National Security Agency (NSA) whistle-blower Edward Snowden may be holed away in Hong Kong avoiding the U.S. government’s wrath, but that doesn’t mean he can’t take the time to answer a few questions from the average Joe.
The world’s most famous information leaker took to the Guardian’s website today, answering reader questions about not only his leaks but also the press and political fallout that emerged from them as well.
First, Snowden is sticking to his guns with the notion that the U.S. government has “direct access” to the servers of big tech companies like Facebook and Google. Every company implicated in the initial PRISM reports has denied those claims, but Snowden says those responses, while technically true (at least in the doublespeak sense), were “misleading.”
More, Snowden says that while Google and the others may be hesitant to disclose the details of their relationships with the NSA, “that does not comply them from ethical obligation [to do so].”
If for example Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Apple refused to provide this cooperation with the Intelligence Community, what do you think the government would do? Shut them down?
Essentially, Snowden is saying what a lot of other people have been for days: Tech companies can and should let the world know when the government is overstepping its bounds. Fortunately for Snowden’s cause, recent reports suggest that Yahoo and others did indeed resist the NSA’s orders — at least initially.
Overall, while Snowden’s responses are often a tad cryptic (“This country is worth dying for”), they do help paint him as a whistle-blower who is more deliberate than, say, Bradley Manning, who has long been criticized for his more reckless leaking of government documents.
Snowden confesses that the deliberateness is intentional: “I understand that many media outlets used the argument that ‘documents were dumped’ to smear Manning and want to make it clear that it is not a valid assertion here,” he said.
It’s also worth noting that there didn’t seem to be all that much backtracking or hedging in Snowden’s responses even though both the Guardian and the Washington Post have stepped back from some of the language in their original reports — in particularly that of what actually constitutes “direct access”:
More detail on how direct NSA’s accesses are is coming, but in general, the reality is this: if an NSA, FBI, CIA, DIA, etc analyst has access to query raw SIGINT databases, they can enter and get results for anything they want. Phone number, email, user id, cell phone handset id (IMEI), and so on — it’s all the same.