Here’s What’s Going on With Snowden, the NSA, and the DoJ

On January 16, Buzzfeed published an article called “America’s Spies Want Edward Snowden Dead.” In support of its thesis — that the former National Security Agency contractor, who revealed a number of secret mass surveillance programs, was “enemy number one” — the site spoke to several anonymous sources: a defense contractor, a Pentagon official, a current NSA analyst, and an Army intelligence officer. Their commentary summarized the hostility that is running beneath the national debate over the American intelligence system.

“In a world where I would not be restricted from killing an American, I personally would go and kill him myself,” the NSA analyst told BuzzFeed. “A lot of people share this sentiment.”

“I would love to put a bullet in his head,” the Pentagon official, a former special forces officer, said. “I do not take pleasure in taking another human being’s life, having to do it in uniform, but he is single-handedly the greatest traitor in American history.” The defense contractor, who works at a overseas intelligence collections base, said: “His name is cursed every day over here. Most everyone I talk to says he needs to be tried and hung, forget the trial and just hang him.”

Snowden recently gave a lengthy interview conducted in Moscow, where he has been living, in exile, since leaving Sheremetyevo airport in early August; the segment was broadcast Sunday on the German public station ARD TV. Interview topics ranged from the NSA’s involvement in industrial espionage and the possibility that his life was in danger.

“There are significant threats but I sleep very well,” he said, referring to the Buzzfeed report that quoted U.S. officials who said his life was in danger. “These people, and they are government officials, have said they would love to put a bullet in my head or poison me when I come out of the supermarket and then watch me die in the shower,” he said, according to coverage provided by the Guardian.

In that particular quote, Snowden was referring to comments made by an Army intelligence officer. “I think if we had the chance, we would end it very quickly,” the officer said. “Just casually walking on the streets of Moscow, coming back from buying his groceries. Going back to his flat and he is casually poked by a passerby. He thinks nothing of it at the time starts to feel a little woozy and thinks it’s a parasite from the local water. He goes home very innocently and next thing you know he dies in the shower.”

As he told ARD TV, the NSA is also involved in industrial espionage, and the agency will go so far as to collect data regardless of its value to national security. “If there’s information at Siemens that’s beneficial to U.S. national interests — even if it doesn’t have anything to do with national security — then they’ll take that information nevertheless,” he said, per the Guardian.

More than six months have passed since Snowden out-spied the spies, revealing to the Guardian in June that the NSA program PRISM collects metadata — or data about data — from U.S. phone companies on millions of calls made by American 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 an interview.

Changes have slowly unfolded as the result of his actions. Several weeks ago, President Barack Obama detailed the updates he would make to the NSA, changes the American public has anticipated since Snowden allegedly stole 1.7 million classified documents from U.S. government computers. “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 in a White House press release.

The Department of Justice has come out with its own changes, as well. It will relax the long-standing gag order on the nature of the requests for sensitive data it asks for from technology companies, a change long pushed for by Google (NASDAQ:GOOG), Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT), and their peers. This means that for the first time, these companies will be allowed to publicize how often they provide customer information to the U.S. government, officials said on Monday.

“While this aggregate data was properly classified until today, the office of the Director of National Intelligence, in consultation with other departments and agencies, has determined that the public interest in disclosing this information now outweighs the national security concerns that required its classification,” the Justice Department said in a statement.

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