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Is Hillary Clinton’s Criticism of Edward Snowden a Distraction from Real Issue of Surveillance?

StorySeptember 14, 2016
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Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has said Edward Snowden “stole very important information that has unfortunately fallen into a lot of the wrong hands.” We get reaction from WikiLeaks editor Sarah Harrison and filmmaker Oliver Stone. “She misses the point that no spy gives his story to the newspapers for free, which is what he did,” Stone says. “He handed over all the information.” Harrison adds, “To me, this is all just rhetorical spin trying to deflect from the real situation.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go, though, to the Democratic presidential debate last year, one of the primary debates. Hillary Clinton was asked if she viewed NSA whistleblower Ed Snowden as a hero or a traitor. This excerpt begins with Hillary Clinton and CNN’s Anderson Cooper.

HILLARY CLINTON: He broke the laws of the United States. He could have been a whistleblower. He could have gotten all of the protections of being a whistleblower. He could have raised all the issues that he has raised. And I think there would have been a positive response to that.

ANDERSON COOPER: Should he do jail time?

HILLARY CLINTON: In addition—in addition, he stole very important information that has, unfortunately, fallen into a lot of the wrong hands.

ANDERSON COOPER: Governor O’Malley?

HILLARY CLINTON: So, I don’t think he should be brought home without facing the music.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s Hillary Clinton. Well, in May, former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said NSA whistleblower Ed Snowden performed a, quote, “public service” by leaking documents revealing NSA mass surveillance. Holder made the comment during a podcast hosted by David Axelrod.

ERIC HOLDER: We can certainly argue about the way in which Snowden did what he did, but I think that he actually performed a public service by raising the debate that we engaged in and by the changes that we made.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Sarah Harrison, can you respond to what Hillary Clinton said about getting information into the hands of wrong people? And then, Oliver, I’d like you to respond, as well.

SARAH HARRISON: Well, also, with regard—I’ll come to that in just a second. But also, just with regards to what she said, I think it’s important to note that at the time that Snowden blew the whistle, he was also at a government contractor, where there are different—different rules, and the paths she is presumably talking about weren’t actually open to him anyway, albeit if they had been, they clearly didn’t work, as we can see from Drake’s case. So, it is just rhetorical spin that she is using there to try and say he had any other options.

And as you can see from the Holder quote and many other quotes from government officials, and just the public response, this is clearly a debate that needed to happen. I think, therefore, we can see in Snowden’s situation that, as Snowden was alluding to in the conversation he had with MacAskill, his case is essentially a very good test case, in that we, despite Obama campaigning on protecting more whistleblowers—he has put more in prison—we do have more and more whistleblowers coming forward, post-Snowden, as well. Courage is contagious. And yet the laws clearly don’t protect them. There are no paths for them that are workable beforehand. The laws don’t protect them afterwards. As well as what Oliver was talking about with regards to a fair trial or not for Snowden, he also would not be able to mount a public interest defense. He would not be able to explain, as you are with other sorts of alleged crimes, the public debate he had started and how, from an ethical standpoint, actually what he did was right. So, essentially, whether before or after, he has so few options open to him.

And I think that this spin that we’ve—we have from Clinton, and including this harm done, well, there’s actually no examples of that. From my work with WikiLeaks, we’ve had years of these attacks, and still the U.S. government has not come up with any examples of this. So, to me, this is all just rhetorical spin trying to deflect from the real situation, that we clearly need whistleblowers as part of our democratic processes. And at the moment, protections for them do not exist at all, and they clearly must be built. And I think that the campaign for pardoning that has begun will hopefully spark this element of the public debate a lot, to see how we can move forward in that area, as well as the protections of privacy.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Oliver Stone, your reaction to Hillary, as well as also Donald Trump has raised the possibility of execution for Edward Snowden?

OLIVER STONE: Well said by Sarah. When Mrs. Clinton said “into the wrong hands,” she clearly meant the Russians. And she misses the point that no spy gives his story to the newspapers for free, which is what he did, and we show it very clearly in the Hong Kong hotel room. On top of it, you remember the scene when Snowden—

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And turns over all the records to the journalists—


JUAN GONZÁLEZ: —and doesn’t keep any.

OLIVER STONE: And we made a point in the scene, is he kills the—he destroys, deletes all the information that he has. He says, “I have no more information. I’m traveling with no baggage,” because he knew—he had no exit plan. I mean, it was really kind of a—he wanted just to get this information out. And he risked, basically, everything. He felt like it was over with his life. He was willing to accept arrest or death or—it was over. And that’s what the point of that scene was. He deletes it. It’s your responsibility now.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And you mentioned during break that also that Snowden has quite a bit of support among more libertarian Republicans, as well.

OLIVER STONE: I did, yeah. When you showed the scene of Joe and Shailene walking in front of the White House, they’re talking. His early views were very libertarian about—Joe’s views—I’m sorry, Ed’s views. And the point is that many Republicans are supporting that view. I think 50 of them voted for the Freedom Act. And a lot of them actually are in sympathy with this idea of—that the NSA has gone way too far.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I wanted to ask you also, you are—have a next project of Vladimir Putin in the works?

OLIVER STONE: I’m working on a—it’s for next year, though. There’s a documentary. He talks very forthrightly and gives a chance to the American people to actually hear him, as opposed to hear the insults that are directed at him.

AMY GOODMAN: Sarah, very quickly, Julian Assange still in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, and Chelsea Manning has just announced she’s ending her hunger strike, because she’s getting the medications and the support she feels that she has been demanding through this strike. But where they both are today? She’s serving, what, 35 years in prison.

OLIVER STONE: And let us see him. Show him to us.

AMY GOODMAN: Say that again, Oliver.

OLIVER STONE: Let us see him, Chelsea Manning.

AMY GOODMAN: You want to see—see her?

OLIVER STONE: Yeah, let’s—yes, her. Sorry. Let us see her. I mean, put her on TV. Let’s have an open discussion on it. She’s a prisoner. She has rights.


SARAH HARRISON: Yeah, I mean, it is great news that Manning has felt she is able to end her hunger strike and that her demands are starting to be met, her demands for basic human rights. It is sad and, I think, an obvious—these are two other obvious examples of this persecution of these truth tellers, these people bringing information into the public domain. Just again referring to the Hillary clip, as Oliver was explaining, Ed very much was working with U.S. journalists to bring this information to the U.S. public. So one can only assume, in Hillary’s quote, she’s talking about the wrong hands being supposedly the American public understanding what their government is up to. And—

AMY GOODMAN: Well, that’s a very interesting analysis, Sarah. We’re going to have to leave it there, but I want to leave it on this note of the significant development this week: the 70th birthday of Oliver Stone. Oliver, enjoy. Make a wish and blow out your candle.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And congratulations on a long and distinguished career.

AMY GOODMAN: What are you most proud of, Oliver?

OLIVER STONE: The body of films. Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: And that does it for our show. Three-time Academy Award-winning filmmaker Oliver Stone. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, thank you for joining us, playing Ed Snowden. Sarah Harrison, for joining us from Berlin. The new film is called Snowden.

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