Edward Snowden: how the spy story of the age leaked out

The full story behind the scoop and why the whistleblower approached the Guardian – Watch the video, 12.35 min, published on The Guardian, by Ewen MacAskill in Hong Kong, June 12, 2013.

As he pulled a small black suitcase and carried a selection of laptop bags over his shoulders, no one would have paid much attention to Ed Snowden as he arrived at Hong Kong International Airport. But Snowden was not your average tourist or businessman. In all, he was carrying four computers that enabled him to gain access to some of the US government’s most highly-classified secrets. 

Today, just over three weeks later, he is the world’s most famous spy, whistleblower and fugitive, responsible for the biggest intelligence breach in recent US history. News organisations around the globe have described him as “America’s Most Wanted”. Members of Congress have denounced him as a “defector” whose actions amount to treason and have demanded he be punished to the fullest extent of the law.

His supporters argue that his actions have opened up a much-needed debate on the balance between security and privacy in the modern world.

So is he whistleblower or traitor? That debate is still raging.

Snowden, aged 29, had flown to Hong Kong from Hawaii, where he had been working for the defence contractor Booz Allen Hamilton at the National Security Agency, the biggest spy surveillance organisation in the world. Since Monday morning, he has gone underground. Hong Kong-based journalists, joined by the international press, have been hunting for him. At the height of the search, reporters recruited Twitter followers to see if they could successfully identify the lighting and other hotel furnishings shown in the video in which he went public. They did: the $330-a-night Mira Hotel, on Nathan Road, the busy main shopping drag in Kowloon district.

Knowing it was only a matter of time before he was found, Snowden checked out at lunchtime on Monday. It is thought he is now in a safe house.

What happens now? The US is on the verge of pressing criminal charges against him and that would lead to extradition proceedings, with a view to bringing him back to the US for trial and eventually jail.

If America is planning to jail for life Bradley Manning, who was behind the 2010 WikiLeaks release of tens of thousands of state department memos, what retribution lies in store for Snowden, who is guilty of leaking on a much bigger scale? The documents Manning released were merely “classified”. Snowden’s were not only “Top Secret”, but circulation was extremely limited … //

… On Sunday night, Snowden gave the last of what had been almost a week’s worth of interviews. It was his final night in that hotel room: the final night before his old life gave way to a new and uncertain one. He sat on his bed, arms folded, television news on without the sound, and spoke about the debate he had started, homing in on a comment Obama had made on Friday, in response to the leaks.

“You can’t have 100% security and then also have 100% privacy and zero inconvenience,” the president said. Society had to make choices, he added.

Snowden challenged this, saying the problem was that the Obama administration had denied society the chance to have that discussion. He disputed that there had to be a trade-off between security and privacy, describing the very idea of a trade-off as a fundamental assault on the US constitution.

In what were to be the last words of the interview, he quoted Benjamin Franklin: “Those who surrender freedom for security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one.”

Snowden recited it slowly. For him, it had a special resonance.

He has gone underground for now. But this saga is far from over.

(full text with many hyper-links).

Links:

Microsoft, Facebook release stats to reassure users on NSA surveillance, on Russia Today RT (with realted articles), June 15, 2013;

the page NSA leak fallout: LIVE UPDATES, on Russia Today RT, June 10 – 15, 2013 – with videos and pictures.

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