Former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden has told German TV he sleeps well in Russia, where he enjoys temporary asylum, despite reading recently on Buzzfeed that some of his former colleagues in United States intelligence would like to kill him.
“I don’t lose sleep because I’ve done what I feel I needed to do,” Snowden said. “It was the right thing to do and I’m not going to be afraid.”
The interview was broadcast on Sunday night on the public television network ARD and featured on the New York Times blog The Lede yesterday.
Snowden told filmmaker Hubert Seipel that President Obama’s proposed reforms to the N.S.A.’s vast surveillance programs constituted just “minor changes to preserve authorities that we don’t need.”
He added that while “there’s some politics and some pressure on the president that make it difficult for him to say I’m going to end these” programs, Americans should keep in mind that “the National Security Agency operates under the president’s executive authority alone.”
So how did someone of his age and experience get such unfettered access to information about the agency’s spying?
Snowden, who is 30, said that his case “highlights the dangers of privatizing government functions.” Even though he once worked directly for the Central Intelligence Agency, he was a private contractor when he assembled the trove of secret documents he provided to journalists last year.
“What that means,” Snowden said, “is you have private, for-profit companies doing inherently governmental work like targeted espionage, surveillance, compromising foreign systems. And anyone who has the skills, who can convince a private company that they have the qualifications to do so, will be empowered by the government to do that. And there’s very little oversight, there’s very little review.”
The director of US national intelligence, James Clapper, claimed during congressional testimony on Wednesday that Snowden’s disclosures had done grave damage to the country’s security and had led terrorist groups to change their behavior to elude American surveillance. He did not cite any specific examples, said the NYT.
In his TV interview, Snowden singled out Clapper for criticism. He cited previous testimony from Clapper, in March of last year, as a prime factor in his decision to leak information to the public about the agency’s work.
“I would say sort of the breaking point was seeing the director of national intelligence, James Clapper, directly lie under oath to Congress,” Snowden said. “There’s no saving an intelligence community that believes it can lie to the public and the legislators who need to be able to trust it and regulate its actions. Seeing that really meant for me there was no going back.”
Seipel asked Snowen about industrial espionage: “Does the N.S.A. spy on Siemens, on Mercedes, on other successful German companies for example?”
Snowden paused and then replied: “There’s no question that the U.S. is engaged in economic spying. If there’s information at Siemens that they think would be beneficial to the national interests, not the national security of the United States, they’ll go after that information and they’ll take it.”