Exiled, but Edward Snowden remains defiant
Exiled, but Edward Snowden remains defiant

Edward Snowden continues to live in Russian exile with little prospect of returning home to the United States. In a recent interview with Al Jazeera journalist Mehdi Hasan and whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, he spoke out about his past and plans for the future.

In 2013 Snowden exposed how the US, along with its many global partners, had developed the largest and most complex system of state surveillance in history. Snowden in 2006 began working in IT security for the CIA, and later for the defence contractor Booz Allen Hamilton with the National Security Agency (NSA). In time, he began to question the many surveillance systems he had access to. One in particular gave him “the authority to wiretap anyone, from you, or your accountant, to a federal judge, to even the president if I had a personal email”, he said.

Snowden was no radical, but came to see the state’s secretive operations as dangerous and undermining of democratic society and personal liberty. “I came from a federal family. And when you’re someone like me who grows up in the system believing everything the government says is likely to be true because ‘why would they possibly lie to us’ and you find more and more clear evidence that … the public [is] being misled … you have to think about how that would change your view, how would that change your personality, what would you do?”

Russia granted Snowden temporary asylum until August 2017. Despite being forced to live in exile he says he’s willing to return to the United States on the condition that he’ll be “guaranteed of a fair trial where I can put forth a public interest defence”.

Ellsberg, who was charged with espionage in 1971 for releasing the Pentagon Papers, which detailed the secret expansion of the Vietnam War and exposed the systematic lying of the Johnson administration, explained to Hasan that there is little likelihood of this.

The Obama administration has overseen an unprecedented attack on whistleblowers. Of the 10 people who have ever been charged under the 1917 Espionage Act, seven have been during Obama’s presidency and all have been working in either the US armed forces or intelligence.

“[Of] all the whistleblowers who’ve been tried under president Obama,” Ellsberg said, “none of them has had a fair trial. I did not have a fair trial and could not have had under the Espionage Act which did not permit me to even tell the jury ever why I had copied the Pentagon Papers”. The charges against Ellsberg were later dropped when the Nixon administration was found to have engaged in unlawful activities to discredit him.

On the question of Snowden’s return Ellsberg continued, “I don’t think he can ever come back to America, unless the law changes very significantly. I think the intelligence services will never forgive him for embarrassing them and curtailing their illegal activities”.

Snowden continues to speak out despite the US establishment baying for his blood. As he explained, when “the legality of the times are becoming more and more divorced from the morality of our daily lives … you ultimately have to make a choice about what do you have a greater commitment to – the law or to justice”.

The author can be contacted at michael.kandelaars@gmail.com using this public key if encryption is required.

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