Edward Snowden has come out of hiding, somewhat, to take part in a live question and answer session on the Guardian website – the news organization that broke the news about the U.S. secret surveillance program earlier this month.
The 29-year-old former National Security Agency (NSA) worker, is believed to be in Hong Kong, where he revealed details of the NSA phone and Internet data collection to Guardian reporters.
The question and answer session was open to the public on the Guardian website and on Twitter using the hashtag #AskSnowden.
He believes he would have no possibility of a fair trial at home, saying he has been declared “guilty of treason.”
“The US Government is not going to be able to cover this up by jailing or murdering me. Truth is coming, and it cannot be stopped,” he said. But, he said he would tell other people considering similar actions to his that “this is a country worth dying for.”
In his original interview with The Guardian, he said he was not a supporter of Obama in either election. The Washington Post reported Snowden contributed two $250 donations to Texas congressman Ron Paul’s 2012 bid for the Republican presidential nomination. Paul is an opponent of the USA Patriot Act and “warrantless wiretaps.”**
He also told the Guardian he supported neither the Democrats nor the Republicans in the 2008 election, but voted for a “third party.”
Poll data released Monday suggests support for Obama is at its lowest in 18 months. The CNN/ORC International survey puts the president’s approval rating at just 45 per cent. It was at 53 per cent just one month ago. According to the poll, half of all Americans don’t feel Obama is “honest and trustworthy,” and more than 60 per cent of those surveyed “believe that government is so large and powerful that it threatens the rights and freedoms of ordinary Americans.”
But, Snowden said he doesn’t think it’s too late for Obama to turn things around.
“This disclosure provides Obama an opportunity to appeal for a return to sanity, constitutional policy, and the rule of law rather than men. He still has plenty of time to go down in history as the President who looked into the abyss and stepped back, rather than leaping forward into it,” Snowden wrote.
“The realization that that Congress, specifically the Gang of Eight, wholly supported the lies that compelled me to act,” Snowden said in response to a question about the exact moment when he decided to go forward with leaking the information.
“Congress hasn’t declared war on the countries – the majority of them are our allies – but without asking for public permission, NSA is running network operations against them that affect millions of innocent people,” he said. “And for what? So we can have secret access to a computer in a country we’re not even fighting?”
Snowden was referring to PRISM, one of the programs he disclosed. The program sweeps up Internet usage data from all over the world that goes through nine major U.S.-based Internet providers. The NSA can look at foreign usage without any warrants, and says the program doesn’t target Americans.
U.S. officials say the data-gathering programs are legal and operated under secret court supervision.
Snowden explained his claim that from his desk, he could “wiretap” any phone call or email – a claim top intelligence officials have denied. “If an NSA, FBI, CIA, DIA, etc. analyst has access to query raw SIGINT (signals intelligence) databases, they can enter and get results for anything they want,” he wrote in the answer posted on the Guardian site. “Phone number, email, user id, cellphone handset id (IMEI), and so on – it’s all the same.”
The NSA did not immediately respond to an email from The Associated Press seeking comment. But Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has said that the kind of data that can be accessed and who can access it is severely limited.
Snowden has been in hiding since last week. He had been staying in a Hong Kong hotel, where Guardian reporters Ewen McAskill and Glenn Greenwald interviewed him between May 20, when he arrived from Hawaii, and June 6, when The Guardian broke the story.
Snowden took leave from his job as an intelligence consultant with the firm Booz Allen Hamilton. The firm has since fired him and officials have said the U.S. government is preparing to lay charges against him.
Although Snowden previously said he chose Hong Kong for its “spirited commitment to free speech and the right of political dissent,” his second post in the online chat suggested it was a matter of him travelling with next to no notice.
“Leaving the US was an incredible risk, as NSA employees must declare their foreign travel 30 days in advance and are monitored. There was a distinct possibility I would be interdicted en route, so I had to travel with no advance booking to a country with the cultural and legal framework to allow me to work without being immediately detained. Hong Kong provided that,” he wrote.
Snowden told those following the online chat he at no time contacted the Chinese government with the information, saying he only worked with journalists.
“This is a predictable smear that I anticipated before going public, as the US media has a knee-jerk “RED CHINA!” reaction to anything involving HK or the PRC, and is intended to distract from the issue of US government misconduct. Ask yourself: if I were a Chinese spy, why wouldn’t I have flown directly into Beijing? I could be living in a palace petting a phoenix by now,” he wrote.
Snowden defended U.S. Army Private Bradley Manning for his disclosures of documents to WikiLeaks, which he called a “legitimate journalistic outlet,” which “carefully redacted all of their releases in accordance with a judgment of public interest.”
He said the WikiLeaks release of unedited material was “due to the failure of a partner journalist to control a passphrase,” which led to the charge against Manning that he dumped the documents, which Snowden called an attempt to smear Manning.
Manning is currently on trial at Fort Meade – the same Army base where the NSA is headquartered – on charges of aiding the enemy for releasing documents to WikiLeaks.
The Guardian warned readers the online chat, facilitated by Greenwald, could be affected by the security of Snowden’s Internet connection or concerns about his overall security.
During the hour-long question and answer session, more than 3,000 questions and comments were posted on the Guardian website.
*With files from The Guardian and The Associated Press
**Please note: An earlier version of this story state Ron Paul ran for president as a Libertarian in 2008. He in fact ran for the Republican nomination that year.