NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden and journalist Laura Poitras were awarded The Ridenhour Prize for Truth-Telling at a ceremony in Washington, DC.

Edward Snowden

In a presentation broadcast on the Internet, Poitras and Snowden provided perspective on the perils of their journey exposing National Security Agency spying on US citizens.

I have not experienced this fear and intimidation

“I have experienced reporting in many war zones,” Poitras said, appearing shaken on screen. “I have not experienced the fear and intimidation I have when reporting on the National Security Agency.”

Snowden remembers a specific conversation in the wake of former NSA Director James Clapper’s “lie” to the US Senate under oath.  Snowden asked a colleague why don’t people speak out, and the NSA colleague returned a question: “Do you know what happens to people who do (speak out)?”

Why do NSA leaders have a different legal standard than rank and file?

Snowden did know what would happen, as he had read the NSA rules and was pondering his next action.  He knew there were no whistleblower protections that would protect him, a private contractor.  But this didn’t change Snowden’s “calculus of what needed to be done.  The fact that so many people (inside the NSA and government) knew what we were doing was wrong,” only provided Snowden motivation to take action.

Poitras recalls the first time Snowden revealed that she nor any journalist could protect his identity – and then Snowden said he didn’t want his identity protected, he would come out with the information.  Snowden told Poitras he would take responsibility for his actions and outline his motives along with the dangers he saw.

Snowden: Goal in turning over NSA documents was to help public “determine type of society they want to live under”

Snowden asked one thing of Poitras when turning over the NSA documents.  He wanted her to return his information to the American public “so they could decide the type of government they wanted to live under.”

Snowden didn’t anticipate the public support after watching what happened to Thomas Drake.  When he was pondering “the most likely outcomes” of providing information on the NSA’s domestic spying, Snowden thought his “most likely outcome would be that I spend the rest of my life in prison.”

The first principle to any US intelligence employee is not an oath to secrecy, “but duty to the public; a commitment to speak truth to power.  This is the same principle of the free press.  I saw violations of the constitution on a mass level.  I showed it to my superiors and colleagues.”

Snowden then asked a general question.  “Do you think its right that the NSA is colleting more information on US citizens than they are Russian citizens?”  Then the former NSA contractor shocked with a statement on the level of US spying.  “The US is the most watched population in the world.  Why haven’t charges brought against those who violated the constitution and lied to the US Senate.  Why can’t we hold our senior level officials to the same standard of justice as mid-level NSA members. The world we live in is changing, but our values have not changed.”

“At this point in time the responsibility lies in the hands of citizens,” Poitras said concluding her prepeard remarks.