Glenn Greenwald, columnist for The Guardian who originally broke the story on NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.
In this web-only interview, Guardian columnist Glenn Greenwald reveals he talked to National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden on Saturday. "He is doing very well in terms of his mindset, his demeanor," Greenwald said. "He is able to follow things online, the debates, as they unfold, and he is feeling very good about the choices that he made."
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we bring you part two of our discussion with The Guardian columnist and blogger Glenn Greenwald, also a constitutional lawyer, talking about the unfolding saga around Edward Snowden, the former U.S. intelligence contractor who leaked documents about U.S. secret domestic and global surveillance programs. Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua have offered Snowden asylum, the decision coming after the Bolivian president was forced to land in Austria after France and Portugal barred it from their airspace over false suspicions that Snowden was on board.
I wanted to turn to a moment on CNN’s Piers Morgan last month when Morgan asked Alan Dershowitz, the attorney and Harvard professor, if anything Glenn Greenwald has done as a journalist "borders on criminality." This was Dershowitz’s response.
ALAN DERSHOWITZ: Well, it doesn’t border on criminality; it’s right in the heartland of criminality. The statute itself does punish the publication of classified material if you know that it’s classified. And so, Greenwald, in my view, clearly has committed a felony. And for him to take umbrage at the question—now, he’s right, though, that the government doesn’t usually go after the publishers. They don’t go after The New York Times, The Washington Post in the Pentagon Papers case, though they could have. They don’t go after other newspapers in the WikiLeaks case, though they could have. They have made a discretionary decision to go after the leaker, but not the publisher. But, look, Greenwald’s a total phony. He is anti-American. He loves tyrannical regimes. And he did this because he hates America. This had nothing to do with publicizing information.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s attorney Alan Dershowitz. Glenn Greenwald, your response?
GLENN GREENWALD: Well, first of all, it’s really quite amusing that somebody who poses as a civil libertarian would go on CNN and say that journalists are committing felonies by reporting on what the government is doing, almost as funny as a journalist like David Gregory, a self-professed journalist like David Gregory, making the same sort of suggestion. And, I mean, look, Alan Dershowitz is one of the country’s most bloodthirsty radicals. He advocated for torture warrants. He supports all forms of Israeli aggression. And if I weren’t being attacked by the Alan Dershowitzes of the world, I’d be genuinely concerned. And all that really is about is some personal resentment over his effort to censor a BDS—Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions—event at Brooklyn College, and I defended Brooklyn College’s academic freedom, and we won, and he lost, and he’s still bitter. But, you know, the broader point that he’s trying to make is essentially that if you shine light on what the United States government is doing in the dark, that that somehow makes you anti-American. And, to me, everything about the Constitution is devoted to checking and limiting abuses of power by the United States government. That’s why the freedom of the press is guaranteed in the First Amendment. It’s a pure vindication of what are supposed to be our—the defining American values to do the kind of reporting that we’re doing.
AMY GOODMAN: —ask you about President Maduro of Venezuela reproaching the United States for offering asylum to Cuban exile and former CIA operative Luis Posada Carriles, who is wanted in Venezuela for the bombing of the Cubana Airlines jet that killed 73 people. This is what he said.
PRESIDENT NICOLÁS MADURO: [translated] Who is the terrorist? A government like us, who seeks to serve the young Snowden, a figure of humanitarian asylum, from persecution by the American empire? Or the United States government, that protects with political asylum Luis Posada Carriles, a confessed convicted murderer and terrorist who is wanted by Venezuela for the bombing of the Cubana plane in 1976?
AMY GOODMAN: That’s the Venezuelan president, Maduro. Your response to that comparison, Glenn, of Posada Carriles in the United States and Edward Snowden?
GLENN GREENWALD: Well, I mean, it’s amazing that the minute any country thinks about giving asylum to somebody whom the United States has declared to be a bad person, that country instantly gets viciously attacked by the American government, its media servants and people who support government conduct. It is true that Venezuela has certain serious imperfections in its political system, as do most countries around the world, probably all countries around the world, but it’s also true that the United States, if you want to talk about things like supporting terrorism, supporting violence around the world and the like, has at least as bad as a record, and I think you could argue, a much worse record. And the United States government has continuously sheltered all kinds of people that other countries around the world have viewed, quite justifiably and reasonably, as being criminals and who they wanted to be returned to their countries to prosecute them in their courts. And the position of the United States government has long been that asylum is a well-recognized right in international law, and if someone is being persecuted the court system or by the government with unjust prosecution, that they will—the United States will shield them. And apparently a lot of people think that this is a right that only the United States has, but no other country, and that isn’t how international law or human rights functions. And if you want to say that the United States has the right to give asylum to people who are wanted by other countries, then other countries have that same right.
AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask you about Edward Snowden right now. We believe—is this correct—that he’s still at the airport in Moscow?
GLENN GREENWALD: Yeah. I actually had the opportunity to speak with him for the first time on Saturday, the first time since he left Hong Kong. I had a good, long conversation with him. And although I’m not interested in divulging where he is, he, you know, is enthused about the developments over the last week, both in terms of ongoing revelations and the ongoing debate that he helped trigger about surveillance policy worldwide, as well as the support that he’s getting from around the world and from, as of the moment, three different governments who have all independently offered him asylum. So the question of how he’s going to get there, what’s going to happen once he arrives, those are still in the process of being worked out. But he’s doing very well in terms of his mindset, his demeanor. He’s able to follow things online, the debates, as they unfold. And he’s very—feeling very good about the choices that he made.
AMY GOODMAN: Did he talk about his preference for where he wants to go?
GLENN GREENWALD: He didn’t. I didn’t really speak very much with him about his quest for asylum. I think that he has always been fairly consistent about the fact—and there’s a fantastic article, an op-ed by Daniel Ellsberg in The Washington Post today making the same point—that the crucial objective that Snowden has, just like Ellsberg had, was to make sure that he’s able to participate in the ongoing debate that he triggered. And that means staying out of the custody of the United States government, which will not only put him in prison, but render him incommunicado. And so I think wherever he ends up, as long as it’s somewhere that he can be heard and his voice can be heard, I think he’ll be happy and fine.
AMY GOODMAN: What, Glenn, is Edward Snowden most encouraged by as he follows the debates and the continued revelations online?
GLENN GREENWALD: The very first conversation I ever had with him, Amy, online, he said that his only fear—he only had one fear, and that was that he would sacrifice his life and take these enormous personal risks in order to make these disclosures possible, and then have the world react with indifference and apathy, a kind of fear that they would just simply say, "OK, well, I assumed this was happening, and I don’t really mind." None of that has happened. There’s been an incredibly intense debate inside the United States over these disclosures, all kinds of movements of reform, movements against the United States government, and in many, many other countries around the world, as we previously discussed. So he feels like what he set out to do is exactly what has happened. He said he didn’t set out to destroy these systems—that’s not his place; he set out to make people around the world realize what the United States’s government is doing to them, to enable them to decide whether that’s the kind of thing they are willing to tolerate. And he sees those debates happening, and he’s extremely enthused and satisfied that his objective has been fulfilled.
AMY GOODMAN: His father has been pushing for him to come back to the United States and be tried. Does Ed Snowden share those sentiments?
GLENN GREENWALD: I think that the father is concerned as a father—I actually had the opportunity to speak with his lawyer, Bruce Fein, several days ago—and is doing what a parent, most parents, would do, which is simply trying to do what’s best for their children. But I think the premise of that view, that he ought to come back to the United States, is one that Mr. Snowden vehemently rejects, and I think with good reason, which is that the United States judicial system is trustworthy and reliable to give a fair trial. The record of the United States judiciary since the 9/11 attacks is shameful and atrocious. It pretty much is an instantly subservient vessel whenever the United States government raises claims that national security has been harmed. They cheat in cases when there are Muslim defendants accused of terrorism. They make up new rules. They do everything they can to ensure conviction and that the government gets everything that it wants. They’ve done that in cases, more broadly, about national security.
And so, if you’re Edward Snowden and you know the U.S. government is going to accuse you of espionage, that Justice Department prosecutors are going to be telling federal judges that you’ve severely endangered national security—oftentimes prosecutors don’t even have to tell the judges what basis they have for those claims, oftentimes they cite documents that the judges don’t even need to see—the judges are, almost in every instance, squarely on the side of the government. So, if we had a system the way it was supposed to work, which is where the judiciary was a check on prosecutorial abuse, and gave a fair trial, I think he would be willing to come back. But since nobody thinks that—or at least a lot of people don’t, and Daniel Ellsberg made this point today in The Washington Post when he defended Snowden’s decision to flee, saying that it was a much different country than it was 40 years ago when he went to court—I think that the chances that he’s going to come back to the U.S. voluntarily is extremely low.
AMY GOODMAN: Are you concerned, Glenn, about coming back into the United States, as you have revealed all of these stories of Edward Snowden, the revelations?
GLENN GREENWALD: Well, when you have major political figures, like the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, and prominent establishment journalists publicly calling for your arrest and prosecution—and debating whether or not you should be prosecuted is kind of a mainstream debate now—of course it would be irrational to dismiss the concern and just simply ignore it. At the same time, I know that I have committed no crime, that I have the full right under the First Amendment to engage in freedom of the press. And so, I have lawyers who are working on the situation, and I have every intention to come back to the United States when I’m ready to do that.
AMY GOODMAN: Glenn, you tweeted on Saturday, "Edward Snowden confirmed to me today that the statement released by @Wikileaks was written exclusively by Snowden." Tell us what that statement was.
GLENN GREENWALD: He essentially had issued a statement through WikiLeaks that was somewhat, I guess you could say, rhetorically virulent in its tone and a little bit more so than I had been accustomed to hearing him, in which he was very angry at the Obama administration for first—for President Obama first coming out and saying that we won’t do anything extreme like scramble fighter jets to take down the plane of a 29-year-old hacker, as Obama dismissively called him, only then to essentially do the equivalent of that, which is getting the U.S. allies to block the plane that they thought he was on from flying over their airspace and forcing it to land in a completely different country. He was essentially—and the main point that he made, I think, is the critical one, which is that the U.S. government no longer fears Edward Snowden, just like they don’t fear Bradley Manning, because Bradley Manning already did all of his leaks. Mr. Snowden has already made sure that the documents that he took will eventually be revealed in a responsible way. They’re not afraid of them. What they’re afraid about is two things: one, that future whistleblowers will be inspired by their example to come forward and blow the whistle on secret wrongdoing, illegality and deceit; and secondly, that the American people will become informed about what the U.S. government is doing in the dark and in their name and against them. And that’s the reason that they’re so desperate and extreme in what they’re trying to do to Edward Snowden, not because they’re trying to stop him from doing anything in the future—he’s already done what he’s going to do. It’s because they want to make sure that the American people—that’s the real enemy—don’t learn what it is that they ought to know about what their government is doing in the dark. And that was the point that he made in his statement.
AMY GOODMAN: What about Edward Snowden’s change, how his feelings have changed over the years, you know, this statement in 2009 that people have reported on? Snowden’s leaking the NSA documents appears to have come after a major change of heart on the issue of government whistleblowers. In an online chat from 2009 released by Ars Technica this week, someone using Snowden’s screen name criticized the disclosure of classified government information, saying those who do so "should be shot." The criticism came in response to a New York Times article based on leaked information about U.S. cyber-attacks on Iran, Glenn.
GLENN GREENWALD: Well, I think a lot of people change their views over the course of years after taking more information in. Certainly people who are younger, I think, are more prone to do that. That’s a healthy intellectual evolution. But, you know, we’re actually going to release a new video showing excerpts of the interview that Laura Poitras and I did with him in Hong Kong on June 6 later today, in which part of—part of the excerpt is him discussing the evolution. Remember, this is somebody who grew up in a military community in Virginia. Both of his parents worked for the United States government. When he was 21 or 22, he went and joined the U.S. Army in 2004 because he thought he wanted to fight in the Iraq War, because he thought it was a noble effort to liberate people from oppression. He then spent his—the next six, seven, eight years of his adult life working for the CIA and the NSA. So this isn’t somebody born to a radical, anti-American household or who was inculcated with the idea that the U.S. government is evil. Quite the opposite, he began thinking the U.S. government was the most noble government in the world and wanted to work and devote his career to supporting its policies. And it was only over time, gradually, that he began seeing all sorts of things and thought critically about them, just like Bradley Manning did, who joined the U.S. military with the same thoughts and only gradually began to see it as a force for evil. That is Mr. Snowden’s evolution, as well, and he finally got to the point where he realized that so much was going on that the American public was unaware of, that they were being propagandized so deceitfully, just like he had been propagandized, that he felt like he could no longer in good conscience allow that to continue. And so, of course there is all sorts of things in his past where he expressed political views that he no longer believes and even vehemently renounces. That’s true for me. That’s true for all sorts of people who have a critical and open mind and who evolve in their political views. And to try and use that, as it’s been done, to suggest that somehow that’s strange or that undermines or impugns his motives, I think is completely irrational. To me, it really confirms and corroborates the purity of the motives that he’s claiming.
AMY GOODMAN: And finally, Glenn, it’s not only the revelations that you have put out in The Guardian and that have come out other places, but they’re sparking even others, I think, to go down this track. The latest NSA spying issue, another headline today, U.S. Postal Service now under scrutiny for a surveillance program of its own, The New York Times revealing the postal service has been carrying out a Mail Isolation Control and Tracking program, which photographs every piece of mail in its system—around 160 billion envelopes, packages, postcards documented last year. The contents never read without a warrant, but they allow investigators to learn key information including names, addresses, return addresses, postmark locations. The information reportedly used to nab the suspect recently accused of mailing ricin-laced letters to Obama and New York Mayor Bloomberg. Leslie James Pickering, the former activist with the Earth Liberation Front who now owns a small bookstore in Buffalo, recently learned his mail was being monitored after a surveillance order was accidentally delivered to his door. Can you respond to this?
GLENN GREENWALD: There’s a fantastic article by the journalism professor at NYU, Jay Rosen, who has written a article entitled "The Snowden Effect." And what he argues is that the revelations about the surveillance state go far beyond the specific revelations enabled by the documents that he disclosed to us, that we’re now disclosing to the world in our reporting, that instead he completely refocused—Snowden did—worldwide global attention on the abuses of the surveillance state. And so, not just that article about the postal service monitoring, but the one you mentioned earlier about the FISA court—there’s articles in Le Monde last week about how the French are mass surveilling their own citizens’ electronic communications. All sorts of revelations coming forward, one in The Washington Post today about how the Pentagon is engaged in domestic propaganda, monitoring websites for what they consider to be extremist political activity—this tidal wave of revelations that clearly have come from the sea change that has resulted in how we think about surveillance as a result of Mr. Snowden’s whistleblowing and the reporting of ours that it enabled then. And I think that that’s really ultimately going to be the most profound effect. People are thinking differently about how their government spies on them, the nature of government secrecy, whether they want to trust their government, why journalism has failed to uncover these sorts of things, why we needed someone like Mr. Snowden to risk his life and throw away his liberty in order to come forward and bring it to our attention. I think this is all going to have very profound repercussions for a long time to come.
AMY GOODMAN: And what about Snowden saying he could wiretap the president, people using this—his critics—to say he’s delusional? In fact, do you think that is true, what he said?
GLENN GREENWALD: I know that it’s true. The United States government collects all emails and telephone calls that transit its network—all of them, billions every single day, literally billions every single day. Once they collect them, they then store them. The programs that NSA analysts have at their keyboard are ones that enable them to do searches by email, by IP address, by telephone number, by name. And once you enter those search terms, you find and then can invade and access all of those communications that are—that match the search. And so, exactly as Mr. Snowden said, if you have the email address of the president of the United States, because his email is transiting in ingress and egress points of the communication system of the United States, it’s being stored by the NSA, by definition, and therefore is accessible to the NSA. It doesn’t mean that it’s legal to do it, but any NSA analyst has the physical and technological capability to do that, exactly as Mr. Snowden said.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Glenn, we want to thank you again for being with us and look forward to covering more of your revelations as you come out with them this week. Glenn Greenwald is a columnist for The Guardian. We’ll link to your articles there. Thanks so much, Glenn—
GLENN GREENWALD: Thanks, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: —speaking to us from Brazil. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.
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