Snowden and supporters fear Americans will lose interest from ‘NSA fatigue’
The extensive profile, in “Wired” magazine is based on hours of interviews conducted over three days, including audio that captures Snowden’s voice.
EDWARD SNOWDEN: What I did wasn’t to benefit myself. I didn’t ask for money. I gave this information back to public hands. And the reason that I did that wasn’t to gain a label, but to give you back a choice about the country you want to live in.
GWEN IFILL: Snowden discloses that the U.S. government ran a top secret cyber-war program code-named MonsterMind. He said it could accidentally start a war. And he reveals that, in 2012, NSA hackers mistakenly shut down all of Syria’s Internet service.
Edward Snowden has been living in Russia since 2013. Last week, that asylum was extended by three years.
Journalist and “Wired” contributor James Bamford has written extensively about U.S. surveillance for decades, and is the author of the latest story, which appears in the September issue.
He joins me now from Rio de Janeiro.
James Bamford, you say in your piece that you feel like you have a kinship with Edward Snowden. Why did he talk to you?
JAMES BAMFORD, WIRED Magazine: Well, hello, Gwen. Nice being on the program.
The reason I think that we had a bit of a kinship was, interestingly, I worked also for NSA in Hawaii when I was in the Navy. I was assigned to a unit that was basically part of the NSA. And I worked there during the Vietnam War for basically two years out of three years I spent in the Navy.
And then after I left the active duty and was in the Reserves while I was in law school, I discovered at one of the listening posts that they were eavesdropping on U.S. citizens. And so I blew the whistle on that to the Church Committee and actually testified in closed session before the Church Committee.
So these were some of the things that I think we had a bit in common. And he was far more of a whistle-blower than I ever was, and he was far more involved with NSA than I ever was, but there were these connections that we did have.
GWEN IFILL: It’s been widely reported that 1.7 billion documents were taken by Edward Snowden in some manner. Do you happen to know whether he knows what’s in all of those documents and whether there’s indeed a second leaker, as has been reported?
JAMES BAMFORD: Yes, it was 1.7 million documents.
GWEN IFILL: Thank you for fixing that.
JAMES BAMFORD: But his comments were really extraordinary to me. He said that he actually left basically bread crumbs.
He left some clues to indicate which documents he actually saw and which documents he actually copied, so that the NSA, when they went back and did an audit, would be able to determine that he was a whistle-blower, in other words, taking documents that indicated that they were involved, domestic eavesdropping, for example, as opposed to documents dealing with North Korea or Russia or China or whatever.
So he didn’t say how many documents, but he said there were considerably fewer than the 1.7 million that the NSA has alleged. And that 1.7 million is basically based on the documents he may have at one point seen, but certainly not the documents that he copied. And by them missing the clues that he left, they aren’t able to tell which he saw and which he actually copied.
GWEN IFILL: And which of the reports we have seen have come from his documents and come from possibly someone else?
JAMES BAMFORD: Well, that’s the indication.
And what Edward Snowden said to me was that the NSA certainly has a problem, that things are still going walking. And he said that’s a major problem to the U.S., since the NSA has so much of American communications, telephone calls, e-mails and so forth, and that, if there is a second leaker, which apparently there is — and certainly the evidence indicates that — and maybe having been inspired by Edward Snowden, that’s certainly a major problem for NSA.
If they thought they had a problem with Snowden, now they have a problem with somebody else there.
GWEN IFILL: What kind of life is Snowden leading in exile these days?
JAMES BAMFORD: He seems fairly comfortable in his life.
The three days I spent with him, he never complained about his life there. I think he’s adapted to life in Moscow quite well. Moscow is not your grandfather’s Russia under Khrushchev. This is a much more modern city. And I think it’s a very livable city in terms of somebody who may be spending a considerable amount of time there.
He just had his visa extended for another three years. So, I think he is — obviously, he would much rather be living in the U.S. with his family and so forth, but I think he’s adapting quite well.
GWEN IFILL: And he expects to be hacked at any moment by the U.S. government?
JAMES BAMFORD: Well, he certainly thinks they’re certainly trying to hack into him.
He says that he thinks it will be inevitable that they will be able to hack into him at some point. He doesn’t think they have geolocated him, in other words, found out exactly where he is at any particular time in Moscow. He takes his battery out of his cell phone. He’s going places. He’s very careful.
But he does think that at some point NSA will probably be able to understand who he’s talking to, not necessarily what he’s saying because of encryption, but who he’s communicating with. And that troubles him.
GWEN IFILL: Do he and his supporters have concern about something you describe in the article as NSA fatigue, that is, Americans losing interest in his cause?
JAMES BAMFORD: Yes, he did.
He was quite concerned that at some point, the information that is coming out will pretty much be put on the back pages, people won’t pay attention to it anymore. He sort of compared it to a war, in the sense that five people being killed is a headline, 1,000 people being killed a month later is a back page.
So it’s a problem of becoming sort of numbed, or this whole problem of boiling frogs, where a frog is in the water. The heat gets turned up slowly, so the frog doesn’t know he’s being boiled. So it’s a problem that I think he’s concerned about, that the public will stop paying attention to the leaks and the revelations at some point.
GWEN IFILL: And for that reason, he poses with an American flag on the cover of “Wired” magazine this month.
James Bamford, thank you for your reporting. Talk to you soon.
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