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Obama’s War on Whistleblowers Forced Edward Snowden to Release Documents, Says WikiLeaks Editor

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On the release of Oliver Stone’s new film, “Snowden,” we speak with WikiLeaks editor Sarah Harrison, who accompanied NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden on his flight from Hong Kong to Moscow and spent four months with him in the airport in Russia. She describes how Snowden reached out to the Courage Foundation, which she directs and which raises defense funds for Snowden and other whistleblowers. “We really wanted to try and show the world that there are people who will stand up” and help whistleblowers, says Harrison.

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

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We’re spending the hour talking about the new film that tells the story of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. It’s called Snowden. While speaking on Monday video a video link from Moscow, where he is in exile, Edward Snowden made a case for a presidential pardon by Barack Obama. This is Snowden speaking with The Guardian’s Ewen MacAskill.

EDWARD SNOWDEN: If not for these disclosures, if not for these revelations, we would be worse off. Yes, there are laws on the books that say one thing, but perhaps this is why the pardon power exists, for the exceptions, for the things that may seem unlawful in letters on a page, but when we look at them morally, when we look at them ethically, and when we look at the results, it seems obvious that these were necessary things, these were vital things.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, for more, we’re joined by three-time Oscar-winning filmmaker Oliver Stone; Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who plays Edward Snowden in Stone’s new film Snowden; and I want to bring into the conversation Sarah Harrison, investigative editor of WikiLeaks. In 2013, she accompanied NSA whistleblower Ed Snowden on his flight from Hong Kong to Moscow and spent four months with him in Russia at the airport.

Sarah, it’s great to have you back with us on Democracy Now! I interviewed you when we were both in Germany. But right now, if you can talk about the effects of the release of the documents that Ed did on where you are now, Germany—you can’t go back to Britain, afraid what would happen to you if you went back there, just as Ed is in Russia right now—and on the world, why you got involved?

SARAH HARRISON: Well, having worked with quite a number of sources before for my work with WikiLeaks, this was obviously a large issue for me. When Edward Snowden reached out to us, asking for assistance when he was in Hong Kong, having understood that he was now in an obviously very complex legal and political situation and needed some people to assist with technical and operational security expertise, he reached out to us as an organization. And I went over there, as the person on the ground in Hong Kong, to help him, not only for him, himself, because he had clearly done something so brave and deserved the protection, I felt, but also for the larger objective to try and show that despite Obama’s war on whistleblowers, that actually there was another option. At the time, the Obama administration was intent upon putting alleged source Chelsea Manning into prison for decades—as she is now in prison for 35 years—and we really wanted to try and show the world that there are people that will stand up, there are people that will help. And The Guardian, for example, when—did not give any additional help to Edward Snowden as a source, as a person there, and we wanted to show there are publishers that will help in these scenarios.

With regards to the effects of the documents and revelations that Edward Snowden gave, I think that it has become obvious to so many people in the world that this is, at the very least, a public debate that needed to be happened—that needed to happen. In Germany, it sparked an inquiry into not only the NSA surveillance on this soil, but also with the collaboration with the intelligence services here. And there have been some amazing revelations that have come out through the documents and this inquiry about how strong that cooperation is, with essentially the intel services here being more beholden to the United States than they are to their own government. And we’ve seen similar sorts of revelations and beginnings of change around the world. A number of corporations are understanding they actually have to give better services with regards to encryption and privacy to their customers and are changing their products accordingly.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Sarah, what about this argument by some here in the United States that Snowden should have pursued normal whistleblower challenges as somebody—or complaints to supervisors within the institutions that he worked in? But you’ve dealt with many whistleblowers through the years. Your response to that?

SARAH HARRISON: I would say that we can actually see, through some quite recent examples—Thomas Drake, a previous NSA whistleblower, being one—that where these channels are attempted to be used, A, not only do they fail, but there is combative persecution that comes back in retaliation from the U.S. government. Thomas Drake lost his job, essentially his life, ended up having to take a very expensive legal case. He is—he was cleared in the end through some very good defense work, but it essentially ruined his life. And the whistleblowing acts that he tried to take were not taken seriously through these proper channels. So they clearly don’t work.

And particularly in the national security industry, I think there is no hope that Edward Snowden could have taken the right channels. Now, he actually did try, right at the beginning, did try these channels. He is, as been mentioned a number of times in this program, a patriot and a believer of the U.S. systems and justice system. But, sadly, as has been proven in the attempts he tried with this, and we’ve seen re. fair trials for whistleblowers, etc., that justice system isn’t always fair, and he was unable to blow the whistle and get this information into the public domain or try any reforms in the other ways, other than to go public in the manner in which he did to U.S. media.

AMY GOODMAN: Sarah, can you return home to Britain?

SARAH HARRISON: Ah, well, I’m sorry that you just said that before. I actually was very—had a great summer, where I was actually able to go home, actually, in part thanks to David Miranda, a journalist that was working with Glenn Greenwald in The Guardian at the time. When he transited through the U.K., he was stopped under the Terrorism Act, where you have no right to silence when you’re stopped like this at airports. And he was forced to give up passwords, etc. My legal team was very certain that I would be stopped for my work with WikiLeaks and with Snowden, under this Terrorism Act, despite being a journalist, and would—they knew my ethics: I would not answer some questions, and would therefore be at risk of charges of terrorism. David Miranda, rightfully, said that journalists should not be stopped under this act. We have a belief in the U.K. of freedom of press. And in an attempt to try and protect all journalists, he took a case against this act being used against journalists, and finally won earlier this year at the High Court in the U.K. After this win, my legal team took a reassessment of the risks of the situation, and, very happily, I was able to return home to the U.K. this summer.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, congratulations, and I happily correct what I said.

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

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