National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden has reportedly abandoned his effort to stay permanently in Russia, but has submitted asylum requests to 20 other countries. His decision comes one day after President Vladimir Putin said Snowden could only seek asylum in Russia if he stopped leaking U.S. secrets. When Snowden arrived in Russia last week, it was initially believed he was on his way to Ecuador, but that prospect is now in doubt. For more, we’re joined by Kristinn Hrafnsson, spokesperson for WikiLeaks, which is assisting Snowden in his attempt to seek political asylum. Hrafnsson is a longtime investigative reporter who was named Icelandic journalist of the year three times.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
Aaron Mate: National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden has reportedly abandoned his effort to permanently stay in Russia but has submitted asylum requests to 20 other countries. His decision comes one day after Russian President Vladimir Putin said Snowden could only seek asylum in Russia if he stopped leaking U.S. secrets.
President Vladmir Putin: [translated] If he wants to go anywhere and someone will accept him, he is welcome. If he wishes to stay here, then we have one condition: He must stop his work aimed at harming our American partners—although it sounds very strange coming from me. He positions himself as a fighter for human rights, and he is not going to stop this activity, so he has to choose the country for himself and go to it. When it will happen, I unfortunately do not know. If I knew, I would tell you.
Aaron Mate: When Snowden arrived in Russia last week, it was initially believed he was on his way to Ecuador, but that prospect is in doubt. Speaking to The Guardian on Monday, Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa said a misunderstanding had wrongly fueled rumors Snowden was coming to Ecuador. Correa acknowledged Ecuador’s consul in London issued the travel document that allowed Snowden to leave Hong Kong, but called that action, quote, “a mistake.” Correa now says his government won’t consider asylum for Snowden unless he can reach Ecuador or one of its embassies.
Amy Goodman: While Snowden has been holed up at a Moscow airport, news outlets are continuing to report on Snowden’s leaks. Over the weekend, the German magazine Der Spiegel revealed theNSA spied on European Union offices in Brussels, Washington and at the United Nations. The NSA allegedly planted bugs to listen in on conversations and phone calls, and also hacked into the EU computer network to access emails. According to The Guardian, one NSA document lists 38 embassies and missions as “targets,” including not just the EU but also countries such as Japan, Mexico, South Korea, India and Turkey. The latest documents also point to a major NSA spy operation targeting European citizens. According to Der Spiegel, some 500 million unique communications are monitored in Germany alone each month, the most of any European country. On Monday, a European Union spokesperson said top officials have demanded an explanation from the United States.
Pia Ahrenkilde Hansen: The EU is now expecting to hear from the U.S. authorities. And let me state clearly that clarity and transparency is what we expect from our partners and allies, and this is what we expect from the United States.
Amy Goodman: Well, to discuss the latest on Edward Snowden and his spying revelations, we’re joined by Kristinn Hrafnsson. He’s a spokesperson for WikiLeaks, the whistleblowing website that’s been assisting Snowden in his attempt to seek political asylum. Kristinn Hrafnsson is an investigative reporter who was named Icelandic journalist of the year three times.
We welcome you to Democracy Now!
Kristinn Hrafnsson: Thanks for having me.
Amy Goodman: Can you talk about these latest revelations, Kristinn?
Kristinn Hrafnsson: Well, if you are—if you’re referring to the revelations by Der Spiegel this weekend, this is, of course, causing anger all over Europe, and it’s very hard to defend by Obama, even though he claims now this is a common thing. The leaders of the European nations are disagreeing, that spying on their—on friends is not a normal thing, and they are demanding explanations. This is simply one of the revelations, important ones, that we’re getting from Snowden pertaining to the extent of the snooping programs by the NSA.
Amy Goodman: I wanted to read the statement of Edward Snowden, or a part of it, because he is speaking out for the first time. On Monday, Snowden broke a more than week-long silence after arriving in Russia to evade U.S. extradition. In a statement released by WikiLeaks, Snowden thanked supporters and condemned the Obama administration for revoking his passport and pressuring foreign governments to reject his bid for asylum. He compared himself to U.S. Army whistleblower Bradley Manning and fellow NSAwhistleblower Thomas Drake, writing, quote, “In the end the Obama administration is not afraid of whistleblowers like me, Bradley Manning or Thomas Drake. We are stateless, imprisoned, or powerless. No, the Obama administration is afraid of you. It is afraid of an informed, angry public demanding the constitutional government it was promised—and it should be.” Snowden added, “I am unbowed in my convictions and impressed by the efforts taken by so many.”
Talk about that statement and then what is happening. It looks like Ecuador is backing off a bit, or at least President Correa said that the consul who gave him the travel document to leave Hong Kong had overstepped, had not gotten the proper authority, and now Snowden apparently has said he will not apply for political asylum in Russia.
Kristinn Hrafnsson: Well, I think Snowden is correct in criticizing that his passport is being revoked and that it is outrageous to take away the symbol of citizenship. He is basically left stateless, and the reason why he’s stranded is because his passport has been revoked. That is, of course, an outrageous act.
What he refers to as—that the administration is not afraid of him or Thomas Drake or other important whistleblowers like Bradley Manning who have stepped forward, but actually of the people, he is referring to, of course, that there’s an attempt to silence whistleblowers to stop the flow of important information to get to the public. So it’s basically war on information. It’s a war on truth that is going on. And it’s in line with the attack on whistleblowers that we’ve seen in this country in recent years; under Obama, now with Snowden, eight people have been charged or persecuted on the basis of the Espionage Act of 1917, which is more than in the history of the nation prior to Obama. So it is, of course, a grave concern.
You were referring to the statement by Correa and Putin on playing down somewhat, it seems, their support. I don’t read too much into it. I think that they are concerned about the grave threats and the bullying attempt that they are subject to, as any other nation. Let’s not forget that a week ago Secretary of State Kerry threatened nations by saying that it would have consequences for any nation who would support Snowden.
Now, of course, he has applied for an asylum in more than 20 countries. There has been no formal reply, except for from a few nations who say that, well, procedurally an individual has to be in a country to be able to submit his application formally. That was the case in my home country in Iceland, where I personally contacted the government with a request from Snowden. The Ecuadoreans are saying similar things. But, I mean, the options that he has have opened up, I believe, because the support and the recognition of the importance of his work is growing, and especially in Europe. I would think that he would have a possibility of being granted asylum in many European countries.
Aaron Mate: Well, and one of those countries now appears to be Venezuela. Today, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro said Edward Snowden deserves the world’s protection for divulging details of Washington’s spy program.
President Nicolas Maduro: [translated] He said great truth in order to dismantle a world that cannot be controlled, not by an American imperialist elite nor by anyone. And these revelations that he made are the most important. A young man of 29 years who is capable of opening himself up against mechanisms of the intelligence services, who spy and want to know everything, who go against friends and enemies, who set up technological operations, satellites, with the help of the Internet, telephones, to try and control the world—the revelations of this young man have great value. He must be protected by international human rights. He has the right to be protected, because the United States will continue to pursue him. The American president, the secretary of state, why are you persecuting him? What crime has he committed? Did he kill anyone? Did he plant a bomb and kill anyone? No. Much better, he has prevented wars, and he has stopped illegalities being committed against the entire world. For this, he deserves the protection of the world. He hasn’t asked for asylum, but when he asks for it, we will give him an answer.
Aaron Mate: That’s Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro. Kristinn, can you talk about what the U.S. has been doing behind the scenes? Obama played down Snowden’s worth, saying we’re not going to scramble jets to get him. But then Vice President Biden called Correa over the weekend.
Kristinn Hrafnsson: Yeah, and not only that, we see behind the scene a confirmation that there is an extreme pressure being put on nations around the world, despite that attempt to play down the situation and—in Obama—Obama’s speech in—I believe in Kenya, last week, when they saw actually the angry reaction to the harsh statement issued in the beginning of last week by Kerry and others. Now we see you are playing this words of support from the Venezuelan president, but I can assure you that there is great support among the public and leaders around the world. That is—and Amnesty International has issued a statement where they recognize Snowden’s concerns for ill-treatment if he returns to the United States, and they recognize his right to seek asylum under international law.
And I believe that the public, outside U.S. as well as in the United States, which is amazing, I think, given the extremely one-sided and negative reporting by the mainstream media, do support Snowden. In two polls that I’ve seen by Ipsos MORI of last Thursday, more people believed in the U.S. that he was a patriot than a traitor. Earlier, a report by Time magazine showed that 53 percent of Americans believed that he did the right thing by exposing these secrets. And if you look at an age group, 18 to 34 years old, 70 percent of them thought he was doing the right thing. So we see a generation gap there. Young people, who are not distracted by the absurd reporting in the mainstream media, they go to the Internet. They rely on the Internet. It’s the generation of the generation. They understand that the freedom of the Internet and the freedom of information is essential. That’s something that the administration in this country should be concerned about.
Amy Goodman: Kristinn, we have to break, but we want you to stay with us. Kristinn Hrafnsson is with WikiLeaks. He is also, what, voted Icelandic journalist of the year three times. When we come back, we will also be joined by Malte Spitz, who’s a member of the German Green Party’s executive committee. He’ll be joining us from Berlin to talk about these latest revelations about the spying on the EU, the European Union, and his headline in a op-ed piece in The New York Times, “Germans Loved Obama. Now We Don’t Trust Him.” Stay with us.