The international mystery surrounding National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden has deepened after the former U.S. intelligence contractor failed to board a flight as expected from Moscow to Havana today. Snowden reportedly arrived in Moscow Sunday after fleeing Hong Kong. The developments come just days after the United States publicly revealed it had filed espionage charges against Snowden for theft of government property, unauthorized communication of national defense information and wilful communication of classified communications intelligence to an unauthorized person. “The idea that he has harmed national security is truly laughable,” says Guardian columnist Glenn Greenwald, who broke the NSA surveillance stories. “If you go and look at what it is that we published, the only things that we published were reports that the U.S. government was spying, not on the terrorists or the Chinese government, but on American citizens indiscriminately.”
Amy Goodman: We begin today’s show with the international mystery surrounding Edward Snowden, the former U.S. intelligence contractor who leaked documents about the United States’ secret domestic and global surveillance programs. Snowden reportedly landed in Moscow Sunday after leaving Hong Kong, but his exact whereabouts are unknown. He was expected to fly from Moscow to Cuba today, but journalists aboard the flight said his seat was empty. It was believed Snowden’s final destination would be Ecuador, which has confirmed it was considering an asylum request for Snowden. He has not been seen publicly or photographed since his reported arrival in Moscow on Sunday afternoon from Hong Kong.
The developments come just days after the United States publicly revealed it had filed espionage charges against Snowden for theft of government property, unauthorized communication of national defense information, and wilful communication of classified communications intelligence to an unauthorized person. The criminal complaint was dated June 14th but only came to light on Friday.
The United States has also revoked his passport. On Sunday, Snowden was allowed to fly out of Hong Kong even though Washington asked the Chinese territory to arrest him on espionage charges. In a statement, the Hong Kong government says documents submitted by the U.S. did not, quote, “fully comply with the legal requirements under Hong Kong law,” and it had no legal basis to prevent him from leaving. In addition, the Hong Kong government said in a written statement that it wanted more information alleged hacking of computer systems in Hong Kong by U.S. government agencies.
WikiLeaks is playing a central role in aiding Snowden’s travels. A WikiLeaks activist named Sarah Harrison reportedly accompanied Snowden on his flight from Hong Kong to Moscow. In an interview with The New York Times, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said, quote, “Mr. Snowden requested our expertise and assistance. We’ve been involved in very similar legal and diplomatic and geopolitical struggles to preserve the organization and its ability to publish.”
Snowden, who turned 30 Friday, had anticipated risks for exposing the NSA’s surveillance program.
Edward Snowden: You can’t come forward against the world’s most powerful intelligence agencies and be completely free from risk, because they’re such powerful adversaries that no one can meaningfully oppose them. If they want to get you, they’ll get you in time. But at the same time you have to make a determination about what it is that’s important to you. And if living—living unfreely but comfortably is something you’re willing to accept—and I think many of us are; it’s the human nature—you can get up every day, you can go to work, you can collect your large paycheck for relatively little work, against the public interest, and go to sleep at night after watching your shows. But if you realize that that’s the world that you helped create, and it’s going to get worse with the next generation and the next generation, who extend the capabilities of this sort of architecture of oppression, you realize that you might be willing to accept any risk, and it doesn’t matter what the outcome is, so long as the public gets to make their own decisions about how that’s applied.
Amy Goodman: That was Edward Snowden being interviewed by The Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald, filmed by Laura Poitras earlier this month in Hong Kong.
Since then, the former contractor has revealed a secret court order showing that the U.S. government had forced the telecom giant Verizon to hand over the phone records of millions of Americans. He also revealed the existence of a secret program called PRISM, which internal NSA documents claim gives the agency access to data held by Google, Facebook, Apple and other U.S. Internet giants.
For more, we go to Glenn Greenwald, the journalist who broke the story. He is a columnist and blogger for The Guardian, also a constitutional lawyer. His recent piece is called “On the Espionage Act Charges Against Edward Snowden.”
First of all, Glenn Greenwald, well, welcome back to Democracy Now! Do you know where Edward Snowden is right now?
Glenn Greenwald: No, I don’t. I know what news reports are indicating with regard to his whereabouts, and outside of a small circle of people who are traveling with him, it seems that nobody really knows at the moment where he is.
Amy Goodman: Where do we—where do you know he last was, where we last know where he was?
Glenn Greenwald: I mean, I haven’t spoken with him personally since there were reports that he left Hong Kong, and so I can’t say with any firsthand knowledge that he’s been anywhere once he left Hong Kong. I only know what the news media is reporting on that, and there seemed to be confirmation that he was on a flight from Hong Kong to Moscow, that the plan was that he would land in Moscow, spend a night in—either in the airport or in an embassy of Venezuela or Ecuador, and then travel on to Havana on a flight this morning. And there are lots of reporters on that flight, all of whom are reporting that he doesn’t seem to be on that flight. And so, the question is, was there an alternative travel arrangement made for him to go to Ecuador or somewhere else, whether it be an alternative commercial flight or a private plane, or has he been detained by the Russian government, which said that it wouldn’t detain him, or has something else happened to him? I don’t think anybody knows at this point. I certainly don’t.
Amy Goodman: Glenn Greenwald, Ed Snowden turned 30 on Friday. Also, then, the charges against him were made known. Can you explain what he has been charged with by the United States?
Glenn Greenwald: He’s been charged so far with three felony counts, one of which is essentially stealing property that doesn’t belong to him. The other two are the much more serious ones. They’re offenses under the Espionage Act of 1917 that has been amended several times since then, and the statute—the provisions of that law under which he’s been charged were amended most recently in 1950. And they essentially accuse him of releasing classified information that he knew or should have known was likely to harm the United States or result in benefit to its adversaries.
This is the statute that, until President Obama was inaugurated, had only been used a grand total of three times in all of American history to prosecute leakers, people who disclose classified information, as opposed to those who actually do espionage, which is passing secrets to an enemy of the United States or selling it. But for pure leakers, it’s almost never been used. There’s only been three cases before Obama, one of which was Daniel Ellsberg. Since President Obama’s inauguration, there have now been seven—he is now the seventh—leakers or whistleblower who has been prosecuted under the statute, so more than double the number of all previous presidents combined.
The charges, at the moment, each carry a penalty of 10 years in prison, so you’re talking about 30 years in prison. But he’s not even been indicted yet. The pattern of the Obama administration has been to add many more charges once there’s an indictment. And so, it’s almost certain that he will face life imprisonment if the United States ever apprehends him and is able to bring him to trial.
Amy Goodman: On Sunday, House Intelligence Committee Chair Mike Rogers said the United States should use every legal avenue to bring Edward Snowden back to face espionage charges. He was speaking to host David Gregory on NBC’s Meet the Press.
Rep. Mike Rogers: So, if you think about what he says he wants and what his actions are, it defies logic. He has taken information that does not belong to him; it belongs to the people of the United States. He has jeopardized our national security. I disagree with the reporter. Clearly, the bad guys have already changed their way. Remember, these were counterterrorism programs, essentially. And we have seen that bad guys overseas, terrorists who are committing and plotting attacks on the United States and our allies, have changed the way they operate. We’ve already seen that. To say that that is not harmful to the national security of the United States or our safety is just dead wrong.
They should use every legal avenue we have to bring him back to the United States. And, listen, if he believes that he’s doing something good—and, by the way, he went outside all of the whistleblower avenues that were available to anyone in this government, including people who have classified information. We get two or three visits from whistleblowers every single week in the committee, and we investigate every one thoroughly. He didn’t choose that route. If he really believes he did something good, he should get on a plane, come back and face the consequences of his actions.
David Gregory: Is he gone? Do you think he’s gone, not to return?
Rep. Mike Rogers: I don’t—I’m not sure I would say gone forever. I do think that we’ll continue with extradition activities wherever he ends up, and we could—should continue to find ways to return him to the United States and get the United States public’s information back.
Amy Goodman: House Intelligence Chair Mike Rogers. Your response to this, Glenn Greenwald?
Glenn Greenwald: First of all, there’s this constant claim that’s made about how Democrats and Republicans are at each other’s throat and have radically different views of the world that are irreconcilable. Mike Rogers is one of the most right-wing members of the Republican House caucus when it comes to national security issues, and yet he sounds exactly the same as Dianne Feinstein, as every single Democrat in the Senate who is speaking about these issues. There’s absolutely no division, and there never is on these questions. The political class binds together every single time to declare to be an enemy anybody who brings transparency to what it is that they’re doing.
Secondly, the idea that he has harmed national security is truly laughable. If you go and look at what it is that we published, the only things that we published were reports that the U.S. government is spying, not on the terrorists or the Chinese government, but on American citizens indiscriminately—hundreds of millions, tens of millions, even hundreds of millions at a time. The terrorists have long known that the U.S. government is trying to listen in on their telephone calls and emails. We didn’t tell them anything they didn’t know. The only thing that wasn’t known was that the bulk of the spying apparatus is directed not at the terrorists, but at the American citizenry and at innocent people around the world. That’s the only thing that has been damaged, not the national security of the United States, but the reputation and credibility of American political officials like Mike Rogers and Dianne Feinstein and all the executive branch officials who have lied about this program to Congress and who have implemented it in secret.
And then the final issue is the idea that he could have used whistleblower channels. He would have ended up having to go to the very same members of Congress who think that not only are these programs good, but that they ought to remain secret. And you have two Democratic members of the Senate Intelligence Committee—Ron Wyden and Mark Udall—who have been screaming for three years, saying there are secret things going on inside the NSA based on secret law of the Obama administration that is so warped and distorted that Americans would be stunned to learn what the government is doing to them in terms of the spying, and that even those members of the Intelligence Committee—Senators Udall and Wyden—either lacked the courage or were incapable of even disclosing to the American people what they had discovered that was so alarming to them. It took Edward Snowden to come forward the way he did and make us all, as citizens around the world, publicly aware of what the government is doing to us, so that we could have an open and informed debate about what is being done. Anyone who says that it should have been done in another way has the obligation to identify what this other way was that could have informed the people of this country and the world about what the NSA is doing.
Amy Goodman: We’re going to break, then come back to this discussion. And I want to say, as we’re speaking, in Vietnam right now the foreign minister of Ecuador, Patiño, is holding a news conference. And he has—just reading a letter that Edward Snowden has written to the president of Ecuador, Correa, asking for political asylum. And in it, he is saying that it’s the U.S. government that’s intercepting freedom of speech; Congress and media is involved, as well. And he says, “And they’re accusing me of being a traitor. They want to imprison me or execute me for telling people this,” he said. We’ll come back to this discussion with Glenn Greenwald. He’s the man, the journalist, who leaked the story of the NSA whistleblower, Edward Snowden. They met in Hong Kong, where Edward Snowden had gone to release the information he had gotten as he was a contractor for Hamilton Booz Allen—Booz Allen Hamilton, sorry, when he was working for the—for Booz Allen Hamilton as a contractor for the NSA in Hawaii. This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back with Glenn Greenwald in a moment.
Amy Goodman: We’re speaking with Glenn Greenwald, the columnist for The Guardian newspaper. I’m Amy Goodman. As news emerged of Edward Snowden’s departure from Hong Kong, Senator Dianne Feinstein, the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, appeared on Face the Nation. She talked about what might have facilitated Edward Snowden’s departure.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein: I had actually thought that China would see this as an opportunity to improve relations and extradite him to the United States. China clearly had a role in this, in my view. I don’t think this was just Hong Kong without Chinese acquiescence. I think his choice of Moscow was interesting. I think what’s interesting is that he was taken off in a car, and his luggage in a separate car. I think it will be very interesting to see what Moscow does with him. Thirdly, he clearly was aided and abetted, possibly by the WikiLeaks organization. I heard a rumor that he was traveling with someone, and so this had to have been all preplanned. Now, what the destination is, no one really knows. But I think, from the point of view of our committee, something that concerns me more is that we get an understanding in this nation that what this is all about is the nation’s security.
Amy Goodman: Senator Feinstein also said she had seen no evidence of abuse by the National Security Agency, instead pointed a finger at China’s surveillance practices.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein: I have seen no abuse by these agencies, nor has any claim ever been made, in any way, shape or form, that this was abused. You know, it’s interesting to me because, I mean, I’ve been going to China for 34 years now trying to increase relationships between our two countries. There is no question about China’s prowess in this arena. There is no question about their attempts to get into our national defense networks, as well as major private businesses.
Amy Goodman: That was Senator Feinstein on Face the Nation. Glenn Greenwald, your response to some of her points?
Glenn Greenwald: Well, first of all, Dianne Feinstein is outright lying when she says that she doesn’t know of any instances of abuse at the National Security Agency. Leaving aside the fact that there have been several different reports by ABC News, by The New York Times, of the NSA abusing its eavesdropping powers over the last four years, there is a 2011 opinion, 80 pages long, from the FISA court, the secret court that oversees the NSA. And what it ruled, although the court—the opinion is top-secret and hasn’t been publicly released. What it ruled is that the way in which the NSA is spying on American citizens is in violation of the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution, as well as in excess of the limitations imposed by the statute, the FISA Amendments Act of 2008. In other words, what the NSA is doing is both unconstitutional and illegal. And so, although the public doesn’t have access to that opinion—shockingly, that in a democracy you could have a court rule the government has violated the law and the Constitution and keep it all a secret—Dianne Feinstein has access to that opinion. And so, when she says into the camera that there’s no evidence that she is aware of that the NSA has abused its spying powers, she’s simply lying, because she knows that the claim she’s making is false.
Secondly, the—as far as the outrage that she expressed, that Obama officials routinely express, over the fact that China is hacking into our military installations and the like, she’s right. They are doing that. But one of the things that these documents exposed—I mean, that Mr. Snowden exposed to China is that the United States is not only hacking into China’s military systems but also its civilian systems. And part of the reason why the Chinese government was unable to turn Snowden over to the U.S., even had they wanted to, was because public opinion in China and in Hong Kong was so enraged by that revelation—that their text messages are being directed into NSA repositories—that they simply couldn’t, consistent with public opinion, hand Snowden over to the United States.
Amy Goodman: What about this latest news, Glenn Greenwald, about the South China Morning Post revelations of Snowden, about how the U.S. hacked China’s mobile phone companies and two universities?
Glenn Greenwald: Right. I mean, I think the reason why Snowden made those revelations is extremely obvious, which is that he was in Hong Kong and needed to protect himself from being turned over to the U.S., where he would spend the rest of his life in prison. And so he stepped forward to say that his government has been lying to the world when it pretends that only China, but not it, the U.S. government, hacks into civilian infrastructure. It was an act of self-preservation. It was also a way of exposing the deceit and hypocrisy of top-level political officials in the United States who have tricked their own public into believing that China, but not the United States, does these sorts of things.
Amy Goodman: Is this espionage?
Glenn Greenwald: Espionage is when you work for and at the behest of a foreign government to steal secrets—there’s zero evidence he did that—or when you covertly pass secrets to an adversary government—he never did that—or when you sell secrets to another country, which he could have done for millions of dollars to enrich himself and yet never did. It is not espionage in any sense of the word. And, of course, the irony here is that the ones who are engaged in massive spying is the U.S. government. Mr. Snowden essentially refused to engage in spying, and now they’re accusing him of espionage.
Amy Goodman: Finally, Glenn, I want to play a clip of your interview when you were on Meet the Press with David Gregory yesterday.
David Gregory: To the extent that you have aided and abetted Snowden, even in his current movements, why shouldn’t you, Mr. Greenwald, be charged with a crime?
Glenn Greenwald: I think it’s pretty extraordinary that anybody who would call themself a journalist would publicly muse about whether or not other journalists should be charged with felonies. The assumption in your question, David, is completely without evidence, the idea that I’ve aided and abetted him in any way. The scandal that arose in Washington before our stories began was about the fact that the Obama administration is trying to criminalize investigative journalism by going through the emails and phone records of AP reporters, accusing a Fox News journalist of the theory that you just embraced: being a co-conspirator with felony—in felonies for working with sources. If you want to embrace that theory, it means that every investigative journalist in the United States who works with their resources, who receives classified information, is a criminal. And it’s precisely those theories and precisely that climate that has become so menacing in the United States. It’s why The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer said investigative reporting has come to a “standstill”—her word—as a result of the theories that you just referenced.
David Gregory: Well, the question of who’s a journalist may be up to a debate with regard to what you are doing. And, of course, anybody who’s watching this understands I was asking a question. That question has been raised by lawmakers, as well. I’m not embracing anything. But, obviously, I take your point.
Amy Goodman: That is David Gregory, the host of Meet the Press. Glenn Greenwald, would you like to carry this conversation forward? Of course, it’s been raised over and over—Peter King, the congressman from New York, calling for you to be prosecuted.
Glenn Greenwald: Right. And, actually, Andrew Ross Sorkin, the extremely Wall Street-friendly New York Times quote-unquote “reporter” who covers Wall Street, apparently went on CNBC this morning and essentially speculated or suggested that I ought to be arrested, as well. You know, it’s interesting, Amy. I don’t know of anybody who has a lower opinion of the Beltway media, generally, of David Gregory, specifically—for that matter, Andrew Ross Sorkin, specifically—than I do. And yet, it actually is even surprising to me to watch them openly do the dirty work of the U.S. government in essentially suggesting publicly that journalists who report on what the government is doing ought to be turned into criminals.
You know, one of the main criticisms that I’ve voiced about the Beltway media is that they’re not adversarial to the government at all, but actually that they are servants of the government, mouthpieces for it. Lots of other people have made that critique, including you, Amy. And I think it’s almost like Christmas, for those of us who believe that, to watch this gift being handed to us that so vividly proves it, that rather than defend what is supposed to be their right that they are supposed to safeguard, which is freedom of the press, they’re leading the chorus against other journalists on behalf of the government that they serve, demanding essentially and theorizing that we’re guilty of crimes for doing what journalists are supposed to do, which is shining a light on what political officials are doing in the dark.
Amy Goodman: Glenn, McClatchy had an interesting piece, “Obama’s Crackdown Views Leaks as Aiding Enemies of [the] U.S.” talking about President Obama’s unprecedented initiative known as the Insider Threat Program. Can you explain what that is?
Glenn Greenwald: The Insider Threat Program is a program implemented by the Obama administration that is very consistent with their overall unprecedented attack on leakers and whistleblowers—that is even what The New York Times this morning called it, an unprecedented attack on leaks—in which government employees are encouraged—in fact, required—to report to authorities any other government employees that they even suspect might be thinking about leaking. And what makes it so pernicious is that it defines people who leak as being enemies of the state. So, if any government employee sees wrongdoing and brings that wrongdoing to light, then if that wrongdoing was conducted behind a wall of secrecy by having it be called classified or anything else, they are deemed by the U.S. government to be essentially enemies of the state. That’s the term that this program uses for them.
And this is the vital context for everything that is happening with Mr. Snowden, for WikiLeaks, for this entire story, which is that the reason why we need Ed Snowdens, the reason why he came forward in the way that he did and the reason why he felt he had to flee the United States is precisely because there are no people in the United States more persecuted at the moment than those who bring transparency to what the U.S. government is doing. They are treated as enemies of the state. They are called traitors, as John Kerry called Mr. Snowden today. And that’s the reason that investigative journalism is being so threatened by the policies of the Obama administration. I hope all of your viewers will go to Google and type “McClatchy, Obama and leaks” and read that McClatchy report on what the Obama administration is doing to wage a war on transparency like no other president has ever done.
Amy Goodman: Glenn, do you have more documents leaked by Edward Snowden that you’re going to be writing about, more exposés in the coming days?
Glenn Greenwald: Definitely. And we’re going to take our time in reporting it. We’re going to make sure that everything we report is accurate and the picture is complete. But my only priority at the moment is going through these documents, vetting them and continuing to report on them. And there are lots of other stories coming.
Amy Goodman: Glenn Greenwald, I want to thank you for being with us, columnist and blogger for The Guardian, also a constitutional lawyer, speaking to us from his home in Brazil.
This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we’re going to be joined by the lawyer for Julian Assange, Michael Ratner, president emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights. Again, the latest news we have, it was reported that Edward Snowden left Hong Kong and went to Russia and that he was then going to Cuba, but journalists on the plane he was supposedly going to be on say his seat was empty. That’s what we know at this point. We also have been monitoring a news conference that’s been held by the Ecuadorean foreign minister in Vietnam, saying that he—they have received a letter from Edward Snowden to the president of Ecuador, President Correa, appealing for political asylum. We’ll be back with Michael Ratner in a moment.