More than six months have passed since former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden out-spied the spies, revealing to British newspaper the Guardian in June that the NSA program PRISM collects metadata — or data about data — from United States phone companies on millions of calls made by U.S. citizens and foreigners.
While public opinion remains divided over his actions, for Snowden, in terms of personal satisfaction, “the mission’s already accomplished,” he said to the Washington Post last month in a video interview. “I already won. As soon as journalists were able to work, everything that I had been trying to do was validated. Because, remember, I didn’t want to change society. I wanted to give society a chance to determine if it should change itself.”
In that interview, Snowden very clearly expressed his motivations for the leak — or at least, the motivations he wanted to be on the public record. But ever since Snowden first appeared on the public radar, there has been intense speculation about his motives and methods, with particular attention placed on the question of whether he had collaborated with a foreign intelligence agency.
The New York Times reported last weekend that the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s probe and the separate “damage assessment” investigations conducted by the NSA have not returned any publicly released evidence that Snowden was aided by a foreign spy service.
The former NSA contractor also vehemently denied that claim during an interview with the New Yorker, conducted via encrypted means of communication from Moscow, during which he said, “This ‘Russian spy’ push is absurd.” And the 29-year-old is not done giving his view of the events that made Americans look hard at their country’s security apparatus.
On Thursday at noon Pacific Standard Time, less than a week after the president announced his renewed plans for the NSA, Snowden will be answering questions from the public about his own actions, submitted via Twitter with the hashtag “#AskSnowden.”
On Friday, President Barack Obama detailed the changes he would make to the security agency, changes the American public has anticipated since Snowden allegedly stole 1.7 million classified documents from U.S. government computers, an act that landed him in exile in Russia with charges of espionage.
Since June, pressure has been on Congress to investigate the surveillance tactics of the NSA, and the Obama administration finally addressed the need for oversight of the government’s intelligence activities last week. “We will review decisions about intelligence priorities and sensitive targets on an annual basis so that our actions are regularly scrutinized by my senior national security team,” said Obama, per a White House press release.
In a recent interview with David Remnick of the New Yorker, the president wondered whether the only way to raise “legitimate policy questions” was to give “some 29-year-old free rein to basically dump a mountain of information, much of which is definitely legal, definitely necessary for national security, and should properly be classified?”
According to the most extreme opinions in Congress, Snowden is a traitor who endangered the nation and its military, and helped terrorists. On NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Republican Rep. Mike Rogers of Michigan, who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, described Snowden as a “thief who we believe had some help.” Snowden has reiterated on several occasions that he told the Guardian and the Washington Post that published material should only reveal government operations and that no governmental wrongdoing should appear in public.
The other extreme is the view of Snowden that first emerged in the earliest portrayals of the former NSA contractor, a view that he seems to be cultivating. In this narrative he is a whistle-blower, a government contractor whose shock at the extent of government surveillance prompted him to reveal it to the nation.
While the announcement of the live chat gave no indication of Snowden’s motivation, it’s likely he hopes to weigh in on the conflicting assessments of his actions. Of course, the truth may be hard to separate from rhetoric. After Snowden’s last question-and-answer session, Tom Watson, a Forbes contributor and New York University lecturer, tweeted, “I’ve seen scripted Presidential ‘town halls’ that were less Potemkin Village-like than this so-called #askSnowden ‘chat.’”
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