NSA whistle-blower who sought to 'inform the public' in surveillance leak faces decades in jail
The source of the bombshell leaks about the U.S. government gathering information on billions of phone calls and Internet activities risks decades in jail for the disclosures if the U.S. can extradite him from Hong Kong, where he says he has taken refuge after saying his sole motive was to “inform the public.”
Edward Snowden, 29, who claims to have worked as a contractor at the National Security Agency and the CIA, allowed The Guardian and The Washington Post to reveal his identity Sunday. Snowden, in a video that appeared on the Guardian's website, said two NSA surveillance programs are wide open to abuse.
"Any analyst at any time can target anyone. Any selector. Anywhere," Snowden said. "I, sitting at my desk, had the authority to wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant to a federal judge to even the president if I had a personal email."
Snowden said he was a former technical assistant for the CIA and a current employee of defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, which released a statement Sunday confirming he had been a contractor with them in Hawaii for less than three months. Company officials have promised to work with investigators.
Snowden told the Guardian he believes the government could try to charge him with treason under the Espionage Act, but Mark Zaid, a national security attorney who represents whistle-blowers, told The Associated Press that that would require the government to prove he had intent to betray the United States. Snowden has said his “sole motive” was to inform the public and spur debate.
"My sole motive is to inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them," Snowden told the Guardian.
In a note accompanying the first set of documents he provided to the newspaper, Snowden wrote: "I understand that I will be made to suffer for my actions," but "I will be satisfied if the federation of secret law, unequal pardon and irresistible executive powers that rule the world that I love are revealed even for an instant."
Snowden told the Post he was not going to hide.
"Allowing the U.S. government to intimidate its people with threats of retaliation for revealing wrongdoing is contrary to the public interest," he said in the interview published Sunday. Snowden said he would "ask for asylum from any countries that believe in free speech and oppose the victimization of global privacy."
Snowden is now staying in Hong Kong and seeking asylum outside the United States, possibly in Iceland, The Guardian reports.
If the reports are accurate, Snowden could face many years in prison for releasing classified information if he is successfully extradited from Hong Kong or elsewhere.
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence declined to comment on Snowden's disclosure, saying the issue has been referred to the Justice Department.
However, the agency said: "Any person who has a security clearance knows that he or she has an obligation to protect classified information and abide by the law."
"The Department of Justice is in the initial stages of an investigation into the unauthorized disclosure of classified information by an individual with authorized access," Justice Department spokeswoman Nanda Chitre said in a statement late Sunday.
New York Republican Rep. Peter King, chairman of the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Counterintelligence and Terrorism and a member of the Select Committee on Intelligence, said: "If Edward Snowden did in fact leak the NSA data as he claims, the United States government must prosecute him to the fullest extent of the law and begin extradition proceedings at the earliest date. The United States must make it clear that no country should be granting this individual asylum. This is a matter of extraordinary consequence to American intelligence."
In a nearly 13-minute video that accompanied The Guardian story Sunday, Snowden says he has no intentions of hiding because he has done nothing wrong.
“When you're in positions of privileged access … . You recognize some of these things are actual abuses,” Snowden said about his decision to be a whistle-blower. “Over time, you feel compelled to talk about it.”
The Guardian broke the story late Wednesday that the federal government was collecting phone call records from Verizon customers.
The Guardian and the Post followed with a series of reports about the calls being taken from other telecommunications companies and that the NSA and FBI have a Internet scouring program, code-named PRISM, that records Internet activities, all part of a post-9/11 effort to thwart terrorism.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the Oval Office would not comment on Snowden before Monday.
Washington officials have acknowledged all branches of the federal government — Congress, the White House and federal courts — knew about the collection of data under the Patriot Act.
Still, the leaks have reopened the debate about privacy concerns versus heightened measure to protect against terrorist attacks. They also led the NSA to ask the Justice Department to conduct a criminal investigation.
Fox News confirmed the Obama administration took the first steps Saturday in a criminal investigation when officials filed a “crimes report.”
National Intelligence Director James Clapper has decried the leaks as reckless. And in the past days he has taken the rare step of declassifying some details about them to respond to media reports about counterterrorism techniques employed by the government.
“Disclosing information about the specific methods the government uses to collect communications can obviously give our enemies a ‘playbook' of how to avoid detection,” Clapper said Saturday.
PRISM allows the federal government to tap directly into the servers of major U.S. Internet companies such as Google, Apple, Microsoft, Facebook and AOL, scooping out emails, video chats, instant messages and more to track foreign nationals who are suspected of terrorism or espionage.
The chief executives of Facebook and Google have said their companies were not aware of the data grab.
Officials say the government is not listening to any of the billions of phone calls, only logging the numbers.
President Obama, Clapper and others also have said the programs are subject to strict supervision of a secret court.
Obama said Friday that the programs have made a difference in tracking terrorists and are not tantamount to "Big Brother."
The president acknowledged the U.S. government is collecting reams of phone records, including phone numbers and the duration of calls, but said this does not include listening to calls or gathering the names of callers.
"You can't have 100 percent security and also then have 100 percent privacy and zero inconvenience,” he said. “We're going to have to make some choices as a society."
However, the president said he welcomes a debate on that issue.
The Guardian reported that Snowden was working in an NSA office in Hawaii when he copied the last of the documents he planned to disclose and told supervisors that he needed to be away for a few weeks to receive treatment for epilepsy.
Snowden is quoted as saying he chose Hong Kong because it has a "spirited commitment to free speech and the right of political dissent" and because he believed it was among the spots on the globes that could and would resist the dictates of the U.S. government.
Hong Kong has an extradition treaty with the United States that took force in 1998, according to the U.S. State Department website.
"The government could subject him to a 10- or 20-year penalty for each count," with each document leaked considered a separate charge, Mark Zaid, a national security lawyer who represents whistle-blowers told the Associated Press.
Snowden is quoted as saying he hopes the publicity of the leaks will provide him some protection.
"I feel satisfied that this was all worth it. I have no regrets," Snowden told the Guardian.
Snowden was said to have worked on IT security for the CIA and by 2007 was stationed with diplomatic cover in Geneva, responsible for maintaining computer network security. That gave him clearance to a range of classified documents, according to the Guardian report.
"Much of what I saw in Geneva really disillusioned me about how my government functions and what its impact is in the world," he says. "I realized that I was part of something that was doing far more harm than good."
Madison's top cops ponder how to better connect with us
by PAUL FANLUND
In his crisp blue uniform with the twin-bar captain's insignia, Joe Balles certainly looks the part of important cop, but when he speaks, he sounds more like a banker.
He refers to deposits and withdrawals and bank accounts as metaphors for the overall level of confidence — or lack thereof — that city residents have these days in the Madison Police Department.
Balles, who commands the department's South District, is part of Chief Noble Wray's senior team. Wray asked him to draw up a plan to better engage the community, and Balles produced an eight-point chart that includes such elements as more effectively using social media, conducting more topical forums and better leveraging the deployment of volunteers.
Worth noting up front is that the issue of community trust seems top of mind in police ranks these days.
“What I hear from officers today is that they are feeling stressed and anxious, challenged, because they feel like they are rolling up on calls and dealing with critical situations and that trust isn't there,” Balles says. “They're not getting cooperation, and why is that?”
Balles adds: “Trust is something that has to be earned. It's not like your bank account, where you have so much money and it's there one day and you look and keep looking back and it's the same amount.”
Extending the metaphor, Balles says: “Imagine if you had a bank account and if you just let it sit there and you go back and check it in a year and it was valued at 50 percent less and you didn't do anything. But that's the problem. You didn't do anything.”
On Balles' police engagement chart, one key strategy refers to building what he calls the “trust bank.”
The challenge, he says, is “how to build everyday engagement so that in the mindset of the officers, that even on the littlest calls, they do something a little extra that actually contributes to something we may have to withdraw from.”
Balles adds, “For some officers, they get it, they know it and they understand it. (But) that kind of mindset isn't, I would say, rampant across our patrol operations today.”
Such candid self-reflection is what I've heard before from Madison police, but it can still be surprising if one expects a more defensive culture typical of paramilitary organizations. Balles and I talked at length last week at Cargo Coffee on South Park Street about challenges facing the department.
As he delves more deeply into what the police face, he sticks with the banking reference: “Every time you have an opportunity to make a deposit in that trust bank we have to, because quite frankly we've had some deposits taken away this year, and we need to work on that.”
Probably the biggest “withdrawal” has been the fallout from the shooting of a 30-year-old musician named Paul Heenan last November by a police officer.
Police responded to a 911 call on South Baldwin Street about a man attempting to break into a home. Heenan was shot dead after a confrontation with a responding officer. Heenan was unarmed but the officer said Heenan tried to grab the officer's gun. Heenan was intoxicated at the time.
Police eventually concluded the officer followed correct procedures and the district attorney declined to press changes, but many neighbors remain outraged at what they regard as excessive use of force. As a result, the department is still studying its procedures for shootings involving officers.
The shooting has remained on the public radar. In May, three Madison cops were involved in another fatal shooting, this time involving a man with a history of mental illness who came at them with a sword. Last week it was reported that those officers also will not face charges, but news reports reminded readers of the Heenan shooting.
Some, I suggested to Balles, might see this police engagement plan as mostly connected to Heenan.
No, it is broader than that, Balles says. “In that pocket over there, yes, do we have some significant work to do in rebuilding trust in that neighborhood? Absolutely, no question about it. And there's probably other larger groups, another group of people outside that neighborhood, that probably also has some questions.”
But, he says, the police challenge is longer term. “You can kind of see the evolution of how Madison police have been committed to engaging and partnering with this community. It's in our mission statement, it's in our core values, it's everything we do, even going back to these officers asking those questions last year.”
Balles was referring to a story I wrote last November when five officers of varying ranks sat with me for a roundtable interview. The print headline pretty much got the gist: “From Madison Police, a warning … Madison's rank-and-file police say cooperation at violent crime scenes is on the downswing and they want everyone to know it.”
So we have a renewed focus on community policing, the notion of using relationships and problem-solving to combat crime. The concept was hot here more than two decades ago, Balles says, when he and Wray were working in the then-troubled Broadway-Simpson area in south Madison.
“It was very violent back in those days,” he says. “As we started to figure out what community policing was, detectives really started to realize the value to (having) neighborhood officers in terms of building relationships. Because, when things did happen, there was a much greater likelihood we were going to get cooperation because we already had a relationship.”
He says he thinks there was some drift away from community policing because of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, acknowledging other police officials might disagree with his analysis.
“I'm going to say something that might not be totally consensus, but there has been a kind of a militarization of the police in this country and you see it all over the place; it's in our equipment, it's in our tactics.”
He pointed to murders last August at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin near Milwaukee. On a sunny Sunday morning, a neo-Nazi fatally shot six worshippers and injured four others before being wounded by officers and then killing himself. “Training is now focused a lot on that,” situations involving what police refer to as “active shooters.”
“For us to be building the trust bank, we have to place just as much emphasis … in preparing for a, God forbid, an active shooter situation someplace here in Madison.”
The concept of police engaging more effectively in Madison seems as noble today as it did in the 1970s, when it was ardently pushed by David Couper, former police chief and now an Episcopal priest.
At that time, Madison moved away from what Balles recalls as an “Adam-12” approach, referring to a 1970s television police drama that followed two fictional, no-nonsense, by-the-books Los Angeles cops.
Today, the need for police to connect with the city remains as great as it did then, but fears of “active shooter” violence, as well as heightened concerns about gangs, drugs and crime, appear to make the challenge even greater.
That Madison police, in this era of blame-placing and finger-pointing, are still willing to be so self-reflective seems almost quaint.
I'll take quaint.