Der Spiegel Interview of Ed Snowden

It’s a good interview with Snowden, who should take time to discuss Section 702 of the FISA Act within the next few months.

DER SPIEGEL: What did you achieve?

Snowden: Since summer 2013, the public has known what was until then forbidden knowledge. That the U.S. government can get everything out of your Gmail account and they don’t even need a warrant to do it if you are not an American but, say, a German. You are not allowed to discriminate between your citizens and other peoples’ citizens when we are talking about the balance of basic rights. But increasingly more countries, not only the U.S., are doing this. I wanted to give the public a chance to decide where the line should be.


DER SPIEGEL: We hear a lot of resignation.

Snowden: Not at all. I think we have made much progress as a society — we are using math and science to limit these abuses by governments.

DER SPIEGEL: You are talking about the encryption of our communications.

Snowden: Before he retired, former U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said that I had accelerated the adoption of an encryption by seven years. He meant it as an insult, but I took it as a kind of a compliment.


DER SPIEGEL: The files you leaked are a few years old now, as are the measures they described. Do they have anything more than historical value today?

Snowden: The system is pretty much the same. It’s only if you understand the basic mechanism that is being exploited to spy on innocent people that you can start to correct it. So, the challenge is what comes next and how to deal with this.

DER SPIEGEL: And? What comes next?

Snowden: Governments are realizing that mass surveillance isn’t really effective. They are moving from mass surveillance to what intelligence agencies are hoping will be their new panacea: hacking. But it is mass hacking and not really targeted hacking as they usually say. We have seen it in these darknet market takedowns and other joint operations by the EU and U.S.


DER SPIEGEL: Nevertheless, many people, also here in Germany, have wondered what kind of concessions you had to make to become Russia’s guest.

Snowden: I’m glad you ask because again, this sounds right, he is in Russia, so surely he had to give something up, right? But when you start looking at it, it falls apart. I don’t have any documents or access to documents. The journalists have them and this is why the Chinese or the Russians couldn’t threaten me when I crossed the border. I couldn’t have helped them, even if they had torn my fingernails off.

DER SPIEGEL: It is still hard to believe for many that the Russians would let you in just like that.

Snowden: I know, you go: Putin that great humanitarian, of course he lets him in for free. Nobody believes that, there has got to be some deal, some quid pro quo. But they don’t understand. If you think about it for a second: I was trying to get into Latin America, but the U.S. government canceled my passport and trapped me in the Russian airport. The U.S. president was sending daily demarches to the Russian side demanding my extradition. Think about the Russian domestic political situation. Putin’s self-image, his image to the Russian people and how that would look if the Russian president would have said, “Yes, we are very sorry — here, have this guy.” And maybe there is an even simpler explanation for this, which is that the Russian government just enjoyed the rare opportunity of being able to say “no.” The real tragedy here is that I applied for asylum in Germany, France and 21 different countries around the world. And it was only after all of these countries said “no” that the Russians finally said “yes.” It seemed like they didn’t even want to say “yes,” and I certainly wasn’t asking.


The deep state is this class of career government officials that survive beyond administrations.

DER SPIEGEL: Isn’t that just another conspiracy theory?

Snowden: I wish it was. Look at the election of Barack Obama, who by any measure at the time, people saw as a genuine man who wanted to pursue a reform to close Guantanamo, to end the mass surveillance of the time, to investigate Bush-era crimes and to do many other things. And within 100 days of taking office, he pivoted entirely on that promise and said, we are going to look forward not backward. The deep state realizes that while it may not elect the president, it can shape them very quickly — and this is through the same means with which they shape us.

DER SPIEGEL: Which means?

Snowden: Fear. Why do you think all these terrorism laws are passed without any meaningful debate? Why do we have an indefinite state of emergency, even in liberal places like France?