For the first time President Obama did concede that the NSA collects and stores trillions of data.
Every time you pick up the phone, dial a number, write an email, make a purchase, travel on the bus carrying a cell phone, swipe a card somewhere, you leave a trace and the government has decided that it’s a good idea to collect it all, everything, even if you’ve never been suspected of any crime. Traditionally the government would identify a suspect, they would go to a judge, they would say we suspect he’s committed this crime, they would get a warrant and then they would be able to use the totality of their powers in pursuit of the investigation. Nowadays what we see is they want to apply the totality of their powers in advance - prior to an investigation.
You started this debate, Edward Snowden is in the meantime a household name for the whistleblower in the age of the internet. You were working until last summer for the NSA and during this time you secretly collected thousands of confidential documents. What was the decisive moment or was there a long period of time or something happening, why did you do this?
I would say sort of the breaking point is seeing the Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, directly lie under oath to Congress. 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. Beyond that, it was the creeping realisation that no one else was going to do this. The public had a right to know about these programs. The public had a right to know that which the government is doing in its name, and that which the government is doing against the public, but neither of these things we were allowed to discuss, we were allowed no, even the wider body of our elected representatives were prohibited from knowing or discussing these programmes and that’s a dangerous thing. The only review we had was from a secret court, the FISA Court, which is a sort of rubber stamp authority
When you are on the inside and you go into work everyday and you sit down at the desk and you realise the power you have - you can wire tap the President of the United States, you can wire tap a Federal Judge and if you do it carefully no one will ever know because the only way the NSA discovers abuses are from self reporting.
We’re not talking only of the NSA as far as this is concerned, there is a multilateral agreement for co-operation among the services and this alliance of intelligence operations is known as the Five Eyes. What agencies and countries belong to this alliance and what is its purpose?
The Five Eyes alliance is sort of an artifact of the post World War II era where the Anglophone countries are the major powers banded together to sort of co-operate and share the costs of intelligence gathering infrastructure.
So we have the UK’s GCHQ, we have the US NSA, we have Canada’s C-Sec, we have the Australian Signals Intelligence Directorate and we have New Zealand’s DSD. What the result of this was over decades and decades what sort of a supra-national intelligence organisation that doesn’t answer to the laws of its own countries.