Whistleblower: Edward Snowden, a 29-year-old former CIA technical assistant, revealed he had passed classified information on Prism to the media and then fled to Hong Kong

Whistleblower: Edward Snowden, a 29-year-old former CIA technical assistant, revealed he had passed classified information on Prism to the media and then fled to Hong Kong

 

America’s most wanted man has broken cover to reveal why he decided to leak documents from one of the world’s most notorious spy organisations.

Former CIA worker Edward Snowden fled the US to a Hong Kong hideaway after triggering shockwaves across the globe by handing over top-secret files from the US National Security Agency (NSA).

And hours after he unmasked himself as the whistleblower behind one of the most significant leaks in US history, politicians began lining up to demand his immediate extradition to be tried for his ‘treachery’.

The first call for Snowden’s prosecution came from Republican Peter King, the chairman of a House Homeland Security subcommittee and a member of the Intelligence Committee.

‘If Edward Snowden did in fact leak the NSA data as he claims, the United States government must prosecute him to the fullest extent of the law and begin extradition proceedings at the earliest date,’ King said in a written statement. ‘The United States must make it clear that no country should be granting this individual asylum. This is a matter of extraordinary consequence to American intelligence.’

Former U.S. Ambassador John Bolton told a US radio station he thinks Snowden is guilty of treason:

In a passionate tirade on WLS, Mr Bolton said: ‘Number one, this man is a liar. He took an oath to keep the secrets that were shared with him so he could do his job.

‘Number two, he lied because he thinks he’s smarter and has a higher morality than the rest of us… that he can see clearer than other 299-million 999-thousand 999 of us, and therefore he can do what he wants. I say that is the worst form of treason.’

The 29-year-old whistleblower, who earned £130,000 a year ($200,000), exposed chilling details of how the covert agency, based in Maryland, gathers private information from people around the world – including in Britain – using a programme called Prism.

Revealing why he blew the whistle he said: ‘I do not want to live in a world where everything I do and say is recorded. That is not something I am willing to support or live under.’

The Prism system gives officials easy access to data held by nine of the world’s top internet companies, including Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Skype.

Mr Snowden, who is currently hiding in Hong Kong, acted after becoming convinced the US government’s bid to harvest personal information from millions of individuals was a ‘threat to democracy’.

And he described how he fears he will be kidnapped and returned to America to face espionage charges and possible life in prison – or even murdered on Washington’s orders.

‘I do not expect to see home again,’ he said.

Mr Snowden could face decades in jail if he is extradited from Hong Kong, said Mark Zaid, a lawyer who represents whistleblowers. And Senator Peter King, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, called for Mr Snowden to be ‘extradited from Hong Kong immediately . . . and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law’. He added: ‘I believe the leaker has done extreme damage to the US and to our intelligence operations.’

Mr Snowden spoke to The Guardian and Washington Postnewspapers from a hotel room in Hong Kong where he is on the run after making one of the most significant leaks in US history – on a par with Wiki-Leaks whistleblower Bradley Manning.

He said he would ‘ask for asylum from any countries that believe in free speech and oppose the victimisation of global privacy’.

Mr Snowden had been working at the NSA for the past four years as an employee of defence contractor Booz Allen Hamilton after working for the CIA as a technical assistant, specialising in computer security. His role allowed him access to classified material.

And today Booz Allen branded his alleged actions ‘shocking’, promising to conduct a full investigation into the matter.

In a statement, the firm said: ‘Edward Snowden, 29, has been an employee of our firm for less than three months, assigned to a team in Hawaii.

‘News reports that this individual has claimed to have leaked classified information are shocking, and if accurate, this action represents a grave violation of the code of conduct and core values of our firm. We will work closely with our clients and authorities in their investigation of this matter.’

However, Snowden said he had raised his concerns with his superiors, but had been ignored.

He said: ‘I have no intention of hiding who I am because I know I have done nothing wrong. I understand that I will be made to suffer for my actions but I will be satisfied if the federation of secret law, unequal pardon and irresistible executive powers that rule the world that I love are revealed even for an instant.

‘My sole motive is to inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them.

‘What they’re doing (poses) an existential threat to democracy,’ he added. 

Meanwhile a top Hong Kong politician today urged Snowden to leave the city and face justice.

  • Video interview courtesy of Glenn Greernwald and Laura Poitras at The Guardian 
Message: ¿I can¿t in good conscience allow the US government to destroy privacy, internet freedom and basic liberties for people around the world,' Edward Snowden says

Message: ‘I can’t in good conscience allow the US government to destroy privacy, internet freedom and basic liberties for people around the world,’ Edward Snowden says

Regina Ip, formerly the city’s top official overseeing security, told reporters the city’s administration was ‘obliged to comply with the terms of agreements’ with the US government, which included the extradition of fugitives.

‘It’s actually in his best interest to leave Hong Kong,’ she said, adding that she did not know whether the government had yet received an extradition request. ‘I doubt it will happen so quickly,’ she added.

Damagingly for the British security services at GCHQ, Snowden claims that they compiled dossiers using Prism research on almost 200 occasions.

OUTSOURCED INTELLIGENCE: HOW LEAKER’S EMPLOYER BECAME RICH THANKS TO THE US GOVERNMENT

Edward Snowden’s employer, Booz Allen, has become one of the largest and most profitable firms in America thanks, almost exclusively, to a single paymaster: the US government.

The defence contractor has served the US intelligence for almost a decade, providing manpower, advice and technology.

Last year, reported The New York Times, the company was rewarded with $1.3 billion in return for its intelligence work – 23 per cent of its total revenue.

With some 25,000 employees, Booz Allen is one of a handful of private defence contractors to which the US government has turned for help in tackling the threat of terrorism since 2001.

Both the Bush and Obama administrations have preferred to outsource much of its back office intelligence work rather than carry it out in house.

The government’s relationships with such firms have been criticised for being too cosy with thousands of workers formally under the employ of the state now doing essentially the same work for outside companies.

Indeed, James Clapper, Barack Obama’s chief intelligence official, is a former Booz employee while the man who held the post under George W Bush, John McConnell, works there now.

‘The national security apparatus has been more and more privatized and turned over to contractors,’ Danielle Brian, a government contract expert and executive director of the Project on Government Oversight, told the paper. ‘This is something the public is largely unaware of, how more than a million private contractors are cleared to handle highly sensitive matters.’

Booz has just signed a contract worth around $5.6 billion over five years with the Department of Defense.

It reported revenues of $5.76 billion for the last tax year and was ranked No. 436 on Fortune’s list of the 500 largest public companies. The government provided 98 per cent of that revenue, the company said.

Foreign Secretary William Hague will give a statement to the Commons on the issue this afternoon.

Tory Sir Malcolm Rifkind, chairman of the committee of MPs and peers which oversees the work of the security services, said GCHQ would need authority for any request to monitor the emails of a UK citizen, even if the surveillance was carried out by the US agencies.

Sir Malcolm told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘One of the big questions that’s being asked is if British intelligence agencies want to seek to know the content of emails, can they get round the normal law in the UK by simply asking an American agency to provide that information?

‘The law is actually quite clear: if the British intelligence agencies are seeking to know the content of emails by people living in the UK, then they actually have to get lawful authority. Normally that means ministerial authority.’

Sir Malcolm’s Intelligence and Security Committee will carry out a visit to Washington this week to meet representatives from the CIA and NSA, which was arranged before the Prism disclosures.

The former foreign secretary said it was ‘perfectly well known’ that ‘in order to protect the public that does require, as President Obama said in Washington, some intrusion on privacy in certain circumstances’.

Shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander told Today it was ‘vital’ that the public had confidence that the security and intelligence services were ‘operating within a framework of accountability and legality’.

He said Mr Hague ‘does need to seek to give assurances to Parliament about the laws and procedures that are in place, in particular in relation to our vital information-sharing relationship with the United States’.

Mr Alexander said: ‘Of course we want information sharing. The people who want to do harm to the UK operate internationally and those who are trying to keep us safe need to operate internationally as well.

‘But on the other hand, in terms of the character and the nature and the timing of the requests that are made by the UK to the US, potentially involving UK citizens as well as international citizens, that needs to be conducted on the basis of the legal framework set out by Parliament.’

US security chief, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, has launched an aggressive defense of a secret government data collection program.

Clapper blasted what he called ‘reckless disclosures’ of the highly classified spy agency project code-named PRISM by Snowden.

‘Over the last week we have seen reckless disclosures of intelligence community measures used to keep Americans safe,’ he said.

Snowden’s decision to flee to Hong Kong is a gamble, but its free speech laws mean he does have a slim chance of avoiding being swept back to America.

Hong Kong signed an extradition treaty with the United States in 1997, just before Britain handed it back to China.

 

 

 
Row: A security guard stands outside the US consulate in Hong Kong today, where inside officials will be trying to extradite Snowden back to the United States

Row: A security guard stands outside the US consulate in Hong Kong today, where inside officials will be trying to extradite Snowden back to the United States

In it both agreed to send fugitives back and forth in the majority of cases, but there were also political exemptions negotiated at the time.

Hong Kong has the ‘right of refusal when surrender implicates the “defense, foreign affairs or essential public interest or policy” of the People’s Republic of China’.

China itself has no extradition treaty with America at all.

Hong Kong officials also have the right to say no to extradition if they believe that the attempt is ‘politically motivated’. This means that they will protect free speech if a person is being arrested just for their political opinions.

The United States may have already approached Interpol or its consulate in Hong Kong to start proceedings. They will use the Espionage Act to gain warrants for his arrest.

Hong Kong’s authorities can hold Snowden for 60 days, following a U.S. request that includes probable cause, while Washington prepares a formal extradition request.

Explaining why he chose to go there Snowden, whose exact location in the city remains a mystery, said : ‘Mainland China does have significant restrictions on free speech but the people of Hong Kong have a long tradition of protesting in the streets, making their views known.

‘I believe that the Hong Kong government is actually independent in relation to a lot of other leading Western governments’.

But in recent years several people have been extradited to the United States for a variety of alleged crimes, and there is only one case where they refused.

Defensive: Director of National Intelligence James R Clapper said in a statement Saturday that disclosures on intelligence gathering practices were 'reckless'

Defensive: Director of National Intelligence James R Clapper said in a statement Saturday that disclosures on intelligence gathering practices were ‘reckless’

Mr Snowden has said he was content to sever his ‘very comfortable life’, which included a six-figure salary, a girlfriend, a home in Hawaii and his family, to shine a light on the NSA’s widening surveillance net.

He said: ‘I’m willing to sacrifice all of that because I can’t in good conscience allow the US government to destroy privacy, internet freedom and basic liberties for people around the world with this massive surveillance machine they’re secretly building.’

NSA chiefs were ‘intent on making every conversation and every form of behaviour in the world known to them,’ he said.

‘I don’t want to live in a world where there’s no privacy and therefore no room for intellectual exploration and creativity. The government has granted itself power it is not entitled to.’

A Hawaii real estate agent said on Sunday that Snowden and his girlfriend moved out of their home in a quiet neighborhood near Honolulu on May 1, leaving nothing behind.

Century 21 real estate agent Kerri Jo Heim said that the owner of the house wanted the couple out so that the home could be sold.

Heim says police came by on Wednesday to ask where the couple went. She told them she didn’t know.

Carolyn Tijing, who lived across the street from Snowden, says the couple had moving boxes lining their garage from floor to ceiling before leaving the neighborhood suddenly.

According to The Guardian, Snowden copied the final set of documents he intended to disclose three weeks ago. 

He then told his boss and his girlfriend that he’d be away for a few weeks, keeping the reasons vague as only someone working in intelligence can, and on May 20, he boarded a plane to Hong Kong, where he remains in hiding.

He said the former UK colony, now part of China, would resist any demands from the White House.

He believes the US could begin extradition proceedings and he might be bundled on to a plane bound for the States – and certain imprisonment – or that he could be killed. He also thinks the Chinese government might seize him.

Before making the leak three weeks ago, he told bosses he needed time off and his girlfriend that he was going away for work.

Since arriving in Hong Kong he has left his hotel room just three times, but his location remains a mystery.

The high level security clearance sparked his concern for the intense surveillance the NSA was carrying out among millions of Americans and hundreds of millions across the world.

He told The Guardian of one incident where CIA operatives got a Swiss banker drunk in an effort to recruit him as an informant to obtain secret banking information.

He said they encouraged him to drive home intoxicated and when he was arrested for DUI, the undercover agents offered to help, managing to recruit the banker on the back of the favour.

Snowden said this and other things he witnessed in Geneva disillusioned him about how his government worked and how this in turn impacted the world.

‘I realized that I was part of something that was doing far more harm than good,’ he said.

He said he was disappointed President Obama advanced the policies he was hoping the newly elected President was stamp out and that ‘hardened’ him.

Advertisements