Another bombshell dropped on Saturday in the ongoing revelations surrounding the federal government’s PRISM surveillance program: the man who leaked the top-secret documents about the program came forward and revealed his identity — he is Edward Snowden, a 29-year-old former technical assistant with the CIA. Snowden said in an interview with the Guardian that he knows he will be charged with a crime for his actions, and expects he may “never see home again,” but that he felt compelled to leak information about the National Security Agency’s surveillance activity.
Snowden said that there wasn’t one specific moment where he decided that he was going to reveal top-secret information (if you’re just coming to this story, check out our omnibus post about what we know so far, which is being updated regularly). He said it just built up over time as he watched the agency collect more information via phone calls, emails, credit-card transactions, etc. He said he thought President Obama might change what was happening, but decided to leak the documents after the president “continued the policies of his predecessors.”
“The NSA has built an infrastructure that allows it to intercept almost everything. With this capability, the vast majority of human communications are automatically ingested without targeting. If I wanted to see your emails or your wife’s phone, all I have to do is use intercepts. I can get your emails, passwords, phone records, credit cards.”
NSA “routinely lies” to Congress
Snowden, who has since fled to Hong Kong and says even his family doesn’t know that he is involved in the leak, told the Guardian that he decided the NSA had overstepped its bounds and on top of that the agency “routinely lies” to Congress about the scope of its activities.
“I don’t want to live in a society that does these sort of things… I do not want to live in a world where everything I do and say is recorded. That is not something I am willing to support or live under… I can’t in good conscience allow the US government to destroy privacy, internet freedom and basic liberties for people around the world with this massive surveillance machine they’re secretly building.”
The former CIA technical assistant, who worked for contractor Booz Allen, said that the ability the National Security Agency has to pull in personal information about American citizens, track their location and even bug their computers is more far-reaching than many people know.
“You are not even aware of what is possible. The extent of their capabilities is horrifying. We can plant bugs in machines. Once you go on the network, I can identify your machine. You will never be safe whatever protections you put in place.”
Since the original story broke on Friday, there has been much debate about how the PRISM program works, and whether it allows the NSA to have “direct access” to the servers of companies such as Google, Yahoo and Facebook, as alleged in the slide presentation leaked by Snowden. The CEOs of those companies have denied any knowledge of such activity, but sources have told the Guardian, the Post and the New York Times that the NSA did in fact have direct access to their systems.