Edward Snowden In His Own Words

We listen to Snowden’s account of what he’s up to and look in on the race between asylum and prosecution.

This photo provided by The Guardian Newspaper in London shows Edward Snowden, who worked as a contract employee at the National Security Agency, on Sunday, June 9, 2013, in Hong Kong. NSA leaker Edward Snowden claims the spy agency gathers all communications into and out of the U.S. for analysis, despite government claims that it only targets foreign traffic. (Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras, The Guardian/AP)

This photo provided by The Guardian Newspaper in London shows Edward Snowden, who worked as a contract employee at the National Security Agency, on Sunday, June 9, 2013, in Hong Kong. The “NSA leaker” claims the spy agency gathers all communications into and out of the U.S. for analysis, despite government claims that it only targets foreign traffic. (Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras, The Guardian/AP)

Edward Snowden is apparently still holed up in Moscow, in limbo, in the transit lounge or who knows where.  But his voice is not.  Before the world’s most famous leaker – whistleblower, his supporters say – went on the run, he went on tape.  At length.  About what drove him.  What he’s seen.  Why he was tearing the veil of secrecy off some of the NSA’s – America’s – deepest secrets.

We’re going to listen to that today.  Hear him out.  With a supporter.  With a tough critic.  With you.  And we’ll look at the big US effort to pull him in now.

This hour On Point:  Edward Snowden.

- Tom Ashbrook


Greg Miller, intelligence reporter for The Washington Post and co-author of “The Interrogators: Inside the Secret War Against al Qaeda.” (@gregpmiller)

Geoffrey Stone, law professor at the University of Chicago Law School and author of “Top Secret: When Our Government Keeps Us in the Dark.” He clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan, Jr.

Jesselyn Radack, national security and human rights director at the Government Accountability Project. She’s a former ethics adviser to the Department of Justice and became a whistleblower after disclosing that the FBI interrogated John Walker Lindh without an attorney; she wrote about her experience in “Traitor: The Whistleblower and the ‘American Taliban’” — read an excerpt below. (@JesselynRadack)

William Binney, former highly placed intelligence official with the NSA turned whistleblower in 2002 after 30 years with the agency.

Interview Highlights

Greg Miller on what Snowden has done:

When you look at [Snowden]’s stated objective here, which was to call attention to these programs and to trigger a debate that had been preemtped by the secrecy surrounding them. I mean, he has succeeded. We’re now in the midst of a debate that is nearly global.

Edward Snowden (from an interview recorded by the Guardian) on why he did it:

America is a fundamentally good country. We have good people with good values who want to do the right thing. But the structures of power that exist are working to their own ends to extend their capablity at the expense of the freedom of all publics.

Geoffrey Stone on Snowden’s actions:

The problem with what Snowden did is that it was completely selfish. He decided that he didn’t want to live in this world, and so he was going to take it upon himself to override the rule of law, the decisions of elected representatives of the United States, and to make a decision that, as far as I know, seriously damaged the ability of the United States to protect itself against terrorist acts.

Jesselyn Radack on Snowden:

To me he’s a classic whistleblower who has engaged in a historical act of moral courage. He meets the textbook definition that applies to both government employees and to contractors of having revealed fraud, waste, abuse or illegality on a massive scale.


Watch the second part of Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald’s interview with Edward Snowden.

If you need to catch up, you can also watch the first part, released in June, of the same interview.

Book Excerpt

Excerpted from “Traitor: The Whistleblower and the ‘American Taliban'” by Jesselyn Radack. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Our country has a love-hate relationship with whistleblowers. When one thinks of a whistleblower, images from movies such as The Insider or Erin Brokovich spring to mind; so do TIME Magazines’s “Persons of the Year” in 2002, when whistleblowers enjoyed a rare moment of admiration. One has visions of determined individuals risking it all to make explosive disclosures before Congress or on “60 Minutes.” The media glorifies some who risk everything to expose corruption and illegal activity and rightly so; these lionized individuals deserve every ounce of praise they receive.  But their happy outcomes are not typical–for every success story, there are a hundred stories of professional martyrdom.

Few paths are more treacherous than the one that challenges abuse of power and tries to make a meaningful difference.  Whistleblowers often find that they become the subject of the story. Any personal vulnerability they possess will be used against them, and through these smears, the whistleblower’s charges become a subordinate issue.  The Bush adinistration was expert at this subterfuge. Its vindictive response to its critics went beyond questioning their truthfulness, competence, and motives.  It sought to destroy their careers and livelihoods.

The conscientious employee is often portrayed as vengeful, unstable, or out for fame, profit, or self-aggrandizement. I have not been immune from such accusations, but the terms that have been used to describe me are far more incendiary: “traitor,” “turncoat,” and “terrorist sympathized.  The government paints a caricature of you and obsessively focuses on shooting the messenger rather than listening to the message.  The Obama administration has been even worse that Bush. Although I was the target of a federal criminal “leak” investigation, at least I was never indicted. Obama has now prosecuted more whistleblowers under the Espionage Act than any previous president, and than all past presidents combined.

From Tom’s Reading List

Der Spiegel: Edward Snowden Interview: The NSA and Its Willing Helpers — “In an interview conducted using encrypted e-mails, whistleblower Edward Snowden discusses the power of the NSA, how it is “in bed together with the Germans” and the vast scope of Internet spying conducted by the United States and Britain.” (Part I and Part II)

USA Today: 3 NSA Veterans Speak Out On Whistle-Blower: We Told You So — “When a National Security Agency contractor revealed top-secret details this month on the government’s collection of Americans’ phone and Internet records, one select group of intelligence veterans breathed a sigh of relief. Thomas Drake, William Binney and J. Kirk Wiebe belong to a select fraternity: the NSA officials who paved the way.”

The Huffington Post: Edward Snowden: “Hero Or Traitor”? — “The problem, and it is a problem that must be taken seriously, is who gets to decide when classified information should be made public? Who gets to put the national security at risk? The solution must be the creation of a clearly defined and credible procedure through which would-be leakers can bring their concerns to an independent panel of experts who can make a formal and professional determination whether the information at issue should be declassified.”

Earlier Coverage

Listen to previous shows we’ve done on Edward Snowden.

June 10, 2013: Surveillance, National Security And The Constitution

June 24, 2013: ‘NSA Leaker’ Snowden On The Run

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