In a live-chat hosted by “Free Snowden,” a group that seeks to provide information about the case of the former defense contractor who released millions of National Security Agency documents to journalists, Edward Snowden spent over an hour answering questions about Obama’s recent actions regarding privacy and surveillance.
This is the second time Snowden -- who was charged with theft of government property and espionage by federal prosecutors in June -- has held court with the Internet, with the first happening in June 2013 soon after the first leaked documents were published. The questions answered were chosen from a lengthy list of tweets featuring the hashtag #AskSnowden, and the selection seems to show that Snowden saw the chat foremost as a way to comment on Obama’s policies and clear up misconceptions about how this whole saga unfolded.
Snowden said he thought that the timing of Obama's NSA speech -- delivered last Friday on the anniversary of Dwight Eisenhower’s “military-industrial complex” speech -- was “particularly interesting,” given that the president did not receive recommendations from the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board until nearly a week afterward. Kara Brandeisky at ProPublica has an in-depth list chronicling the claims made by the White House that Snowden disputed in his replies Thursday.
He also said that "not all spying is bad. The biggest problem we face right now is the new technique of indiscriminate mass surveillance, where governments are seizing billions and billions and billions of innocents’ communication every single day ... When we’re sophisticated enough to be able to break into any device in the world we want to (up to and including Angela Merkel’s phone, if reports are to be believed), there’s no excuse to be wasting our time collecting the call records of grandmothers in Missouri."
Snowden also disputed a story by Reuters reporter Mark Hosenball stating that he stole passwords from his fellow NSA employees.
The former NSA contractor took issue with the administration’s whistleblower policies during the live-chat: “One of the things that has not been widely reported by journalists is that whistleblower protection laws in the US do not protect contractors in the national security arena. There are so many holes in the laws, the protections they afford are so weak, and the processes for reporting they provide are so ineffective that they appear to be intended to discourage reporting of even the clearest wrongdoing.”
While Snowden was answering questions, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said that clemency for Snowden “would be going too far” in an interview with MSNBC. He also said he preferred to call the leaker a “defendant” rather than a whistleblower.
Near the end of the live-chat, Snowden answered a question by CNN journalist Jake Tapper regarding the conditions that would lead him to return to the United States. “Returning to the US,” he wrote, “I think, is the best resolution for the government, the public, and myself, but it’s unfortunately not possible in the face of current whistleblower protection laws … Maybe when Congress comes together to end the programs the PCLOB just announced was illegal, they’ll reform the Whistleblower Protection Act, and we’ll see a mechanism for all Americans, no matter who they work for, to get a fair trial.”