Edward Snowden, the former NSA employee-turned-whistleblower whose disclosures to journalists about the unknown extent of surveillance on Americans and the world population have now spurred major reform proposal by President Obama, publicly responded to the president’s announcement late Tuesday, calling it “a turning point” in the effort to “reclaim rights” and restore the people’s voice on issues of privacy and government spying.
In a statement released through his legal advisors at the ACLU, Snowden said:
I believed that if the NSA’s unconstitutional mass surveillance of Americans was known, it would not survive the scrutiny of the courts, the Congress, and the people.
The very first open and adversarial court to ever judge these programs has now declared them ‘Orwellian’ and ‘likely unconstitutional.’ In the USA FREEDOM Act, Congress is considering historic, albeit incomplete reforms. And President Obama has now confirmed that these mass surveillance programs, kept secret from the public and defended out of reflex rather than reason, are in fact unnecessary and should be ended.
This is a turning point, and it marks the beginning of a new effort to reclaim our rights from the NSA and restore the public’s seat at the table of government.
The news from the Obama administration and Snowden’s response were coincidental—but in many ways fortuitous—developments for a panel of Snowden supporters who had scheduled a national press conference in Washington on Tuesday, during which they called on the State and Justice Departments to end their persecution of Snowden, who remains stranded in Russia under temporary asylum but unable to travel due to his passport being nullified by the U.S. government.
The panel of Snowden’s supporters including Ray McGovern, a retired 27 year veteran of the CIA; Coleen Rowley, a former FBI agent-turned-whistleblower; and Norman Solomon, co-founder of the progressive advocacy group RootsAction.org, which has gathered over 100,000 signatures on two petitions calling for the State Department to reinstate Snowden’s passport and for the Justice Department to make an “ironclad commitment” to respect his legal right to seek political asylum abroad without fear of intervention, ie. “abduction or other foul play.”
The American people, said Solomon, have become familiar in recent years with the phrase, “If you see something, say something.”
“Edward Snowden saw something,” said Solomon, “And he said something.”
He continued: “He saw the undermining of the free press aspects of the First Amendment. He saw the undermining of the Fourth Amendment. He saw the full-scale assault on due process and other key aspects of the Fifth Amendment.” And because of his decision to go public, continued Solomon, over the last tens months since the reporting on his disclosures began appearing, “Many millions of Americans have seen what’s being done under the cover of the NSA and other intelligence agencies.”
Acknowledging the implications of the Obama’s announcement about his reform proposals, Solomon argued that such a development makes it more clear than ever that Snowden’s actions were justified and cast only further doubts on the many past arguments put forward by the intelligence community and White House as they defended the bulk spying program. “The credibility of the White House has gone through the floor, while the credibility of Snowden continues to ascend,” said Solomon.
The petitions, which will be delivered on Wednesday, make clear the argument that Snowden has done a public service for which he should be rewarded, not punished.
The first, headed to the State Department and calling for the reinstatement of Snowden’s passport, reads: “The U.S. State Department revoked the passport of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, whose “crime” was to educate Americans and the world about the dangerous growth of the U.S. surveillance state.”
And the second, directed at President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder, says: “The U.S. government should make an ironclad commitment to fully respect Edward Snowden’s legal rights to seek political asylum, and to not engage in abduction or other foul play.”