Former contractor with the National Security Agency, and famous whistleblower, Edward Snowden, recently spoke out in an interview with Wired Magazine. In addition to discussing how he first became involved with the NSA, Snowden also revealed what made him decide to bring light to the agency’s actions.
While there were many instances when Snowden considered “whistleblowing,” he finally chose to do so after hearing the Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, tell Congress that the NSA does “not wittingly” collect data on millions of American citizens.
While Clapper’s testimony to Congress struck Snowden as corrupt, he noted that his colleagues did not appear shocked. This made Snowden realize that he was getting too deep into an “evil” system.
Snowden compared the “Clapper event” to the story of “the boiling frog,” where “You get exposed to a little bit of evil, a little bit of rule-breaking, a little bit of dishonesty, a little bit of deceptiveness, a little bit of disservice to the public interest, and you can brush it off, you can come to justify it.”
However, justifying the dishonesty “creates a slippery slope that just increases over time, and by the time you’ve been in 15 years, 20 years, 25 years, you’ve seen it all and it doesn’t shock you,” said Snowden. “You see it as normal. And that’s the problem, that’s what the Clapper event was all about.”
Snowden pointed out that Clapper “saw deceiving the American people as what he does, as his job, as something completely ordinary.” Even when Clapper lied under oath, “he didn’t even get a slap on the wrist for it.”
Snowden concluded that the scenario of James Clapper, “says a lot about the system and a lot about our leaders.”
When Snowden made the choice to release the NSA documents, he did so knowing that consequences would follow. “It’s really hard to take that step,” said Snowden. “Not only do I believe in something, I believe in it enough that I’m willing to set my own life on fire and burn it to the ground.”
“If the government will not represent our interests, then the public will champion its own interests,” insisted Snowden. “And whistleblowing provides a traditional means to do so.”
When looking back on his decision to release the classified NSA documents, Snowden admitted that he was worried about what kind of reaction the public would have. “I thought it was likely that society collectively would just shrug and move on,” said Snowden.
Despite any apprehension Snowden might have had, the information he released caught the attention of both the public and the government. The existence of the program Prism, which allows government agencies to take information from companies such as Google and Microsoft, was one of Snowden’s largest revelations.
“It depends a lot on the polling question,” said Snowden. “If you ask simply about things like my decision to reveal Prism, 55 percent of Americans agree. Which is extraordinary given the fact that for a year the government has been saying I’m some kind of super villain.”
Although it has been over a year since Snowden released the first NSA documents, he maintained that the agency still hasn’t fixed their problems.
“They still have negligent auditing, they still have things going for a walk, and they have no idea where they’re coming from and they have no idea where they’re going,” said Snowden. “If that’s the case, how can we as the public trust the NSA with all of our information, with all of our private records, the permanent record of our lives?”
“The question for us is not what new story will come out next. The question is what are we going to do about it?”