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Snowden Asylum in Germany? Support Grows for NSA Whistleblower After Merkel Cancels Verizon Contract

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Revelations by Edward Snowden about U.S. surveillance continue to shake Germany more than one year after he came forward as an National Security Agency whistleblower. Reports based on Snowden’s leaks revealed vast NSA spying in Germany, including on Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cellphone. Last week the German government canceled its contract with the U.S. telecommunications firm Verizon. Verizon has been providing network infrastructure for the German government’s Berlin-Bonn network, used for communication between government ministries, since 2010. Meanwhile, the German Parliament is continuing to conduct an inquiry into spying by the NSA and German secret services. Some German lawmakers are calling on Merkel’s government to grant Snowden asylum. We are joined by Snowden’s European lawyer, Wolfgang Kaleck, founder and general secretary for the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights.

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StoryOct 24, 2014European Privacy in the Age of Snowden: We Need a Debate About What Intelligence Agencies Are Doing
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re broadcasting from the Global Media Forum in Bonn, Germany, where outrage continues to grow in Germany over the National Security Agency’s massive global surveillance program. Reports based on leaks by Edward Snowden revealed vast NSA spying in Germany, including on the German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cellphone. Last week, the German government canceled its contract with the U.S. telecommunications firm Verizon. Verizon has been providing network infrastructure for the German government’s Berlin-Bonn network used for communication between government ministries since 2010. Meanwhile, the German Parliament is continuing to conduct an inquiry into spying by the NSA and German secret services. This week, NSA whistleblowers Thomas Drake and William Binney are scheduled to testify before the inquiry in Berlin.

Some German lawmakers are calling on Merkel’s government to grant Edward Snowden asylum here in Germany. Earlier today, Thorbjørn Jagland, the secretary general of the Council of Europe and the chair of the Nobel Committee, addressed the controversy around Snowden during his opening speech at the Deutsche Welle Global Media Forum here in Bonn.

THORBJØRN JAGLAND: Two of the most significant and complex new challenges to human rights are data protection and secret surveillance. Edward Snowden, who participated in two recent debates on the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly, online then from Moscow, has certainly shed light on the scale and dimension of modern secret surveillance. His revelations have also shown the increased potential for states to violate people’s privacy.

But this does not mean that all secret surveillance is illegal, of course. The European Court of Human Rights has built a solid case law on application of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects the right to private life, including the protection of personal data and the protection of personal image. In the landmark case, the court acknowledged the right of states to employ secret surveillance against terrorism, but it also ruled that—and I quote—that “states may not adopt whatever methods they deem appropriate.” This, the court said, was due to the danger inherent in surveillance measures of undermining or even destroying democracy on the ground of defending it, as the court said. And this ruling came in 1978, five years before Snowden was born.

So we have clear principles, and we have a clear case law on this coming from the Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. So [whether] the state is violating your privacy through sophisticated surveillance or by going through your wastepaper bin, the basic question remains the same: Is the measure proportionate, and is it ultimately necessary?

AMY GOODMAN: Thorbjørn Jagland is secretary general of the Council of Europe. He also happens to be chair of the Nobel Peace Prize Committee. Last week, Edward Snowden made his second appearance before the German Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe—that’s the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. During testimony via video stream, Snowden said mass surveillance is not only unlawful, but also immoral.

EDWARD SNOWDEN: What I witnessed over the course of my career was the construction of a system that violated the rights not just Americans, but of people around the world—and not just constitutional rights, but human rights. And it happened on a massive and unprecedented scale, and it was happening entirely in secret, without the public allowed to know even the barest outlines of the policies.

And I very strongly believed that if the public knew about these programs, these programs would not survive. We would consider them not only unlawful, but simply immoral. And even if they could be shown to be effective in some percentage of cases, we would reject them nonetheless, in the same manner that we reject torture, because even if—even if torture was effective, we reject it regardless of that effectiveness. We reject it because it is barbaric, it is immoral, and it is contrary to our basic principles as a civilization.

Mass surveillance, where we place everybody under constant monitoring, where we watch communications, we watch what books you buy, we watch the purchases you make, we watch your travels, we watch your associations, we watch who you love, and we watch who you are, we watch you develop as a person—these are not the values of Western societies. These are not the values of liberal societies. And I do not believe that America, as a nation, or the West, as a culture, would allow them to continue.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s whistleblower Edward Snowden testifying last week before the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. When we come back, we go to Berlin to speak with Edward Snowden’s European attorney. This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. We’re broadcasting from Bonn and Berlin in Germany.


AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. We’re broadcasting from Bonn, Germany, at the Deutsche Welle Global Media Forum. We just arrived here last night from Berlin, where we spoke to Wolfgang Kaleck, Edward Snowden’s European lawyer. Kaleck is the founder and general secretary for the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights. We sat in his apartment, and I began by asking him if Russia will allow Snowden to stay in Russia when his temporary asylum expires there on July 31st.

WOLFGANG KALECK: Hello, Amy, welcome in Berlin.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you expect that Edward Snowden will have his political asylum extended in Russia?

WOLFGANG KALECK: We expect that Edward Snowden will stay more time in Russia, because this is—as for now, it’s the only safe place for him, and there is no obstacle that he gets a prolonged stay by the Russian government.

AMY GOODMAN: What would he like to do? Where would he like to be?

WOLFGANG KALECK: Look, he expressed a number of times that he would love to return to the U.S., and he considers himself as someone who break the letter of the law, but for good reasons. And so, he thinks that he deserved a chance to come back to the U.S. without serving a long prison sentence.

AMY GOODMAN: The secretary of state, John Kerry, said he should man up, come home to the United States and face trial, face the charges.

WOLFGANG KALECK: Look, I mean, if you see what happened to Bradley, now Chelsea, Manning, I think this is enough explanation for any whistleblower, and especially for Edward Snowden, not to return to the U.S. under these conditions.

AMY GOODMAN: Why? What exactly does he face if he were to come home? What is the charges he faces?

WOLFGANG KALECK: It’s not only about the charges. Yeah, there are charges under the Espionage Act, a very doubtful law which deserves to be reformed very quick. But it’s the treatment, the special treatment, what whistleblowers like Chelsea Manning got in the recent year in the U.S., and that’s special administrative measures in—during the prison time. It’s incommunicado time. It’s inhumane treatment, what he might face, but especially it’s a very long and not appropriate prison sentence he might get. And so, I fully understand, we all fully understand—the German public, the European public fully understands—that he doesn’t return under these conditions.

AMY GOODMAN: When did you last see Edward Snowden?

WOLFGANG KALECK: I saw him a couple of weeks ago in Moscow.

AMY GOODMAN: And can you tell us your impressions of him?

WOLFGANG KALECK: Look, I mean, he is a very sympathetic man. He knew what he had risked, and he’s not lamenting about it. And he tries to explain his decision to us all the time. And I think that’s very important, that he didn’t do anything for egoistic reasons, but he wanted to enable us, not only the public in the U.S., U.S. society, but also us here in Europe, to understand what’s happening in the Internet and what dangers we are facing and that we all have to act not only as European society, but as global society, to face these dangers and to reform as soon as possible the regulation of the Internet. And this is not only about the U.S. secret services. It’s about secret services globally, and it’s about, yeah, the big corporations who are dominating the Internet. And this is not the kind of society we want to live in, in the near future. So, he enabled us to know what’s going on, and now it’s up to us to act.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you summarize the revelations that have most rocked Germany?

WOLFGANG KALECK: Look, I mean, in terms of the media, they were—they were all most shocked about the wiretapping of Angela Merkel’s cellphone.

AMY GOODMAN: The German chancellor.

WOLFGANG KALECK: The German chancellor’s cellphone, during a time when she wasn’t even a chancellor. But for us—let’s say, the civil liberties and human rights organizations—the mass surveillance conducted by the NSA, under—with a certain participation of the German secret service, was most shocking. And again, it’s not—we are not willing to restrict this discussion to the NSA. It’s not that we are pointing to the NSA as the only evil secret service. We want to talk about our secret services. We want to talk about secret services and their activities globally, because we know that, you know, all secret services in the world tend to use their technology whenever they have the chance to, and so it’s up to us to close the door and to establish a stronger regulation for secret services, wherever they are.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk more about the German intelligence relationship with the NSA?

WOLFGANG KALECK: Look, since a couple of months, we established an inquiry commission in the German Parliament, and the mandate of this inquiry commission is to investigate not only the activities of the NSA in German territory, but also the cooperation, the level of cooperations of the German secret services. So, we’re at the beginning of a maybe year-long investigation. And we assume that there were a number of information given by the BND, the foreign secret services, to the NSA, but the details have to be investigated.

So there are a number of, you know, smaller items already revealed, like they have been given in Frankfurt a number of data in former years—I think it was until 2007. We know that there is a level of cooperation between Germans and U.S. authorities regarding cases of targeted killing. But as I said, this has to be investigated in this inquiry commission and, if necessary, also in criminal procedures, because the inquiry commission on the level of the Parliament is one thing, and the other important procedure is a criminal investigation conducted by the federal prosecutor’s office in Karlsruhe.

AMY GOODMAN: Will Edward Snowden be invited to Germany to testify before this inquiry?

WOLFGANG KALECK: It doesn’t look so for now, because—


WOLFGANG KALECK: Because they—as the U.S. is the most important ally of the Germans and as the German government is fearing that the level of cooperation—military cooperation, secret service cooperation—will be affected when they invite Snowden, and probably he will stay here for a certain time, so they are not willing to stand this confrontation, which is a, let’s say, pattern we knew already from couple of other incidents in the last 12 years.

AMY GOODMAN: And yet, you would think, because he exposed that Angela Merkel, the German chancellor’s cellphone was being tapped, before she became German chancellor as well as during, that there would be a great deal of appreciation for the person who revealed this. Or do you think German intelligence knew this full well before?

WOLFGANG KALECK: I’m not sure. They say they didn’t know, but I won’t buy into that too easy. But, of course, there is a certain level of appreciation, especially amongst German society—German intellectuals, media, civil liberties, human rights organizations, but also German public—and not only German, and it’s the same situation in France or in Belgium or in Spain, where similar inquiries will be conducted soon. We all appreciate what he did, but the governments are not willing to stand any confrontation with the U.S., even not as—you know, as a united Europe. They feel themselves too weak to confront the U.S.

AMY GOODMAN: The German government is ending its contract with Verizon—this just came out in the last week—for cooperating with the U.S. government, with the NSA, in spying on Germans. Can you explain the significance of this?

WOLFGANG KALECK: Yes. I mean, the significance of this is that there were some members of the Parliament who raised their concern that when Verizon is organizing the internal communication within the German Parliament on one hand, and on the other hand they are known for their cooperation with U.S. secret services, there is a danger that internal communication within the German Parliament will be kind of wiretapped by U.S. secret services. You know, no matter if this concern is right or not, but, I mean, this is a strong signal to all U.S. corporations, telephone corporations and Internet corporations, to do something about this problem, because they are going to lose more contracts than this if they are not willing to establish firewalls between, you know, their clients and the secret services.

AMY GOODMAN: Wolfgang Kaleck, we’re here in Berlin, not far from the wall that was torn down between West and East Berlin, and you have represented victims of the Stasi.


AMY GOODMAN: So, it’s a particularly sensitive issue in Germany, the issue of mass surveillance. Can you talk about the case you represented and why people here feel so strongly about this issue?

WOLFGANG KALECK: Look, I was a young lawyer when I had the opportunity to open my first law firm in East Berlin in the headquarter of—yeah, for the former dissidents of East Germany. And so, we heard a lot of stories from them about them being persecuted by the Stasi and by the East German police. And the interesting thing for me—of course, some of the stories we knew, because this was about well-known dissidents, but what was really striking to me was the level of everyday surveillance.

So it was, you know, a girlfriend from mine going into school and being surveilled there, and later on she had the opportunity to look into her files, and she got to know why she was fired from school. So, a couple of years later, she had the chance to go back to school and go to university, but others didn’t have the opportunity. So, it was not only political dissidents, what was, you know, on the radar of the Stasi, of the East German secret service, but it was cultural dissidents, as well. It was daily dissidents, as well. So that was really something, you know, very interesting, very interesting experience.

And we were—as Westerners, we weren’t aware of this level of interference in everyday life of East German people. And the Stasi was not only surveilling, but they also tried to interfere in the lives of the people. So they conducted investigations, they arrested people, they interrogated people, and, you know, decades before, they even tortured people.

AMY GOODMAN: And so, how does this story tie into that and renew the feelings about what the Stasi did and the victims that came from that?

WOLFGANG KALECK: Yeah, I mean, like, we had not only the Stasi; we had a much worse secret service, and that was the Gestapo, the National Socialist secret service, who was—yes, which is still very infamous here. So, you know, we had a very cruel dictatorship. And so, there is a certain—what should I say—suspicion amongst Germans, even amongst younger Germans, about state misconduct. And it’s not that we are claiming that, you know, every secret service is automatically close to Gestapo or to the Stasi. That’s not the point. The point is, once a secret service has these technological resources and has the power to do so, they are in danger to do so. And if this comes together with a regime change, even a slight regime change, this is a very dangerous mixture.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you give non-Germans a little history lesson on the Gestapo and then the Stasi, for those aren’t familiar with both?

WOLFGANG KALECK: The interesting thing about both the Gestapo and the Stasi was—I don’t want to compare them, because, I mean, the DDR, the East Germany, was an authoritarian system. They committed a number of human rights violations. But they didn’t exterminate six million Jews and, you know, raid the whole European continent, so that there is a big difference.

But on another level there, you can compare them because what they did is they were secret service and police in one body. And so, that’s a very dangerous—that was a very dangerous combination, that they not only collected information, but they collected the information and acted on the basis of this information, especially to persecute political dissidents. So that was their main task. But as I said, the Stasi went further and also at some point started to chase cultural dissidents.

AMY GOODMAN: Is there any truth to Edward Snowden wanting to get political asylum in Brazil?

WOLFGANG KALECK: Look, Edward Snowden, while he was together with Sarah Harrison from WikiLeaks in the transit zone of the Moscow airport in summer 2013, wrote a number of letters to a number of countries asking for—yeah, for a safe haven. And amongst those countries was Brazil. But he didn’t renew that demand, because it’s obvious that the Brazilian government, as for now, is not willing to give him asylum. But as we always state, that this is a long-distance run. I mean, like, we are now at the end of the first year after the revelations of Edward Snowden, and as for now, Russia might be the only place where he has security, but this might change in one year, in three years or in five years. And I’m really hoping that he finds a way back to the U.S., and if not, we do everything here in Europe that—European countries, or give him asylum or enable him to find a safe place somewhere else in the world, and that may be Latin America.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, what is the most important revelation you think so far has come out of the documents that Edward Snowden released to journalists?

WOLFGANG KALECK: No, I mean, I think it’s not one document. It’s the series of documents released all over the last 12 months. There is no way out. There is no excuse possible. All what we were suspecting over the last decade, many people were criticizing, but without real evidence, and now this evidence is out. And so, nobody can deny that this practice of mass surveillance, not only of so-called terrorists, not only of so-called dangerous people, but massive surveillance against many of us is taking place. And I think that’s the biggest—the biggest revelation, the most important.

AMY GOODMAN: We are coming up on the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall in November. Do you think there’s any possibility, since many thought that wasn’t possible, that Germany would grant Edward Snowden asylum?

WOLFGANG KALECK: You know, I am trying to be a patient person, although, as a lawyer, you have to be patient and impatient at the same time. Of course I’m inpatient, because I’m really criticizing the German and other European governments that they are profiting from Edward Snowden’s revelations on one hand, but they are not giving him anything back on the other hand. No, they are calling him a lawbreaker. But this might change, and this is politics. I mean, politics is that we have to win a political majority in our countries, that the governments feel obliged to change their attitude and—or grant him asylum or, you know, are part of a, let’s say, solution somewhere else.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think the coming down of the Berlin Wall could be seen as a kind of metaphor for what Edward Snowden has accomplished?

WOLFGANG KALECK: Of course, because, you know, we were living in this country—you know, in 1988, the wall was a fact for us. And, you know, we went there, and I think none of us thought that one year later that this—the wall is teared down. So it shows you that history is open, and it’s about us to obtain our roles in those struggles for more justice, not only in our country, but on a global level.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Wolfgang Kaleck, Edward Snowden’s European lawyer. I spoke with him in Berlin this weekend. Wolfgang Kaleck is the founder and general secretary for the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights.

This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. When we come back, we’ll be joined by the news director of Al Jazeera English to talk about what’s happening in Egypt with three of their reporters sentenced to up to 10 years in prison. Stay with us.

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