Edward Snowden’s only regret: ‘I would have come forward sooner’

24 Feb 2015

NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden’s only regret about exposing US cyber surveillance and turning fugitive is that he wishes he had come forward sooner, he said during a Reddit AMA last night.

Snowden is the former NSA contractor who lifted the lid on the heavy hand that the US NSA and its cohorts in the UK’s GCHQ and other allied nations had taken to surveillance.

This includes the PRISM programme to monitor the servers of Facebook, Apple, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo!, monitoring the mobile calls of international leaders including German Chancellor Angela Merkel to last week’s revelation that the NSA and GCHQ formed teams to hack SIM card manufacturers like Gemalto to access voice and data on mobile phones worldwide.

“Had I come forward a little sooner, these programs would have been a little less entrenched, and those abusing them would have felt a little less familiar with and accustomed to the exercise of those powers,” Snowden said during the Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) last night.

“This is something we see in almost every sector of government, not just in the national security space, but it’s very important:

“Once you grant the government some new power or authority, it becomes exponentially more difficult to roll it back. Regardless of how little value a program or power has been shown to have (such as the Section 215 dragnet interception of call records in the United States, which the government’s own investigation found never stopped a single imminent terrorist attack despite a decade of operation), once it’s a sunk cost, once dollars and reputations have been invested in it, it’s hard to peel that back.

“Don’t let it happen in your country,” he warned.

The elimination of privacy in the digital age

Many of Snowden’s revelations are still only slowly coming to light but it appears each one can be just as explosive as the previous one. For his troubles Snowden is now a fugitive hiding somewhere in Russia.

On Sunday Laura Poitras’ CitizenFour documentary Snowden’s efforts to shed light US cyber surveillance won the 2014 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in Hollywood last night.

It has also emerged that Oscar-winning director Oliver Stone is planning to release Snowden just in time for Christmas 2015. The title character will be played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt and the cast includes Timothy Olyphant, Rhys Ifans and Joely Richardson.

Also on the AMA was Poitras as well as the journalist Glenn Greenwald the Guardian journalist that Snowden trusted to make his revelations public.

Greenwald responded to a question about the most surprising revelations of all by pointing to the stated goals of the NSA.

“For me personally, the most shocking revelation was the overall one that the explicit goal of the NSA and its allies is captured by the slogan “collect it all” – meaning they want to convert the internet into a place of limitless, mass surveillance, which is another way of saying they literally want to eliminate privacy in the digital age.”

Poitras said that she also planned to release more footage from the time she met Snowden while he was on the run in Hong Kong.

“I also conducted a separate interview with Ed re: technical questions. The time constraints of a feature film made it impossible to include everything. I will release more.

“I also filmed incredible footage with Julian Assange/WikiLeaks that we realized in the edit room was a separate film.”

Responding to questions as to whether he may be working with Russian intelligence, Snowden emphasised he was not a spy and would not have taken the risk of initially running to Hong Kong if he was working for Russian intelligence.

“If I were a spy for the Russians, why the hell was I trapped in an airport for a month? I would have gotten a parade and a medal instead.

“The reality is I spent so long in that damn airport because I wouldn’t play ball and nobody knew what to do with me. I refused to cooperate with Russian intelligence in any way (see my testimony to EU Parliament on this one if you’re interested), and that hasn’t changed.

“At this point, I think the reason I get away with it is because of my public profile. What can they really do to me? If I show up with broken fingers, everybody will know what happened.”

Edward Snowden image via Shutterstock

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years