The Hollywood narrative on the leaks of Edward Snowden continues in stark opposition to the accusations of the intelligence community. Promoting the oscar-winning documentary CitizenFour, which follows Snowden’s escape from US authorities, Edward Snowden appeared live from Russia on February 14 via video feed for the Hawaii ACLU’s Davis Levin First Amendment Conference in Honolulu. Snowden was joined on stage by his lawyer, Ben Wizner, and moderator Aviam Soifer, Dean, William S. Richardson School of Law at the University of Hawaii.
Snowden and Wizner spent a great deal of time answering the question, “Can Democracy Survive Secrecy?” During Snowden’s opening remarks he posed the question, “What should the limits of the NSA’s spy authority be?”
“The Sky Isn’t Falling”
Snowden did not think that the release of the documents he stole had caused grave harm. “The NSA director said the sky isn’t falling. Soldiers are not endangered, terrorists did not change their tactics. These are reasonable concerns but there has never been a case of harm by the disclosures,” argued Snowden
Current NSA director Adm. Michael Rogers did say that while terrorist groups have adjusted their operations due to Snowden’s leaks, it is not causing the sky to fall. However, the previous director, Gen. Keith Alexander, said Snowden caused “the greatest damage to our combined national intelligence systems that we have ever suffered.”
Snowden continued, “If there is harm we accept that risk. Journalists have vetted the materials. I know there are FBI and members of the military here. While there are risks it’s important that we remember what the government is concerned about…legal challenges of classified information. Government was not concerned of lives, of materials, of ships at sea…government was concerned about embarrassment.”
The Security Clearance Priesthood
Wizner attacked the classification system and asserted that five percent of said documents are not classified properly. He also called those with a security clearance a close-knit community, and a “security clearance priesthood.”
According to Wizner, “Security clearance is a code of silence …and a very coercive way to keep everyone in line. If they fall out of line they lose their living.”
Wizner said Snowden faces multiple charges under the Espionage Act of 1917, that the government has very little burden to convict him, and that it is almost certain that Snowden would end up in solitary confinement for the rest of his life.
In the face of that reality, what does Snowden say is his only regret? That he should have come forward sooner.
From Russia, with Love
Snowden is currently living in Russia after receiving temporary asylum. The United States has asked Snowden to return to face charges that include theft of government property, unauthorized communication of national defense information, and willful communication of classified intelligence to an unauthorized person.
Last January, President Obama addressed the actions of Edward Snowden in a speech on NSA data collection programs.
“I’m not going to dwell on Mr. Snowden’s actions or his motivations. I will say that our nation’s defense depends on the fidelity of those entrusted with our nation’s secrets. If any individual who objects to government policy can take it to their own hands to publicly disclose classified information, then we will not able to keep our people safe, or conduct foreign policy. Moreover, the sensational way in which these disclosures have come out has often shed more heat than light, while revealing methods to our adversaries that could impact our operations in ways that we may not fully understand for years to come.”
Snowden asserted that his mission is “less about surveillance and more about democracy…when our ability to meaningfully guide is diminished.”
Originally released in October 2014, CitizenFour has grossed $2.5 million in theaters, and it will be released on HBO February 23.