When President Barack Obama announced last Friday that he'd ordered reforms to the National Security Agency's surveillance practices, the question for many Americans following the debate was: What does Edward Snowden think?
After all, the fugitive former NSA contractor's revelations were behind the reforms. Obama even name-checked Snowden, albeit in a back-handed way.
At the time, Snowden kept mum, with his associates promising a response this week. He made good on that today in a live online chat in which he answered questions posed via #AskSnowden on Twitter.
Supporters and critics alike submitted dozens - maybe hundreds - of questions about his motivations, the scope of government surveillance, his self-imposed exile in Russia and, of course, what his reaction was to the White House's pledge to restructure elements of the NSA.
Here are some excerpts:
@auerfeld #AskSnowden do you think it’s a shame that #Obama gave his #NSA speech before his Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board reported?
The timing of his speech seems particularly interesting, given that it was accompanied by so many claims that “these programs have not been abused.”
Even if we accept the NSA’s incredibly narrow definition of abuse, which is “someone actually broke the rules so badly we had to investigate them for it,” we’ve seen more instances of identified, intentional abuse than we have seen instances where this unconstitutional mass phone surveillance stopped any kind of terrorist plot at all — even something less than an attack.
To back that up with the government’s own numbers, according to the NSA Inspector General, we’ve seen at least 12 specific, intentional cases of “abuse” by the NSA...
@VilleThompson What do you think about Obama’s whistleblowing protection act? #AskSnowden
One of the things that has not been widely reported by journalists is that whistleblower protection laws in the US do not protect contractors in the national security arena. There are so many holes in the laws, the protections they afford are so weak, and the processes for reporting they provide are so ineffective that they appear to be intended to discourage reporting of even the clearest wrongdoing. If I had revealed what I knew about these unconstitutional but classified programs to Congress, they could have charged me with a felony. One only need to look at the case of Thomas Drake to see how the government doesn’t have a good history of handling legitimate reports of wrongdoing within the system...
My case clearly demonstrates the need for comprehensive whistleblower protection act reform. If we had had a real process in place, and reports of wrongdoing could be taken to real, independent arbiters rather than captured officials, I might not have had to sacrifice so much to do what at this point even the President seems to agree needed to be done.
Snowden also was asked under what conditions he'd agree to return to the United States (none, really, because he doesn't think he'd get a fair trial), what's the appropriate extent of the U.S. national security apparatus (some spying needed, but people should be able to make an online purchase, send an email or visit a website without worry), and whether encrypting emails can thwart government surveillance (yes, by combining endpoint security with transport security).
The live chat went well beyond its hour-long time slot. Apparently, Snowden is a night owl because it was after 1 a.m.in Moscow, where he's holed up in an undisclosed location to avoid three U.S. felony charges related to his disclosures. He's still answering questions even as I'm writing this post, with more pouring in by the second on #AskSnowden.
A personal favorite came from a parody Twitter account purporting to belong to the public relations department of the NSA: "What is your exact current location?"
As McClatchy White House reporter Anita Kumar reports, Americans have plenty of questions for the government, too, about the NSA reforms: Where will millions of phone records be stored? What protections will foreigners have? Which secret documents will be declassified? Days after the president's announcement, the details remain fuzzy, to say the least.
An analyst Anita interviewed summed it up:
“For every answer (Obama) gave, there are several new questions about how he plans to implement these changes,” said Elizabeth Goitein, a co-director of the Brennan Center for Justice’s Liberty and National Security Program. “Ultimately, the full effect of these reforms remains to be seen.”
One of the analysts Anita interviewed summed it up:“For every answer (Obama) gave, there are several new questions about how he plans to implement these changes,” said Elizabeth Goitein, a co-director of the Brennan Center for Justice’s Liberty and National Security Program. “Ultimately, the full effect of these reforms remains to be seen.”