Edward Snowden, the 29-year-old intelligence contractor who exposed the secret NSA PRISM surveillance program on June 6th, is answering questions from the public for the first time since revealing himself to the world. In the Q&A session, hosted by The Guardian, Snowden repeated his fears about US prosecution, writing that the government "immediately and predictably destroyed any possibility of a fair trial at home, openly declaring me guilty of treason." Snowden also restated his motivation for leaking the PRISM program, saying that "the public needs to know the kinds of things a government does in its name, or the 'consent of the governed' is meaningless."
"The US government is not going to be able to cover this up by jailing or murdering me," Snowden said, opening the session with melodrama. "Truth is coming, and it cannot be stopped." Unfortunately, when the first substantive question was posed — asking for more detail about what constitutes the NSA's "direct access" of consumer data — Snowden repeated publicly known facts, reiterating that more information about how PRISM works will be revealed in the future.
"The US government is not going to be able to cover this up."
The PRISM surveillance program is said to allow the US government to collect communications from nine major internet companies, including Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple, and others, but the technical details about how it works are still largely a mystery. The implicated companies denied knowledge or participation in PRISM, disputing claims that the government has direct access to their servers.
Snowden challenged those denials today, claiming that as the companies involved "went through several revisions as it [became] more and more clear they were misleading." But he says that "as a result of these disclosures and the clout of these companies, we're finally beginning to see more transparency and better details about these programs for the first time."
When asked about counter-surveillance measures, Snowden affirmed that encryption can help safeguard against NSA spying. "Properly implemented strong crypto systems are one of the few things that you can rely on," Snowden said. "Unfortunately, endpoint security is so terrifically weak that NSA can frequently find ways around it."
"Being called a traitor by Dick Cheney is the highest honor you can give an American."
Overall, Snowden's question and answer session today appears intended to counter criticism he has received since leaking PRISM's details. Several prominent US lawmakers have attacked Snowden's reputation and motives, including former vice president Dick Cheney, who yesterday called Snowden a "traitor" in an appearance on Fox News. "Being called a traitor by Dick Cheney is the highest honor you can give an American, and the more panicked talk we hear from people like him, [Senator Dianne] Feinstein, and [Representative Peter] King, the better off we all are," Snowden said today in response to his critics. "If they had taught a class on how to be the kind of citizen Dick Cheney worries about, I would have finished high school."
With a flippant tone, Snowden also deflected accusations of spying for China. "If I were a Chinese spy, why wouldn't I have flown directly into Beijing," Snowden asked. "I could be living in a palace petting a phoenix by now."