Former National Security Agency contractor turned whistleblower Edward Snowden recently gave testimony to the European Parliament about how the spy programs that he revealed affect EU Citizens, and despite his actions he doesn’t come across as an anti-surveillance dove.
Mass surveillance costs lives: Snowden
“I worked for the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency. The National Security Agency. The Defense Intelligence Agency. I love my country, and I believe that spying serves a vital purpose and must continue,” explains Snowden.
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He argues that mass surveillance, aside from the civil rights violations that it entails, makes people less safe because it overloads intelligence agencies with too much information. “I believe investing in mass surveillance at the expense of traditional, proven methods can cost lives, and history has shown my concerns are justified,” says Snowden.
He gives the example of the Boston marathon bombers, who went uninvestigated despite specific Russian information that Tamerlan Tsarnaev was a threat, and Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab (the underwear bomber) who was able to board a plane with a bomb despite mass surveillance and Transportation Security Agency (TSA) screening, only failing because his bomb didn’t actually work. The NSA’s only security victory according to a White House oversight committee was the interception of an illegal $8,500 transfer to Somalia in 2007.
Whistleblowing laws didn’t apply to Snowden
Snowden also told the European Parliament that he had previously told 10 different officers about his concerns before going public, but that none of them took action on his complaints and that he was repeatedly warned to drop the matter because he would face retaliation like previous NSA whistleblowers Kirk Wiebe, William Binney, and Thomas Drake who faced armed raids and were threatened with criminal prosecution after coming forward.
Because he was a contractor, and not directly employed by the NSA, Snowden says that he had no protection under the 2012 Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act. For all the talk of following proper channels, there were no legal channels open to him. Edward Snowden’s ultimate recommendation isn’t to end surveillance, but to drop mass data collection in favor of targeted surveillance with a strong check.
“The oversight of intelligence agencies should always be performed by opposition parties, as under the democratic model, they always have the most to lose under a surveillance state. Additionally, we need better whistleblower protections, and a new commitment to the importance of international asylum,” says Snowden.