cover in Geneva, Switzerland, for roughly two-and-a-half years in this 2007, 2008, 2009 time frame. Both prior to that and then after that, he was employed by a multitude of private contractors, including Booz Allen and the Dell corporation, where he would be essentially tasked to the NSA. So, even though he wasn’t working directly for the NSA—technically that wasn’t his employer—he went into the office of the NSA every day. He took orders and got instructions from supervisors of the NSA.
What this really shows is this incredibly interlinked world between private corporations and our most powerful and secretive intelligence agencies. It’s all been privatized, or the great bulk of it has been privatized. There’s immense amounts of profit made on it. And it’s all the more reason to be concerned when these extreme surveillance capabilities are vested in these agencies, because it isn’t just the public government officials who control it, but also these private agencies that play a very substantial role in how it operates.
And Booz Allen, in particular, is one of the largest and most significant defense contractors. One of the primary officials of it is General Michael McConnell, who was the director of national intelligence under George Bush. And it’s the kind of prototypical defense contractor where, when there’s a Republican administration, Booz Allen executives go and fill the security positions, and those of—the prior officials go and fill the executive slots at Booz Allen, and then it reverses when a Democrat comes into play. It’s one of the most significant and most influential defense contractors in the world. And the fact that he worked for them, I think, is going to create a lot of problems for them.
AMY GOODMAN: And McConnell’s tie to Total Information Awareness? I mean, 10 years ago, the country was up in arms about the possibility that Americans would be spied on, and so it was killed, supposedly, TIA, Total Information Awareness. And McConnell’s link to that?
GLENN GREENWALD: Right. And what’s fascinating about that was that that took place in late 2002, 2003, when it was revealed that the Pentagon was planning this Total Information Awareness program. It was actually being run by John Poindexter, who was the former national security adviser to President Reagan who resigned in disgrace and almost went to prison over the Iran-Contra scandal. And what was amazing about that was that there was great public uproar, as you say, even in the early stages after 9/11, when the public, the media, the Congress were extremely subservient to whatever the government wanted to do, but that was just a bridge too far, even then. And yet, with these revelations, the ones that we published thus far and the ones that we’ll continue to be publishing in the future, what they really illustrate is exactly what you said, which is that they don’t call it Total Information Awareness anymore. That was a little bit too honest of a term. That was probably the main reason why it created such uproar, because it was just too—too nakedly clear what it was intending to accomplish. But what the NSA is doing, not just domestically, but globally, is creating a Total Information Awareness system. The last story that we published, as you said, was a program, a mining—data-mining program called Boundless Informant, Boundless Informant. That is what the NSA is about, is eroding all vestiges of privacy in the world and ensuring that they have full and unfettered monitoring ability to all forms of human behavior. And this is ultimately why he came forward, because he said, in good conscience, he couldn’t allow that to be done in secrecy. If the public wants that to happen, so be it, but we need—they need to be informed that it’s happening and then have a public debate about it.
AMY GOODMAN: Glenn Greenwald, I want to go back to what Edward Snowden said.
EDWARD SNOWDEN: Any analyst at any time can target anyone, any selector anywhere. Where those communications will be picked up depends on the range of the sensor networks and the authorities that that analyst is empowered with. Not all analysts have the ability to target everything. But I, sitting at my desk, certainly had the authorities to wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant to a federal judge, to even the president, if I had a personal email.
AMY GOODMAN: OK, Edward Snowden is a 29-year-old contractor with Booz Allen. He was working in Hawaii, and he said he could wiretap any of these people. Explain how that is possible, Glenn Greenwald, just to make this very clear, in plain language, for people all over this country and around the world.
GLENN GREENWALD: The NSA sucks up into its systems billions and billions of communication activities every week—billions and billions. In fact, the data-mining documents that we published reflected it sucks up 90 billion in a 30-day period, including three billion in the United States. The Washington Post three years ago told us that every single day the NSA collects and stores 1.7 billion emails and telephone calls by and among Americans. Their argument is that we may suck it up, we may store it, we may monitor it, but the law says we can’t actually listen to it or read it if it’s by and between Americans without first going to a FISA court. And what Edward Snowden is telling you is that, although that might be the law, the monitors, the systems at NSA allow full and unfettered access at any time to any one of these analysts to go and listen to whatever it is they want, to read whatever emails they want, to monitor in real time whatever online chats are taking place. And because there’s no oversight, because there’s really no accountability or transparency, there is no check on this abuse. And we know for certain—we should have learned the lesson 35 years ago when the Church Committee documented it, that when human beings are able to spy on other human beings in the dark, abuse, rampant abuse, is inevitable. That was supposed to be why we don’t have spying abilities without accountability any longer. But as Mr. Snowden is documenting to us, that’s exactly what we have, and that’s why it’s so menacing.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to go to break, then come back to Glenn Greenwald, who’s in Hong Kong right now as he continues to—this series of explosive revelations about what the National Security Agency is doing. But before we go to break, we understand that Edward Snowden has checked out of the hotel he’s been in for the last weeks. Glenn, do you know where he is?
GLENN GREENWALD: I do, although I’m not going to share that with anybody.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to go back to Glenn Greenwald in just a minute. We’ll also be joined by William Binney, who left the National Security Agency right after 9/11 because he was so deeply concerned about the level of surveillance of Americans that the NSA was engaging in. Stay with us.
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