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Edward Snowden: the whistleblower behind revelations of NSA surveillance (guardian.co.uk)
1254 points by grey-area on June 9, 2013 | hide | past | favorite | 293 comments

"Once he reached the conclusion that the NSA's surveillance net would soon be irrevocable, he said it was just a matter of time before he chose to act. "What they're doing" poses "an existential threat to democracy", he said."

Thoughtful people brave enough to blow whistles seem to be the greatest check on what looks like a secret, unaccountable, illegal centralization of power based on lies from the top of the government on down.

Many powerful people will see him otherwise. I shudder to think of what will become of him, though I'm sure we'll see it played out in headlines.

Whistle-blowers are not our only defense, however, as we all have power too, for example contributing to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF):

"His allegiance to internet freedom is reflected in the stickers on his laptop: "I support Online Rights: Electronic Frontier Foundation," reads one. Another hails the online organisation offering anonymity, the Tor Project."

My personal favorite is the Freedombox project: https://www.freedomboxfoundation.org/learn

EFF: https://www.eff.org

(By the way, I don't know about anybody else, but for the first time I can think of, I'm seriously concerned about the consequences of posting support for somebody like this online. I don't know how things will play out years down the road and who will do what with this information.)

EDIT: Followed up by posting the above on my blog -- http://joshuaspodek.com -- based on comments below.

By the way, I don't know about anybody else, but for the first time I can think of, I'm seriously concerned about the consequences of posting support for somebody like this online. I don't know how things will play out years down the road and who will do what with this information.

I don't know about you, but that's a chance I'm willing to take. As far as I'm concerned, Edward Snowden is an American hero and deserves a medal and a ticker-tape parade before he deserves to spend the rest of his life on the run, and possibly ultimately in a jail cell, or having his life taken prematurely by US operatives.

I think he did the right thing though, by going public. Presumably he knew the odds that "they" would track him down anyway, and by going public he has a chance to leverage popular public sentiment as a shield of sorts. As he says, it's a tactic to keep them from "going dirty". He might still wind up in jail, but there's a better chance now that they'll have to deal with him through ordinary judicial means, and (hopefully) no torture, or secret imprisonment at Guantanamo or whatever.

Hopefully Iceland (or maybe Ecuador!) will grant him political asylum and give him a shot at a semi-normal life, albeit far from his original home.

Postscript: To any NSA / CIA / FBI / etc. spooks who are reading this - blow me.

"To any NSA / CIA / FBI / etc. spooks who are reading this - blow me."

It is easy to feel anger towards those we perceive as oppressors, but if this nascent movement (I hope it is a movement!) is to have any success, thoughts like these from Gandhi should not be forgotten:

Real noncooperation is noncooperation with evil and not with the evil doer.

Noncooperation is not a hymn of hate.

My noncooperation is with methods and systems, never with men.

Gandhi's tactics, while plainly effective in his time and place, against his aggressors, should not be accepted as universalizable. It is not the only way to realize change, nor it is necessarily the most effective way to realize change in any particular situation, nor is it even necessarily a way that works in the slightest in any situation.

Noncompliance and noncooperation have a time and a place. We must avoid the temptation of viewing them as silver bullets simply because we find them pleasant, easy to stomach.

Reducing Gandhi's tactics to noncompliance and noncooperation is a great mistake. I think it is better to view them through what is in essence a key commonality between upper caste Hinduism and ancient Greek Stoicism, namely that all we can control are our own actions and responses, and therefore the greatest form of heroism is to lead the life we choose and to make that choice heroically, the rest of the world be damned.

The struggle then becomes one about respect and cooperation, without which no government can last, for even the greatest tyranny is executed not by one man giving orders but by everyone cooperating. The underdog struggles to inspire others. The state struggles to keep the facade of legitimacy. Sometimes the words "you are no longer our legitimate government" are stronger than all the guns in the world.

Imagine if half the country suddenly decided to no longer respect American law. They refused to pay taxes, obey traffic law, etc. What would the government do? In the end, they wouldn't be able to do anything. Once you understand that proposition, Gandhi's methods start looking a lot less gentle and a lot more dangerous.

>Imagine if half the country suddenly decided to no longer respect American law. They refused to pay taxes, obey traffic law, etc. What would the government do?

Start beating the shit out of people, killing them, etc., etc. and the people would very quickly relent.


As Harry Potter in _Methods of Rationality_ observed, non-violent resistance only worked against the British because (at the time; not to say the British haven't had some bloody years) the had no stomach for butchering helpless men. Against the Nazis, however, it would be useless, because their capacity for violence was much higher.

So the question you have to ask yourself, before non-violently resisting, is whether your oppressors will beat themselves or you down faster.

The British committed acts of genocide in virtually every colony. Just because they were not as efficient as the Germans, don't think they were not every bit as depraved.




This is the first proof by fan fiction I've ever seen. Well played. The Methods of Rationality are in fact awesome, so I guess it is worth considering. Take that copyright and (potentially) reality!

For those wondering what we are talking about: http://hpmor.com/

(p.s. Fawkes and Azkaban. Damn that shit got real.)

Awesome? That opinion isn't universal. I've read perhaps 75% of the 505,040 words (87 chapters) of MoR, and while it was somewhat interesting at first, before long it grew quite tedious. Much of the tedium is due to the length—it's longer than Rowling's first four books combined.[1] The style comes off as preaching in-jokes to the choir, and I don't think it will pay off the time investment as a means of popularizing rational thought.

[1] http://www.writersbeat.com/showthread.php?t=15295

Ugh, I really wish fan fiction would stop being "a thing". If you have talent then make up your own story, ffs. Why do you need to tell stories from someone else's universe?

You do realize that it is not true, right? That British had plenty of appetite for violence. Where do people get this idea that British were compassionate to Indian cause?

Just look for the hero Churchill's view of Indians on the web.

The views of individuals don't necessarily matter; it is plausible that individual leaders or soldiers still were as ruthless as ever, but if the population no longer supported it, it would be a political dead-end.

But yeah, "stuff I read in fan fiction" is on the lowest tier of my information-trust-chart. I'm a bit curious about why the British did give up on colonies. Was there really a sea change in British public opinion over the course of the World Wars? Was it a moral decision or an economic one? I could think of a dozen of reasons, which makes none of them worth speculating about aloud, but honestly this part of history is also pretty low on my reading list...

Man I have got to read that. Every time I hear somebody reference it, it sounds even better.

Side note: Every time I see that fic mentioned, I cringe internally. The author wasn't above asking for money in return for every chapter (and implying he won't post if he didn't get X amount of money).

Oh, and the story is shit. One of the better reviews of the fic that I've read: http://www.reddit.com/r/HPfanfiction/comments/u5j3l/looking_...

The fact that countering protest strategies (as distinguished from philosophies) are absorbed by the state and its authorities is the reason why marching in the streets and White House petitions and any other marginally (or not) effective approaches no longer work.

Though the repercussions remain to be seen, this week we find that leaking is possibly the most effective form of protest available today, and certainly more effective than picket signs and camping in parks.

The question that I guess I have is how effective is outing yourself after you have performed the leak?

If the leaker had any chance of remaining secret, then I think I would say that the leaker should choose to remain secret, and in doing so live to fight another day. On the other hand, if the leaker suspects that they will be uncovered regardless, it is probably best to choose the circumstances of your unveiling.

They aren't leakers or really protestors, but it is for the best that the Dread Pirate Roberts remain anonymous. If they had to go public though, it would be better for the headline to be on CNN: "Silk Road Founder [Whoever] Says/Does [Whatever]" rather than, on local news: "Local drug kingpin arrested today. Then later: How little Timmy rescued a kitten."

The question that I guess I have is how effective is outing yourself after you have performed the leak?

Leaving aside the fact that this is still evolving, how do you propose to measure that effectiveness?

As an Indian, I LOL at this. If you think the Imperial English government did not butcher Indians, you have obviously not studied Indian history much.

I have nothing against today's English people, they are terrific people. But, Imperialism as a culture should stay consigned in the dustbin of history - it makes monsters out of ordinary men. It should never be revived again with terrorism and national security as future excuses.

Whether or not we can effectively realize change while restricting ourselves as Gandhi advocated remains to be seen. I think it is premature to assume that it is sufficient (and certainly premature to chastise those who feel strongly about this recent news).

Just one example of something that goes beyond Gandhi's approval (which may or may not be necessary in this particular case) is targeted industrial sabotage. Carefully calculated and restrained violence against property and information systems, not against people. Gandhi thought that sabotage put his effort back; perhaps he is correct. However it is hard to deny the valuable role sabotage has played in other conflicts.

This recent comment resonated with me:

"I'm French. France was occupied by Nazi Germany (as every American I ever speak to likes to remind me). Resistants were ordinary French people who blew up trains in order to make the life of Germans in France as difficult as possible -- and of course German propaganda called them terrorists. I'm not putting this word in quotes, because of course that's what they were. They were trying to terrify the occupiers. It was a good thing." -- https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=5846266

Now plainly I am not advocating that we should start blowing up bridges, or that blowing up bridges might become necessary in some foreseeable immediate future. We are not occupied by a foreign force that is sending our neighbors to death camps. I reference this merely to make the point that the reach of Gandhi's tactics do have a limit.

Edit: Not sure why you deleted your comment. It was a very fair question.

Gandhi's approach is guaranteed to work for those who turn to it because the core values are, "I don't want to live in a violent world nor inflict violence on others." If it turns out the world is immutably violent, you will probably die at the hands of somebody else, but at least you were consistent with your values - you no longer live in a violent world, and you didn't hurt anyone to get there. Of course it is all predicated on the belief that after enough unarmed protestors have been shot, violence will come to an end, due to a combination of compassion for the victims, guilt over one's actions, and outrage against the aggressors.

Whether it would be effective for non-believers (i.e. the people who aren't willing to put their lives on the line) against other regimes is hard to say. I'm not sure it has been tested outside of India or ever will be, since it requires suicidal amounts of willpower to follow through.

So, while not advocating suicide-by-aggressor civil disobedience, I also think it's purely speculation as to what would happen if it were tried on a large scale. Closest thing that comes to mind is the Tiananmen square tank man, and that was one guy.

Right... Gandhi's approach is 'guaranteed' to work in limited circumstances. It does not work if your numbers are too few, if the opposition has a greater capacity for violence than you anticipate (this isn't about the world being violent, only the subset that oppose you need to be sufficiently violent. Relying on somebody else using violence against your murderers in the outraged aftermath of your slaughter is just shifting the responsibility to those other people.)

Gandhi's methods have been tested outside of India, perhaps most famously during the civil rights era in the US (if we write off the influence of those who were not wed to nonviolence and noncompliance). In that case they had the benefit of an interested party that consisted of a double-digit percentage of the population (and a far greater percentage in areas with particularly egregious issues.)

The problem with advocating noncompliance and nonviolence is that if you miscalculate the breadth of your support or your oppositions capacity for violence, then not only will you have accomplished nothing but you will have actually damaged your cause by removing yourself from it.

So like we basically agree from the perspective of outsiders, but that's not really what I meant. If you have been radicalized to the extent of being willing to die for nonviolence, you still win if they kill you because you are dying for your beliefs.

As a radicalized person, there cannot even be futile resistance, because if the violent people were to kill all of their enemies, there wouldn't be any violence left to commit. If so, mission accomplished. It's very much a love thine enemy philosophy.

When I say that Gandhi's methods haven't been tested outside of India, I'm referring to people passively offering up their lives to the state. Did this really happen during the civil rights movement?

Personally I believe that this kind of self-sacrifice is not worth it, even if change is effected.

I guess you and I have a fundamentally different notion of "win". If you are radicalized, they kill you for it, and then life for everyone else carries on as it was, then for me that is not a win. That is beyond any doubt a loss, and I consider opting to do that rather than sacrifice non-violence for a hope at enacting change that others can appreciate to be a selfish act.

Nonviolence is not a goal for me. I consider it a tool with limited application. Failing to build a doghouse with a hammer, instead of successfully building the doghouse with a screwdrivers, is nothing to be proud of. The doghouse is what I am interested in, not the application of hammers.

Or to put it in more concrete terms, the world would not be a better place had the French Resistance chosen to adopt nonviolent noncompliance. Their acts of violence were, without any question, justified and "worth it".

And yes, people were absolutely putting their lives at risk during the civil rights era. People were being beaten and in many cases, killed.

I respectfully have to say that I think you're missing the point. If you'll forgive how ridiculous this sounds, I'll use your analogy to illustrate the difference.

It's not about what you build with the hammer that matters to this person. It's that he consistently uses the hammer regardless of what is built or how efficiently it is accomplished, because he believes using the hammer to be the true way of life and far more important than the product being created. By using a more suitable tool he believes that he has already lost.

It's a zen thing.

No, that came through loud and clear to me. I disagree with him; picking the best tool for the job is more important than remaining pure in your tool use. I think that his belief that "using the hammer to be the true way of life and far more important than the product being created" is selfish. It is better to sacrifice your purity to save others. There is nothing noble about being trampled.

Had the French Resistance decided that the principles of nonviolence and noncompliance were more important than killing german officers and blowing up trains, then I would think far less of them. If he thinks that they lost the moment they used violence and sabotage, then I think he is wrong.

Edit: I disagree with Gandhi, not him.

Meh, you're basically arguing with a religion, which is fine, but a pretty big task. You value the end over the means. Some people believe the reverse, that the process is more meaningful and important than the goal / reward (something I become more and more convinced of as I get older).

If acting according to your beliefs is selfish... well then aren't we all selfish (arguably true)?

Don't be too hasty to judge.

You and I have the same idea of win and we share similar beliefs; I was trying to explain things from what I understand to be the mindset of someone who fully buys into Gandhi's belief system. I seem to be doing a bad job... and there is a chance I have got it all wrong anyway.

Ah, I see. Well, in that case my disagreement is with Gandhi.

Glad we sorted that out. Here's to not being a martyr.

I think you miss the real power of Gandhi's method (as do most people who want to reduce it to pacifism). The point is very simply, to live life as both a protest against what the world is, and as an example of what it can be. Be heroic. Be strong. Let nobody break you.

I don't think that Gandhi's writings espouse a general abhorrence of violence or even sabotage. They represent however a willingness to stand above such methods, and to be heroic in every little thing. The salt protest is perhaps a great example. The message is "I don't need to sabotage you because you cannot break me."

The distinction between violence and non-violence is a remarkably difficult one to make. Punching someone in the gut is undeniably violent, but what about deeply insulting a person's character? Why do we draw a line between those? Why is it that razing a bridge is violent but sitting down in the revolving door of a business establishment preventing customers from entering not? So-called non-violent resistance tends to eschew deliberate and overt outward and tangible violence for a more subtle but even more important battleground, that of morale based on legitimacy and the moral high ground.

> I reference this merely to make the point that the reach of Gandhi's tactics do have a limit.

But here's the real dirty secret. It doesn't matter who is in power, the average everyday decisions are made by individuals, and foreign powers rely very heavily on local support. I won't second guess the French resistance (and I don't think Gandhi would have either), but I think it is dangerous to opine what would have happened given that Germany was not really in a position to dedicate a lot of force to France (given that their military was somewhat occupied elsewhere). Both Ghandi and the French Resistance existed in cases where foreign powers were dominating, in a mixture of positive and negative ways, but where the foreign power could not reasonably dedicate significant military forces to reconquer the area. WWII effectively destroyed Great Britain as a world superpower largely due to the toll the Battle of the Atlantic had on their navy. Germans may have been ruthless (look up the night and fog decrees), and they were very careful not to allow visible resistance show up, but that itself can make it a more effective protest. They can't throw all of France in the death camps can they?

Now, things like drones are problems because they are force multipliers. If one person can control several drones at once, it means less people need to be making the decisions but I am not sure what that will mean yet.

Gandhi's tactics weren't even effective then. Look up Bhagat Singh. The only reason everyone gives credit for Indian independence to Gandhi instead of Singh is that Britain didn't want anymore Singhs.

As far as I'm concerned, Edward Snowden is an American hero...

He's a hero. Putting the word American in there is very, well, American. The NSA has done a lot worse by foreigners than Americans.

I think it's clear he meant that he is a hero to/for Americans, without anything further being implied in the positive or negative.

There's absolutely nothing unique about inserting the nationality of a hero that relates to Americans. I see it done regularly by citizens of other countries. In my observation, national pride is nearly universal.

I'm not American but I was clapping and cheering him loudly by the end of the interview. He is a hero for me.

> In my observation, national pride is nearly universal.

In my observation, it might be universal, but its degree varies greatly, with americans on the high end of the scale.

Nobody would say "a Greek hero".

In the spirit of inquiry, if the country is Greece, how likely are the following descriptions?

"A hero of Greece"

"A national hero"

"A hero to the fatherland"

"A hero to the people"

You'd say "a national hero" (the rest are not commonly used). The person can be any nationality, but he's a hero to the nation.

I HOPE there is a NSA / CIA / FBI spook going through this...because this man and his courage should shake the rust off of people, who are in a position to witness the tyranny of those in power(just like our whistle-blower) and take a stand and start caring more about what is the right thing to do and not what everyone around them seems to be doing.

Whatever your judgement about what to do is, the very fact that we have to start thinking about this is telling.

This is how we achieve real change, by real heroes like mindcrime standing up and saying blow me. They are sure to fall.

We all do what we can.

Admitting weakness is a virtue in some religions.


> Hiring dropouts is extremely untypical.

It isn't that untypical. Microsoft, Google, and (to a lesser extent) Facebook have famously hired many high school dropouts.

> Why was Booz Allen paying him (again, as a dropout) $200k for a sysadmin job? Were they?

Because competent sysadmins are hard to find. I'm not at all surprised by this, heck, I got offered $100k for a sysadmin job despite (by my own estimation) not being a very competent sysadmin.

> Why did he choose Hong Kong?

He mentioned the reasons in the interview. But, consider also that he's been working for intelligence agencies for quite some years and thus probably has a better idea of the realities of 'freedom of speech' and surveillance technologies than a lot of us outside it.

edit: it's too bad you deleted your comment -- probably because of the downvotes? I wish you hadn't -- disagreements need to take place for meaningful discussion to happen. Also it breaks the conversation and makes it harder to follow.

Doesn't seem very smart to out himself in Hong Kong when Xi Jinping is visiting with Obama. Can you imagine the conversations those two are having right now?

"So...you do it too. hahaha. But seriously, I never want to hear this 'spying on your own citizens' crap again. It was funny before, but now it's pathetic."

"Most favored nations give us a hand, from time to time. I would appreciate it as a personal favor if you would put this guy on a plane."


> I clarified that I mean at CIA

No matter if you're CIA, Google, or Facebook, you're still competing against each other to find competent sysadmins from the same pool of limited applicants. When a promising applicant finally lands in your hands, you don't dismiss him just because he doesn't have a piece of paper.

> That's not a surprising figure to me, but $200k is

That's a nice perk, along with Hawaii relocation isn't it. It's basically a little something to make his life so comfortable that when the decision to be a whistle-blower is being measured, the amenities are a factor in the equation against it.

1. He went out of his way to obtain that information because there's no point being a whistle blower without having some evidence to back up your claims.

2. He's a college drop out, not a high school drop out (or at least that how it reads to me - a non-US citizen. I may have misunderstood how your education system works). Also, his family also works for government agencies, so that probably added weight to his application.

3. Because of the secrecy of his job and the clearance he had. It doesn't sound to me like he was your typical sysadmin.

4. He actually addressed that one himself: On May 20, he boarded a flight to Hong Kong, where he has remained ever since. He chose the city because "they have a spirited commitment to free speech and the right of political dissent", and because he believed that it was one of the few places in the world that both could and would resist the dictates of the US government.

I can actually sympathize with your skepticism there. Some bits of his story does sound quite hard to swallow. But on the whole I'd say his story seems more plausible than made up. Personally I find it less likely that the US government aren't recording and monitoring that amount of traffic, even if the whistle blower does turn out to be a hoax. And I'm sure many other "democratic" counties are doing the same as well. We've seen how the content industry can basically buy police time and have servers taken unlawfully (in the case of Kim Dotcom) - so I'd be astonished if the government themselves didn't have even further reaching powers.

edit: I really wish you hadn't deleted your comment because while some of the questions had already been answered in the Guardians report, you did raise some worthwhile points. I just hope it wasn't kneejerk down-voters that made you choose to delete your comment (as such voting -in my opinion- hinders discussion)

Re 2 read again:


"His understanding of the internet and his talent for computer programming enabled him to rise fairly quickly for someone who lacked even a high school diploma."

High school.

It also says:

"In order to get the credits necessary to obtain a high school diploma, he attended a community college in Maryland, studying computing, but never completed the coursework. (He later obtained his GED.)"

Presumably he obtained his GED at some time after he joined the CIA (when he lacked a high school diploma).

Of course from a semantic perspective you could argue having dropped out of high school he is and forever will be a high school drop out. But as I understand it this is not the traditional way the term "high school drop out" is used.

Indeed, but he later gained that diploma via extra credits from community college - which he latter dropped out of. Which is why I stated him being a college drop out rather than a high school drop out.

Or does your education system not work this way? ie once you've dropped out of high school, you're permanently branded a "drop out" even if you later complete your high school diploma?

My country's high schools operate very differently, so the confusion here might be cultural. But in higher education you can leave college / university and later return to complete the course and not be considered a "drop out"

Our community college systems are often a hybrid of three things for their students: a place to get their GED which is sort of a "generic high-school diploma," an Associate's Degree which is a 2 year degree that can be thought of as a certification in certain fields, or as a transitionary phase before the student transfers into a traditional 4 year college (this last sort of education is also sometimes offered at "junior colleges").

A high-school diploma or GED is generally acquired by the age of 18 in the US, and a GED is often the result of a student "dropping out" of high-school for whatever reason and then continuing their education at that point or at a later time.

A college is generally a small post-secondary educational institution either dedicated to a specific subject matter or a general liberal arts education. A university consists of at least two colleges.

And then we have "for-profit" post-secondary institutions like ITT Tech or University of Phoenix that are run as corporations and often target "non-traditional" students such as working students, parents, and older students. Confusing, I know.

I guess, about the salary, that there's a multiplying factor when your job involves high-clearance national secrets. If the threat of persecution is not enough to dissuade you from leaking, then maybe a sweet $200k job on Hawaii is.

It's pretty easy to figure the salary:

1) He's not on the GS schedule because he's a contractor 2) His clearance level 3) He works for one of the big 5 consulting firms that is considerably higher on the list if you rank by government/CIA/NSA engagements.

As a federal employee, you don't get a multiplying factor for having higher clearance. You merely get to have the job. You actually get a higher boost from living in an area with a locality adjustment due to cost of living adjustments.

$200K as a contractor is pretty easy. It's $100/hr. Fifteen years ago every 19 year old contract sysadmin I knew was making that much in Chicago. It's more a factor of how long you can stomach being a sysadmin for a bank, insurance company or screwed up DoD project.

You might want to actually read the article and watch the video before asking questions that have already been answered.

Even the smallest men can cast great shadows.

The last paragraph of your comment expresses a fear that is rational, but one that we need to abandon as a community. If we are afraid to even post support for a controversial cause on the internet, then we are already lost.

We do not all need to be whistleblowers. We can champion liberty and freedom of privacy in our own ways. The first step is being brave enough to stand up for what is right, no matter who we are, no matter how apparently small our sphere of influence is.

The government should be at the mercy of the vox populi, not vice versa. It is our duty - our inalienable right - to support and rally for those who care more about the triumph of democracy and liberty than their own safety.

The last paragraph of your comment expresses a fear that is rational, but one that we need to abandon as a community. If we are afraid to even post support for a controversial cause on the internet, then we are already lost.

My father (who grew up in Communist Romania) has been warning me about all the stuff I post online for over a decade now... and the reason I keep doing it is precisely that.

My Chinese-Indonesian wife says the same thing. There is a point where loyalty to one's country however and to the ideals we share must trump the risk of action by one's government.

"I don't know about anybody else, but for the first time I can think of, I'm seriously concerned about the consequences of posting support for somebody like this online. I don't know how things will play out years down the road and who will do what with this information."

I've thought the same thing many times. I think there is really no choice since I don't want to live under a dictatorship, and if I don't voice my opinion I keep thinking about it. So it's better to voice what you think, then go back to work. I feel like at least I'm doing my part.

Foucault described one of the purposes of the Panopticon is to internalize the state's power to discipline and punish the individual. Evidence of this is seen in a restraint of expression due to its possible repercussions.

The psychological terror of the Panopticon cannot be overemphasized. The Panopticon is more real now than it ever has been. Watch as former radicals instantly self-censor with these new NSA revelations.

Whenever Amira Hass tries to explain her vocation as a journalist, she recalls a seminal moment in her mother's life. Hannah Hass was being marched from a cattle train to the concentration camp of Bergen-Belsen on a summer's day in 1944. "She and the other women had been 10 days in the train from Yugoslavia. They were sick and some were dying. Then my mother saw these German women looking at the prisoners, just looking. This image became very formative in my upbringing, this despicable 'looking from the side'. It's as if I was there and saw it myself." Amira Hass stares at you through wire-framed glasses as she speaks, anxious to make sure you have understood the importance of the Jewish Holocaust in her life.

Amira Hass? Where is she referred to, in the article or comments?

By the way, I don't know about anybody else, but for the first time I can think of, I'm seriously concerned about the consequences of posting support for somebody like this online. I don't know how things will play out years down the road and who will do what with this information

this is exactly what's so scary. people have to think about posting on Hacker News.

We all have to die someday. Might as well die for something.

I know you have been ridiculed for saying this by someone who was fortunately downvoted, but I want to point out that even saying the words in a post may have an impact. In context, who knows who it will inspire?

This gentleman is willing to risk his life to comment on HN! Very brave, our very own Snowden.

We all do what we can. I for example would never qualify for a position like the one Snowden found himself in because of my big mouth. But I can talk to my friends and family, to strangers on sites like this. We can see the solidarity forming right here. We can organize.

That is why the internet is the greatest opportunity to free ourselves finally from oppression, and also an opportunity if we let them for authoritarians to clamp down on us if we ignore them.

Some people are born fearful and they cower their whole lives. Others of these fearful seek to control, by any means necessary. It is up to those of us that can stand up, even in small ways, and provide an example to all.

So yeah, it's just some internet posts right now. But it's also much more than that in the aggregate.

there is also a network effect. The more people post support, the less likely that anyone posting support will get in trouble, AND the less likely it is that Snowden will wind up in trouble.

I think it's almost certain the guy will have some problems not long in the future. One question that comes to mind is how a supposed intelligence organization allowed someone who subscribes to EFF thinking even come to know about this surveillance. Shouldn't the NSA be doing some kind of screening to make sure the people they hire don't have ideals diametrically opposed to their practices?

You see, there is an overlap amongst the qualities that would make one support EFF and also work for CIA -- and that is patriotism and devotion to their country.

CIA for example looks for devoted and patriotic people more than they look for capable people. They figure they can teach whatever is needed as a special internal course but they can't teach patriotism. So for example they love to hire ex Marines, they are considered patriotic.

Now patriotism is a double edged sword. It works well if the government and agencies are honest and transparent. Patriotic people working in such systems might accept a lower pay but they know they are helping their country. When that start to go south and they start seeing shady things going on they have a choice:

1) Rationalize participating in un-patriotic things (illegal search for ex)

2) Fight against it by leaving the agency or

3) Fight against it by going public and exposing it

Most people probably end up choosing 1). Few choose 2) and only select individuals choose 3).

You are, of course, talking about US patriotism, which is quite exceptional. As the only country to enshrine actual Enlightenment ideals in its original, still-upheld Constitution, and with a population entirely made of immigrants from different countries and ethnicities (with apologies to Native Americans), US patriotism is one of the very few versions that can actually generate anti-nationalistic or universalistic views with a certain regularity.

In more conventional settings, standard patriotism is intrinsically nationalistic and often based on race, which makes things easier for operative agencies (so to speak). Here in Europe, "patriotism" could hardly ever be invoked as basis for subversive acts or whistleblowing in a security setting.

Uh, I think you're confusing "ideals" with "lawful behavior".

You can be a supporter of the EFF and believe that the work the NSA is doing is necessary and good for the country. I worked on Lawful Interception systems and I had no problem with their use as long as a COMPETENT COURT was the one regulating it.

This seems to be the critical component, to me. The intercepts must go through a competent court, which must create some form of public record that will eventually be released. There have to be enough judges to handle the load. And if the load is huge, for these intercepts we need to look at why that is, and ensure it's not just fishing.

On the other hand, maybe big data fishing is the most effective method.

So, David Simon (of The Wire/Treme fame) wrote this up:


I think he makes some good points.

Try hiring 10,000 good CNE people with support of the EFF as a red flag. Who works in this field and doesn't support the EFF?

You're aware US Intelligence is behind the development of Tor, right?

I don't think the NSA views itself as a facilitator for "turnkey tyranny", just yet. If you think you're fighting for freedom, then why wouldn't you hire people that feel the same?

Maybe this whole thing will help wake people across all levels of the CIA and the NSA, and there just might be some actual change.

I know, I'm dreaming. But clearly I'm not the only one.

Almost an inevitable consequence of growing too large. You have to start hiring people farther and farther from your core. If you want to spy on everyone, you need everyone's help. But if even a single person isn't willing, you risk the entire endeavor.

It's weird. On the one hand he makes them sound all-knowing. On the other hand they sound completely incompetent.

He makes the point that a chief purpose is, to repurpose a previously-ridiculous term, "backtracing." They are all-having, but that says nothing about what they currently know, which, as the existence of surveillance practices in recent history shows, didn't help with respect to e.g. the Boston Marathon bombers.

This is the nature of all corporate endeavour. The corporate style of organization is very good at certain things and very bad at others. It can't be compared to a human being. It's a different animal.

these are not mutually incompatible. Ever heard of idiot savants (I understand this is historically a derogatory term for autistic people).

I'm fairly sure they will now be screening for that in the future.

I predict they'll have a lot fewer hiring options.

> By the way, I don't know about anybody else, but for the first time I can think of, I'm seriously concerned about the consequences of posting support for somebody like this online.

It's telling, and terrifying, that this is a rational and common concern. Put plainly, it means we fear for the dissolution of our free society (yes, I believe we still live in one).

>I'm seriously concerned about the consequences...

Well, at the very least, don't bother sending your CV to Booz Allen Hamilton, Palantir, etc. Also, fuck these assholes. Seriously, is there anything worse than this?

How else to change a companies ethics and culture if not from the inside?

Really? They pay you to make money. Trying to change them just gets you bad performance reviews. Eventually fired or sidelined as a poor team player who doesn't understand the business.

I've never heard anything more naive than trying to change a corporation as a new hire, as a small cog in a giant machine.

Maybe those prosecutors should have just sent their resumes to Enron instead, and all pacifists should join the military.

You're assuming that it's possible.

Yes. Violating peoples privacy for greed and profit alone.

But that would exclude a lot more companies, many of which employ a lot of regular HN-users. Anything can be rationalized for a paycheck.

And although I've managed to steer clear so far, I'm not claiming to be any better.

I'm willing to state my support for him too - in fact, I view him as a hero. I'm just a boring guy surfing the Internet. I'm more concerned with the overall erosion of our privacy than this specific incident. I'm certainly not a terrorist or even an anarchist, but my own government is slowly turning my sentiment against the country in which I was born and raised.

Support is not a one way street. There were a lot of Americans who thought Martin Luther King Jr posed a serious threat to the US. In that case, the status quo today can be a bigger problem for you tomorrow.

Thoughtful people brave enough to blow whistles seem to be the greatest check on what looks like a secret, unaccountable, illegal centralization of power based on lies from the top of the government on down.

Especially so when you see the oversight committee receive a bald-faced lie, where the leader of the Intelligence agencies lies to the American people by extension, since this is the only public oversight these programs receive.


"By the way, I don't know about anybody else, but for the first time I can think of, I'm seriously concerned about the consequences of posting support for somebody like this online. I don't know how things will play out years down the road and who will do what with this information."

Welcome to the land of the freedom in witch people is afraid of speaking their mind!

Q: Washington-based foreign affairs analyst Steve Clemons said he overheard at the capital's Dulles airport four men discussing an intelligence conference they had just attended. Speaking about the leaks, one of them said, according to Clemons, that both the reporter and leaker should be "disappeared". How do you feel about that?

In Dulles UAL lounge listening to 4 US intel officials saying loudly leaker & reporter on #NSA stuff should be disappeared recorded a bit — Steve Clemons (@SCClemons) June 8, 2013

A: "Someone responded to the story said 'real spies do not speak like that'. Well, I am a spy and that is how they talk. Whenever we had a debate in the office on how to handle crimes, they do not defend due process – they defend decisive action. They say it is better to kick someone out of a plane than let these people have a day in court. It is an authoritarian mindset in general."

-From the written Q & A, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jun/09/nsa-whistleblowe...

The tweet by Steve Clemons- https://twitter.com/SCClemons/status/343392529913356289

How did he know they were "intel" officers? Were they wearing badges? Even if they were some of the thousands of people who who work for intelligence agencies, is there any reason to believe they would have any authority in this matter? Sounds like some guys talking shit at an airport. There's a lot of hysteria regarding this issue which is distracting from a real debate on the underlying issues.

Shop talk is indicative of a general mindset and attitude. "Spies" are not in the business of serving due process. That is the job of lawyers and judges. You would therefore expect that kind of attitude--"if we could, we should just disappear them."

Of course it's shit talk and it's not going to happen. That wasn't the point though. The point was about the attitude.

Intel officers are also not in the habit of "talking shop" in airport lounges... at least they shouldn't be. Even working in a non-classified capacity with a big consulting firm, one of the first things they warned every new employee was never talk about clients or work in public spaces.

The CIA did an extraordinary rendition in Italy a few years ago without telling the Italian government. A magistrate investigated and discovered the real names of a dozen or two CIA officers. That was easy because they gave their real names to the hotel and airlines so that they could collect points and miles. Their real names. This is the quality of CIA tradecraft.

If the CIA is filled with officers who give out their real names to every corporate chain that asks nicely, do you really think they're smart enough to keep their mouth shut in public?

Hollywood has a bit to answer for here. They give us things like James Bond and Jason Bourne but in reality the people who work in places like CIA are mostly the same kind of muppets who make up the bulk of every other profession.

Eh, there could be good reason for that. Using a fake identity could arouse suspicion, even if it is advantageous once the rendition is discovered.

These are CIA officers, engaged in a major crime. They have non-official cover identities that are supposed to be used for operations. What possible reason would justify using your real identity when committing serious crimes rather than your agency provided non-official cover identity? Do you think the CIA doesn't know how to make decent cover identities by now? That they're so bad at it that United Airlines or Hilton Hotels will be able to see through them?

Following the lead of corporate America, the CIA has largely given up on having Americans do actual work. CIA agents are managers, and they source local people to do the dirty work. If there's one thing professional managers love more than meetings and power point, it's travel rewards points. As a fan of spy novels and movies, it's a bit sad to think about how in real life, national security could be compromised by an enemy agent offering platinum upgrades.

From their perspective they're not "talking shop", they're just discussing current affairs. Their position as intel people is incidental to the matter, as they presumably don't work in that area.

They were commenting on public events. Not clients or work.

A fascinating interview with the NSA whistleblower, which ends with a chilling prediction of where the logic of manifest destiny and exceptionalism will lead the United States:

There will be a time where policies will change, because the only thing which restricts the activites of the surveillance state are policy, even our agreements with other sovereign governments; we consider that to be a stipulation of policy, rather than a stipulation of law. And because of that, a new leader will be elected, they'll flip the switch, say that because of the crisis, because of the dangers that we face in the world, some new and unpredicted threat, we need more authority, we need more power, and there will be nothing the people can do at that point to oppose it. It will be turnkey tyranny.

- Edward Snowden

Some strong allegations here - that anyone is fair game for surveillance by the NSA, and that there is indiscriminate tapping of communications. Also some strong justifications for blowing the whistle on these activities.

A hero for our times.

Indeed. Snowden's decision, assuming we're getting the whole story, is what I call a true "Patriot Act."

and there will be nothing the people can do at that point to oppose it. It will be turnkey tyranny.

you hit the key point. You don't need to be much of a student of history to know that at some point there's going to be someone who's all to willing to abuse these powers.

He did something I'd honestly never have the courage to do if I were in his position. He knows he will certainly pay for his action the rest of his life but despite that he did it.

I'm not easily emotional but reading this article I had some heart bumps and wanted to cry. I'm speechless.

Thank You Edward Snowden for your act of heroism, the present will certainly condemn you but the history will certainly remind with honor people like you who made progress our currently deficient democracies.

the present will certainly condamn you

I think that's really down to us, don't you? The US Government will certainly condemn his actions, but I doubt many of the public will.

I would be shocked if information didn't come out about him that will "discredit" him. More over, I am sure there are laws that if don't flat out make leaks like this a crime, there are laws that can be interpreted in a way as to make a credible enough case against him. That would tie him up in court for years.

What would they discover that wouldn't have disqualified him from holding the security clearance he did? They would have to assert that their screening procedures are deeply flawed.

Either evidence that has come to light only now the guy's face and name are in the news -OR- fabricated evidence made to look like that.

e.g. the police weren't able to find the coked-up hit-and-run driver who crippled my adorable child but I'd recognize his face anywhere, and that guy on TV is him for sure.

The smears are yet to come, which may be the dominant source of information "the public" receives on the topic.

Come on. Within six months, we're going to find out he raped someone or molested a child and needs to be extradited. Then people on this site are going to say "you're a bunch of conspiracy theorists. He raped that lady/kid and he needs to do the adult thing and go back to the US to face his charges. What is he so afraid of?". Watch it happen.

>"I understand that I will be made to suffer for my actions," but "I will be satisfied if the federation of secret law, unequal pardon and irresistible executive powers that rule the world that I love are revealed even for an instant."

Exemplary. I am glad that men like he exist, bur I am genuinely fearful for his safety. Look what happened to Bradley Manning.

I think it was a good thing that he revealed his identity so as to speak with authority and be representative of the current events.

But I also believe it was done too early and too carelessly - the government now knows exactly where to look for the leak and prosecute him to the fullest extent of the law.

He would have to do that to protect himself. Nobody is going to take it seriously when they discover child porn on his computer, or he turns out to be a russian spy and he isn't going to rot in gitmo (or worse, the secret prisions we don't even know about but which most certainly exist somewhere, probably either in som eastern european country or in the middle-east). They will have to try him in the US, and they would have serious problems on their hands if they treat him like Bradley Mannning.

The "law" is standing on very weak foundation right now. It is those that enforce these laws who should be tried, not Edward Snowden.

> I think it was a good thing that he revealed his identity so as to speak with authority and be representative of the current events.

I disagree. We have the technology to allow people to speak with authority and be representative with the protection of anonymacy (or pseudonimity). I find his courage admirable, but I still think it is a bit of a waste.

Words escape. The brilliant aspect to this is asymmetrical release of information. Keep this in the top news cycle as long as possible it seems. Think about what is going on at the White House and NSA right now. They've got to be thinking, "Shit, what are they going to release in the next 6 hours || 12 hours || tomorrow?" Everything they say in public will be cast against what is released in the future. F'ing Brilliant.

"Everything they say can, and will be used against them". I just hope they make a lot of mistakes and lie a lot in the media before they realize that, and by the time this is over their credibility will be zero, and someone gets impeached (from the FISA judges to the intelligence committee, and even the president).

By the way, I suggest you watch this guy's speech. It's pretty powerful, especially if you're an American:


I can only hope that's how all Americans are feeling right now, because that's needed if things are going to change.

I hope there is a steady stream of information to last months that becomes increasingly more damning, until not only the US public but governments all over the World start legislating against the use of any services and software produced by the US technology industry. I say this as a software developer in Silicon Valley. It is only when this escalates to the point of causing us specific and measurable economic harm that people will actually fight back against it.

Hopefully, both Snowden and Greenwald have put several dead man's switches into effect to ensure the continued leaking of information regardless of whatever attempts the intelligence community make against their lives or credibility.

I'm hoping that future leaked information includes accounts of wiretapping judges, economic espionage and wiretapping of legitimate pacifist activist groups. i.e. enough information to completely destroy the argument that this system is about catching terrorists.

Totally agreed. Greenwald has done a very good job of keeping this story "top of mind" as best he can. Hopefully there is more to come from his camp.

I would say that hopefully there isn't more to reveal, from his point of view or anybody elses, but I do suspect you are, unfortunately, right.

He said he had access to other information. He didn't copy it. No way to know if that's correct. But the CIA is not gonna believe him so their next step is finding out what else Edward has. My guess is he has more and at least one other person is involved as a backup.

So what's next ?

The CIA will want to have a word with him before they decide what their next move will be because he's holding the cards and they don't know what they look like.

White House Petition to Pardon Edward Snowden: https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/pardon-edward-snow...

To anyone with doubts about going on-record about your support for Edward Snowden: This is precisely why you MUST sign it. Your nervousness in expressing an opinion different from your government's will only compound if a true surveillance state matures.

Let's stand up quickly for this hero before it's too late.

Your nervousness is NOTHING compared to what he felt while deciding whether or not to release this. Share his burden.

I want to see this get lots of votes, just so the White House has to write a response. Even though I know what they will say...

They never responded to the Aaron Swartz petition and it reached twice the required signatures to "guarantee" a response.

I looked up a few and it looks like they have no problem ignoring petitions that pass the response threshold :(

They often take a while to respond, so I wouldn't rule it out yet.


Here, I'll do it for you: "We can't comment on ongoing investigations."

Just as I was about to sign the petition (I've only signed 1 other one before to revoke the Westboro Baptist Church, lol)....I plan to run a "successful," startup someday soon, do you think it's safe to sign a petition (esp when I don't believe Aaron Swartz's demise was self-inflicted).

I plan to run a startup too, and frankly having to wonder whether some types of pro-civil-liberties speech are "safe" is a good indicator of how far off the track the USA has gone.

It's a White House petition on their official website. They want people to sign these petitions and interact with the site.

Grow some balls.

I'm not scared at all....just that I need to live for my kids :/

"I carefully evaluated every single document I disclosed to ensure that each was legitimately in the public interest," he said. "There are all sorts of documents that would have made a big impact that I didn't turn over, because harming people isn't my goal. Transparency is."

This seems commendable.

Certainly better than Bradley Manning's approach of indiscriminate mass disclosure.

Indeed. I was amazed that The Guardian would characterize Manning as a "whistleblower". Manning broke OPSEC and fed a lot of good people into the meat grinder, rather than show why the policies might be a bad idea.

I agree. Manning's case is totally different.

Indeed, this was exactly why I tipped my hat to him when the leak was first made public here, as it was almost the polar opposite of what Manning did. Perhaps Snowden's "careful evaluation" will finally drive the point home here on HN (one can hope) that such leaks should themselves be carefully evaluated.

But I'm even more impressed he's unveiled himself, which takes incredible bravery even if you assume every protection of due process is available to you.

I have colleagues in the defense industry. There are many people who are aren't 100% on board with the ethics of their work but they do it because it is a well paying job. So, while the culture isn't entirely subservient to "orders", nobody really rocks the boat either. I am glad that Edward has the incredible courage that he has displayed!

Their bellies are full, but their spirit's empty. This is the state of our society.

``He has had "a very comfortable life" that included a salary of roughly $200,000, a girlfriend with whom he shared a home in Hawaii, a stable career, and a family he loves. "I'm willing to sacrifice all of that because 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."``

Shame on us if we don't act and let this man's sacrifice go to waste.

What you propose to do?

First the people need to be made aware about how serious this is and why their privacy matters. Then, people will have to get on the streets for demonstrations and overwhelm their representatives with emails and phone calls asking to do something about it. Similar to how SOPA/PIPA protests were carried out.

Bravo Edward, and yet very little is said about PRISM at all. When will we finally get to the bottom of what PRISM actually is? When will the public get access to the entire set of slides? How much exactly did Edward know about PRISM, or did he just stumble onto these slides and assume the worst?

So many questions, so few answers. Hopefully the coming weeks sheds more light onto this.

> When will we finally get to the bottom of what PRISM actually is?

Is there any particular reason why you don't believe the fact sheet from the Director of National Intelligence[1] or Marc Ambinder[2]?

According to these sources (selected excerpts):

> PRISM is not an undisclosed collection or data mining program.

> PRISM is a kick-ass GUI that allows an analyst to look at, collate, monitor, and cross-check different data types provided to the NSA from internet companies located inside the United States.

> All such information is obtained with FISA Court approval and with the knowledge of the provider based upon a written directive from the Attorney General and the Director of National Intelligence.

1. https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B8dPmI7DfkxMejNyazZYMl93dlk/...

2. http://theweek.com/article/index/245360/solving-the-mystery-...

I don't believe the DNI because of his testimony to Congress in February claiming that the National Security Agency does not “wittingly” collect data on millions of Americans. We now know they've been collecting data for tens of millions of Verizon, AT&T, and Sprint/Nextel customers since 2006.

More recently he also claimed that PRISM wasn't a previous-disclosed data collection program. It hadn't been previously disclosed before; and it is collecting data.

So, let me turn this around. Is there any particular reason why you do believe him?

Marc Ambinder's article, by contrast, is quite believable. But going beyond the quote you pulled, he also has lists quite a few open questions about PRISM collecting data on US persons. So it seems to me that we're still a long way from the bottom.

> More recently he also claimed that PRISM wasn't a previous-disclosed data collection program. It hadn't been previously disclosed before; and it is collecting data.

The grammar here is slightly confusing. Do you believe PRISM is collecting data in a previously undisclosed way? If so, why?

PRISM had not been previously disclosed. PRISM is collecting data.

For now (until it's replaced by hits from blogs), you can Google for "Planning Tool for Resource Integration, Synchronization, and Management", and you'll get plenty of hits describing intelligence job positions and PDFs with descriptions like "PRISM: A web-based application that provides users, at the theater level and below, with the ability to conduct Integrated Collection Management (ICM). Integrates all intelligence discipline assets with all theater requirements."

...and the FISA Court makes the blanket orders allowing the security organizations to have billions of collections in the U.S, see the output of the program made by NSA:


It is all "legal" in a sense that there are court orders, but there are no real checks as the orders are blanket ones.

Moreover, to read your mail older than 180 days from any provider according to the current laws they don't need any order at all to do it legally:


Are you sure you're not conflating various types of SIGINTs here? We're discussing PRISM specifically. The article you linked does not even mention PRISM.

Neither I nor you can be 100% sure what's going on (unless you are one of the guys "inside," heh) but I think it's good that now people start to care if the executive organizations are giving themselves unchecked powers.

Let's see if "it's legal" as said by those you quote simply means "we don't need to ask anybody for permission" and "every three months we get from our court the permission to do anything." The fact is that they use such arguments, let's see the extent of it. The recent news seem to suggest that it's bigger that it was known up to now.

No, I do not believe him. He's lied before and committed perjury. Why should I believe him now?

No reason, but PRISM as explained in #1 doesn't seem like that big of a deal, or at least, not that much more shocking then what we already knew.

As far as I can see, this debacle is entirely the fault of one journalist at The Washington Post, and the people who believed his interpretation of some aspects of some PowerPoint slides. A lot of hot air was also generated by people who had forgotten about interception facilities like Room 641A, and thought it was news.


Previous instances of abuse don't legitimise abuse.

A lot of info is out there if you can sift through the breathless hyperbole: http://m.theweek.com/article.php?id=245360

I'm not American but from where I sit this guy represents bravery of the highest order and the tenacity(sp?) of the American spirit. I'd be extremely proud to associated with him. He represents what we -the rest of the world- most value about America, freedom of speech, expression and calling out wrong damn the consequences.

WOW. Thank you Edward Snowden. You are a hero, that is to say, a rarely decent human being. Deep respect to you.

Seriously, Edward Snowden, China was your first choice to hide from the NSA?

Holy shit that was a bad choice for many reasons. I can't think of a worse place to go, other than Russia or Iran with respect to the intense desire of those nations to extract as many secrets about NSA capabilities as possible. These are the most secret of the secret capabilities of US intelligence. He even boasted that he knows many more secrets that he himself took care to censor unlike Bradley Manning. I think China will be very interested in hearing those redacted snippets.

Secondly, if he ends up revealing sensitive information to these countries, any sympathy from the US population will turn into calls for frying him as a traitor. Going to China makes him into a Rosenberg.

This guy doesn't seem very smart at all. And using pillow cases and shields over screens to stop the NSA? You're telling me this guy doesn't know what TEMPEST is? Didn't he see Gene Hackman in Enemy of the State? You need a Faraday Cage.

It seems a reasonable choice to me. It's a technologically developed country which is unlikely to extradite him to the United States. His previous position at the NSA makes it unlikely he's stupid, and without knowing his reasoning for his choice, one might at least give him the benefit of the doubt.

Think of it this way.....if China tries to grab him, the US will suddenly offer him immunity to come back home. He's put both countries in a very interesting position.

I'm surprised he didn't go directly to Iceland, since that is his ultimate destination, it's neutral and it's possible that the government there would have offered him some safety.

If he is in Beijing, I agree. Hong Hong is quite it's own place.

If the CIA can snatch and grab people from Italy, I'm pretty sure Chinese intelligence agencies can snatch people from Hong Kong hotels living under their own name.

They'll come get him in Hong Kong. I meant the Chinese.

His public disclosure makes that exceedingly unlikely. At this point, China would rather let Obama reap the shitstorm alone.

Exactly, China doing nothing is a free PR win for them because they look tolerant while the US is clearly attempting to close down discussion.

I think he made one of the best choices he could but, as he says, he can't ensure his own safety anywhere really.

What China could hope to get in intelligence far outweighs PR. They laugh through PR controversies.

China has been engaged in massive cyber espionage themselves. Everyone knows it, but no one can prove it beyond a shadow of a doubt, so they keep denying it, and nothing of consequence happens.

They could whisk Snowden off to a secret interrogation site, and then blame the CIA and say the US government snatched him. Who is the media going to believe and who can prove otherwise?

He covers both of your concerns in the interview.

According to the article, he's in Hong Kong not China. They are two different places. and Hong Kong is actually a good place for him in such a situation.

  This guy doesn't seem very smart at all. And using pillow cases and shields over screens to stop the NSA?
I think someone like him, with his level of access to information, would have his reasons for choosing China.

I doubt he is really where he claims to be

It would be an interesting way to turn this into an international incident. I rather like it for that alone.

"I sitting at my desk certainly had the authorities to wiretap anyone from you or your accountant to a federal judge to even the president if I had a personal email"

"I had access to the full rosters of everyone working in the NSA, the entire intelligence community and undercover assets all around the world, the locations of every station, we have what their missions are"

Wow, is this guy for real? It sounds crazy.

erm he pointed out his level of access to illustrate that what he did wasn't to harm the US but to inform the people. He is saying look I could have done anything with the access I had, literally anything, but what I choose to do was take some specific info I felt would be relevant to the public and disclose it in a way that didnt put operatives at risk or put people in harms way. Its the whistle blower equivelant of "I have nuclear tech, and instead of building a bomb, I built a power plant".

But how could a 29-year-old sysadmin have access to all this. Isn't it crazy? It sounds crazy to me.

Who's going to have root access to the machines but the sysadmins?

Yeah I know ... for some reason I thought the NSA machines would somehow be ... more special than that, somehow.

Yeah that part made me shutter, why the hell would he bring that up? Is he trying to bait the US Gov somehow?

Do you honestly think his employers aren't aware of that fact? LISTEN to what he's trying to say: no one - not even POTUS - is safe from being spied on.

It does read like a shot across the bow.

This isn't particularly important, but I found it curious..

> "I don't see myself as a hero," he said, "because what I'm doing is self-interested: I don't want to live in a world where there's no privacy and therefore no room for intellectual exploration and creativity."

It's not self-interested in that way, really - had he chosen to be anonymous (and never been found out) then that logic could work, but with where his life is now, surely what the NSA does in America will pretty much never be relevant to him personally ever again. And he must realise this himself, so I wonder why he used those words - I guess modesty (or perhaps false modesty), but would have thought he could have come up with a better way of being modest.

Maybe his motive was fame, maybe it was doing the right thing, hell maybe he was depressed and looking for some excitement in his life. Doesn't really matter to anyone except himself, and people should consider him a hero or not based on whether they agree with what he did, not why he did it.

And I'd certainly call him a hero.

Wouldn't outing himself reduce the probability of being assassinated by those he exposed? I'd guess he's safer with the eyes of the world on him.

Sorry I wasn't clear, when I talked about motive I meant for leaking the information, not for outing himself. (Though obviously, some motives for the leak would require the publicity.)

As to reasons for outing himself, if he didn't want fame, etc., then even assuming no assassination, if he were discovered and prosecuted the right way (by which I mean, by the law, not right as in I think he should be prosecuted), then chances are that by speaking to the media first (which he sure wouldn't be allowed to do after being caught) he has a better chance of getting the public to support him.

How likely is it he really is in HK, and not in some remote village in Thailand? I'd prefer the latter, but tell the former. If he actually is in HK, China might even offer him asylum and twist this in a huge propaganda victory.

Wasn't one of the PirateBay guys hiding in some godforsaken village, and one day he was quickly sold to Sweden by the local (not exactly champions-of-democracy) authorities?

HK is a strange land, but it's not lawless and has enough political peculiarities to be a good bet -- maybe not as good as Iceland (I don't understand why he didn't he go there in the first place, tbh) but one of the best. It certainly beats a windowless room in an Ecuadorean embassy.

I was surprised he didn't do this interview from Iceland... I don't think he is going to find a non-stop flight from Hong Kong to Reykjavik without it being privately chartered...

I'm not sure Chine can use it for propaganda, I think there's no question if Chinese government records everyone's phone conversations.

Well of course they do, but it gives them a propaganda opportunity to appear as champions of free speech, "unlike the Americans who spy on their citizens". He would not accept asylum in China anyway.

If he is actually in HK, he might be more of an inexperienced and naive idealist than anything else. Traveling to a territory with US extradition treaty and under Chinese control seems very unwise.

China is one of the very few countries that has enough power, especially over the US, to be able not to cooperate if they don't want to and it is reasonable to expect that they might not.

Furthermore Hong Kong specifially is somewhat independent from China when it comes to oppression.

I also wouldn't be surprised, if a NSA analyst with that clearance level travelling to Iceland would raise a couple of red flags.

Actually it's probably not a bad move. China is one of the few countries in the world that would conceivably refuse to extradite him and protect him from retaliation.

I think it's telling that Hong Kong is not in any way, shape, or form on the way from Hawaii to Iceland.

Pretty sure the Chinese would want to know everything he does in exchange for that.


If I was him, I'd move to Iceland.

Truly, he deserves a Balls Of Steel award. I hope that that what is remaining of democracy in the US will be strengthened by his sacrifice.

Time for the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate to strengthen international diplomacy and increase cooperation between peoples.

Thorbjorn Jagland, said that members this year took a more practical approach in their unanimous vote for President Obama.

“It’s important for the committee to recognize people who are struggling and idealistic,” Mr. Jagland said in an interview after the prize was announced, “but we cannot do that every year. We must from time to time go into the realm of realpolitik. It is always a mix of idealism and realpolitik that can change the world.”

But Mr. Jagland seemed to savor the risk. He said no one could deny that “the international climate” had suddenly improved, and that Mr. Obama was the main reason.

Of the president’s future, he said: “There is great potential. But it depends on how the other political leaders respond. If they respond negatively, one might have to say he failed. But at least we want to embrace the message that he stands for.”


He's not gonna get the Nobel Peace Prize. Liu Xiaobo can get the prize because pissing off China is not controversial, but the Norwegians wouldn't do the same to the US.

I'm referring to the winner from 2009.

Not sure why you weren't specific in your first comment, and then when it became clear you had been confusing, you still didn't bother to name him in your second comment. Apologies if you didn't intend it this way, but just seems like you're being purposefully awkward.

Because "strengthen international diplomacy and increase cooperation between peoples" is exactly what President Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize for in 2009.

But clearly not everyone is going to know that. And your second comment, you were clearly talking to people who didn't know it, yet still wrote something that would cause those same people to have to google who that was.

>yet still wrote something that would cause those same people to have to google who that was.

I don't see this as a negative thing.

This guy is a hero for doing the right thing. Hopefully the NSA ranks will find a lot more heros amongst their number in the future, it's one way in which those that are the hands and brains behind these programs can redeem themselves.

Unfortunately, with every Manning or Snowden that does their job there is one more person to be made an example out of to show future wanna-be whistle blowers what happens when you embarrass your three-lettered employer like this.

I wish Edward Snowden a lot of good luck in the near future, and I wished he'd chosen Iceland instead of Hong-Kong as his place to hang out.

It's quite baffling that a low-level IT contractor is given this much access and also is making $200,000/year. Why is so much of government farmed out to contractors?

Also, isn't there a large risk that someone at the bottom of the chain grossly misunderstands the materials he is leaking?

Interesting fact, the low-level people in an intelligence org tend to have the broadest access. It is the high-level people that are put in compartmentalized verticals and plausible deniability (one of the latter DIRNSAs used to be famous for trying to know as little operational details as possible).

IT needs to have access to all systems to install patches and such, strategic decision makers just have access to need-to-know.

The KGB would always try to recruit people that ran the copy room and mail room. Now IT is probably the biggest target.

Also ostensibly the people on the bottom are the easiest to recruit: disaffected, least paid (at least before 200k/yr salaries), perhaps uncommitted to mission or easy to mislead.

I don't understand why a low level IT person needs so much access though beyond a need to fix systems - there's no audit control on who is accessing these systems?

200k/yr isn't that high for an IT person with a serious classification. A decent TS/SCI sys admin can be make +300k working for companies that want secret government contracts. It does make them more difficult to bribe though.

There was no real access and audit control with Bradley Manning, just unprotected SAMBA shares that contained sensitive data but not Secret data. Top Secret systems do tend to have an audit trail (I think it is required along with encryption) but I would expect that such systems can be accessed at a lower level by IT. For instance pulling a backup drive and associated keys to recover lost data from a "malfunctioning server". IT often has to work at a level below the level that you places security safe guards at. I'd bet 1000 dollars that the foreign intelligence agencies have friendly IT workers at the NSA that give them full spectrum access.

tl;dr Either you have IT that can do their job or you have systems which are secure against IT, you can't have both.

300k? Is the clearance that hard to get? Or is it just a sign of how flush the contractors are?

Its not that hard to get (>1 million US citizens have TS), but not all clearances of the same name are treated the same by three letter agencies. The NSA does not, by default accept, a clearance that you received elsewhere. The biggest cost to getting a clearance is time, energy and risk. The easiest path to a respectable TS/SCI is to join a TLA, pass all your background checks, pass all your lie detector tests, work there for a few years making sure not to do anything that could get your clearance taken away and then switch to the private sector. During that time you work at TLA you get moved to a project that uses technology that has little to no value in the private sector making it more difficult to make the switch.

Disclaimer: I know this stuff from reading books and informal chats with people at tech companies, please apply salt to taste.

You can't do much sensitive stuff without systems administrators knowing the secrets, unless you want to do the actual work by yourself.

To have access to all the stuff he has, he must have top-secret classification and he might be be part of few Special access programs (SAP). Having already classification and begin part of relevant SAP's when working in CIA/NSA might make him very valuable for private companies.

If the US government reads IT workers into the SAP programs then we really are doomed.

For now I'll stick with Occum's Razor - the guy had no idea what he was looking at and assumed the worst.

Many SAP programs are very technical in nature. For example, technicians working with GPS satellites, nukes or IT infrastructure may need access to compartmented information.

My first reaction at how public he is making his identity and why he disclosed those documents was that he is seeking fame and flattery. But it's actually the best thing to do.

By making sure the public knows who he is, where he is, and what he stands for Edward Snowden has (hopefully) protected himself from the more nefarious things American intelligence services may do to capture him by making them impractical for the sake of public relations. China would no doubt be upset if CIA agents nabbed him from a Hong Kong hotel. Plus, his fame gives an incentive to nations to give him political asylum if they want to make a political statement against the U.S.

When I was a kid Russians from the CCCP wanted to defect to the USA... Now we have American Edward Snoden seeking asylum outside the USA for trying to bulk up the 4th amendment of the US constitution:

"...My predisposition is to seek asylum in a country with shared values. The nation that most encompasses this is Iceland. They stood up for people over internet freedom. I have no idea what my future is going to be. ..."


I'm kind of surprised he's 29. Generally, whistleblowers tend to be very young (and idealistic), or middle aged/old (with money problems, or facing political setbacks, or feeling they have nothing to lose).

I personally am against granting TS clearances to anyone under ~30 and S to anyone under ~25 due to the difficulty in doing background investigations on people of young age (illegal to bring in stuff before 18, and it's really hard to get useful information on pre-workforce people, both lots of false positives and false negatives).

I would have suspected someone like Binney (older, political setbacks) or someone much younger (PFC Manning).

...which makes me wonder if the actual reality isn't worse than I'd assumed, with actual widespread abuses and not just theoretical abuses.

From the video, it sounds like he was just ground-down by the cavalier attitude of the people around him towards the citizens whose privacy they were entrusted with. Eventually he couldn't reconcile that anymore with his internal moral compass, and so he leaked it and figured "let the American people decide". I don't get the sense of personal insecurity from him that you assume with many other people who blow the whistle.

Maybe. I personally would never leak something I gained through employment to the public; if I had been in his position and felt it was truly worth leaking/sacrificing my career and freedom, I would have gone to NSA/DOD IG, Congress, or a federal judge. (at a private company, to CEO/CFO/board or regulators/police) There isn't much which would make me leak to the public but not take up arms (I mean, if somehow time traveling Nazis took over, I can't see just leaking info and not killing them.)

I am glad his disclosures seemed at least somewhat contained, unlike PFC Manning.

"I would have gone to NSA/DOD IG, Congress, or a federal judge"

He might as well have destroyed all the incriminating data and admitted himself to Guantanamo of his own accord for all the good that would do.

I'll be honest, I got a little teary-eyed while watching the video and feel sense of immediate call-to-action driven by responsibility to not let his actions go to waste. I'm thinking about what can be done by a Canadian like myself. Other than support for the EFF and such, there must be a more local way for us, the citizens of our respective countries to not let his actions to have been done in vain.

I have an extreme amount of respect for this guy.

Yesterday I made a snarky comment about how nobody believes this whistleblower will lead a long and untroubled life, and while that's true it's not the point. This guy is a hero in my book for doing this, and I am very happy to see he seems like a very balanced and normal person.

Neither NBC News or CNN is showing this on their front page. Odd.

And at the time of writing, this is the biggest story on the NYT home page:

Theme Parks Let In the V.I.P.’s http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/10/business/at-universal-park...

A Story about the price of tickets at theme parks.

CNN put up a 4-paragraph softball piece [1]. Edit: CNN added to its reporting.

You're right about NBC. Their current headline:

>Game of spoilers: Did Twitter kill DVRs?

Which is a piece expressing some TV viewers' outrage that tweets spoiled an episode of Game of Thrones for them.

[1] - http://www.cnn.com/2013/06/09/politics/nsa-leak-identity/ind...

It isn't prominent, but CNN has a link to the story on their front page.

NBC just seems to not have a lot of up to the minute content there (I would be pretty surprised if they do not cover it).

It's on CNN now.

After watching the video, I am reminded of this quote from Gandhi:

Men of stainless character will easily inspire confidence and automatically purify the atmosphere around them.

All things aside, the naivety to think that China (and yes, I recognize Hong Kong is not exactly China, but it is damn well under the jurisdiction of the PRC) is where free speech is going to be defended? That's a guy who sounds like he will be a propaganda coup for someone.

With the exception of Russia, I would guess that China is the least likely nation to be coerced into extraditing him. If he is indeed in Hong Kong...

Now this will be the test for the "I have nothing to hide" philosophy.

a) Everything is legal and backed by the population, then the NSA didn't have anything to hide.

b) The NSAs concedes that some people and organizations have a legitimate interest in some privacy.

It's very brave of him to give up anonymity, but I think he's effectively committed suicide. I will not be surprised if someone comes forward to accuse him of rape, or he's bundled into the back of a plane and taken somewhere unpleasant, or gets killed in a convenient accident.

I don't get why he did it either. Gave it up that is. Depending on how many people had access to that cross section of docs - and considering how ineffective companies and govs usually are at segmenting info I imagine that's quite broad - he could reasonably have hoped to avoid retaliation.

Good thing that he came forward before he miraculously 'disappears' or is otherwise arrested of some irrelevant crime. Unlike the Assange or Manning cases however, this guy uncovered an actual abuse of power, so it's hard for people not to sympathize with him and hopefully he won't be prosecuted ruthlessly. If on the other hand the US (and allies) begin a new crusade against him, it is literally a case of a government fighting its own people. Leadership needs to be accountable and that cannot happen without whistleblowers.

We must do whatever we can to help Ed Snowden and others who can no longer turn a blind eye to the immoral and unethical machinations of government business as usual. I encourage everyone to do their best in persuading others not to work for the government, and companies that as Jake Applebaum put it, are oppressors of the people. If the government devolves into full tyranny, its politicians and employees will turn against the people, in the name of "following orders" and "for the good of the country."

What's needed are successful, principled people like those reading HN to get involved, and start mounting campaigns to ultimately defeat people in Congress that egregiously curtail our freedoms and liberties. They must be idealistic, rational, vocal, and be prepared to mount a vigorous fight and debate to stop these violations. The politicians are easy to identify, as they advocate perpetual increases in national security at any cost, for the sake of "keeping us safe." The hacker community would back you. I would.

Elon Musk has said many times that the people respond best to precedents and superlatives. It's up to us to effect change and talk about it as much as possible, with friends, in our blogs, and our websites. People are receptive to successful people, because they've shown that they can achieve and better themselves.

We need a philosophical and cultural revolution in awareness, purpose, and identity. How can it be done?

We must use our power as citizens and right these wrongs.

* Secondly, the election of Barack Obama in 2008 gave him hope that there would be real reforms, rendering disclosures unnecessary.*

This is so sad. People really do believe what windbag politicians tell them on TV and what paid talking heads on the same TV tell about them. It's not like every single politician being elected promises to right all wrongs and fix all evils. I can't even begin to get why seemingly intelligent people thought this particular time is any different from hundreds of times before.

Hong Kong as his safe harbor from the U.S. government. I wonder what Kim Dotcom would say about that.

Kim Dotcom's company was registered in Hong Kong, but Kim and his office were in New Zealand.

Yes and the raid of his company illustrates the high level of cooperation between HK and U.S. law enforcement, and that was only over movie downloads.

There is a difference. China isn't too interested in a trade war over copyright infringement, but it is also an up-and comming world power, so they might decide that the propaganda win is big enough that they are going to keep him.

Very brave kid. I hope he will not be tortured and imprisoned.

I'm extremely pleased he's so well spoken. Good luck, Edward Snowden.

The best near-term result from this would be to end the reliance of NSA/IC/DOD/USG on private contractors and vendors of anything but the most COTS of COTS products. End the contractor gravy train. No services. All inherently governmental functions to be performed solely by current government employees, at defense, law enforcement, or civil service wages.

The overt purpose is to prevent leaks.

The actual purpose is to remove the profit motive from expanding the military industrial complex. This will both dramatically reduce the scope and reduce the capabilities of the military and intelligence communities, so they will have to focus on real threats with their remaining resources.

You also won't get anyone good to do anything they don't truly believe in for a GS-11 to GS-13 salary, whereas plenty of good people will do mildly evil or at least banal stuff for $250k/yr contractor salaries.

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