Following last week’s US presidential election, Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who exposed numerous government surveillance programs in 2013 and is now living in Russia, has publicly discussed the results at least twice.
“We are starting to substitute open government for sheer authoritarianism, a government based not upon the principle of informed consent granted by people who understand its activities but rather a trust in personalities, a trust in claims, a trust in the hope that they will do the right thing,” Snowden said Monday via video link at a conference in Buenos Aires, Argentina. His comments appeared to follow up on others he made last week.
“We are never farther than a single election away from a change in government, from a change in policy, from a change in the way the powers that we have constructed into a system are used,” Snowden said Nov. 10 when he spoke, also via video link, at a Q&A in Amsterdam. “I try not to look at this as a question of a single election or single president or even a single government,” he added.
Snowden noted that other countries such as Russia and China have recently passed laws allowing government mass surveillance. “They got away with it because they said they’d modelled it on America’s laws,” he said.
Though some reforms to the NSA’s surveillance capabilities were made in the wake of Snowden’s revelations, speaking this week at the conference in Argentina, he seemed to express doubt that those changes will last. “If government does actually win our trust, because they go for some years and they do operate in a way that we should support, what happens when it changes?” he asked.
Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, meanwhile, also spoke Monday on the topic of Snowden and his revelations, saying he does “not condone what Edward Snowden did,” and that Snowden’s actions “created a tremendous amount of suspicion, concern and disinclination to engage,” between the tech industry and the Pentagon. Major tech companies have been caught lying about their cooperation with the NSA, and it has turned into a public relations fiasco for them.
Carter’s comments did not seem to indicate that he would favor a pardon for Snowden. President-elect Donald Trump, meanwhile, has called Snowden a “terrible traitor” and said that “in the good old days” he would have been killed.
On the other hand, if Snowden “could reveal Obama’s records, I might become a major fan,” Trump wrote in 2013. It appears that Trump’s primary concern with whistleblowers ultimately stems from the potential threat they pose to executive power. He has criticized not only Snowden, but also W. Mark Felt, the former high-ranking FBI official who went by the pseudonym “Deep Throat” as a major anonymous source for Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s expose of the Watergate scandal.
“I think he’s disgusting. I think he’s scum,” Trump said of Felt, following the revelation of Felt’s identity in 2005. “I don’t care how old he is, how sick he is, I think he ought to be arrested. He was an FBI agent, essentially, and he was ratting on the president.”
On the subject of his own fate under a Trump presidency, Snowden hasn’t made a definite prediction. “It’s possible,” Snowden said, that a Trump administration that will likely have a friendlier relationship with Russia could make a deal to extradite him back to the US to face trial. “It would be crazy to dismiss the idea of this guy who presents himself as a big dealmaker of trying to make a deal.”
Yet Trump’s extreme shifts on many issues also suggest that if popular opinion dictated it, he could just as easily reverse his position on Snowden. Asked if he thought a Trump presidency might increase his chances of receiving a pardon, Snowden answered “Who knows?”