From Moscow With Love

VolksbŸhne Berlin

22. September 2016

Transcript of first > 20 minutes by J. Gruber

Am 22.September 2016 begrŸ§te die VolksbŸhne Berlin Edward Snowden via Live-Stream aus seinem Exil in Moskau, fŸr ein Interview im Rahmen ihrer Europareihe unter dem Titel: ÒFrom Moscow with love: Edward Snowden Ÿber die Kriminalgeschichte der DemokratieÓ.

GefŸhrt wurde das Interview von Journalist und Verleger Jakob Augstein, der die Veranstaltung moderierte und die beiden anwesenden Experten vorstellte: Angela Richter, die Direktorin des Theaters, die Snowden bereits mehrfach in Moskau besucht hat und Rechtsanwalt Wolfgang Kaleck, der Snowden in Deutschland vertritt.

Introduction skipped. Fast forward to 3:37


Jakob Augstein: Julian Assange has been stuck in the Ecuadorian embassy for the last 4 years, Snowden has searched asylum in Moscow 3 years ago. Just to give you a short overview of what Snowden related to us - just the facts, a little bit, because all of it will take hours to explain - may be not everyone of you knows that the NSA (National Security Agency) is surveilling phones in the US and worldwide, in Germany, wherever: companies, politicians, you and me. The NSA had access to all the data banks of Google, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, Yahoo, you name it, and they have access to all the physical infrastructure of the World Wide Web. So, they go directly to the backbones and get their information there, and of course they violated their own privacy rules -they have some- just to violate them we know from  internal audits NSA operaties tapped their own like relatives, wifes, husbands, friends to get some personal information from them. Snowden, who related all this information to us, has changed the way we see reality. We know thanks to his actions that everyone of us is object of surveillance, and this makes him the hero of our time, I think, and I'm very happy to introduce Edward Snowden to you. (I don't think that the NSA is disturbing this line, because Snowden, he is doing ths all the time, people call him from Oslo, from Tokyo, form wherever, in chat conferences like this one, and normally it works. Hallo, Edward, can you hear us?


Edward Snowden: Good evening, everybody!

JA: Thank you so much for being with us here.

ES: Can you hear me?

JA: Yes, we can hear you perfactly. How are you there in Moscow?

ES: I'm doing quite well. I'm much busier than I expected under the given circumstances. When I first set out to work with journalists to reveal the information about what was going on in the world, I figured to spending the next manay years, quite possibly all of the rest of my years, in a tiny little box. So, I'm much busier than expected.

JA: What have you been doing today?

ES: I've been preparing for this talk, we're marching a campaign for marching the United States with the Amercan Civil Liberties Union [ACLU] called "#TakeCTRL". We will marching a campaign in eleven different cities across the country to restore what we're calling a "Community Control" of police surveillance. So much of the focus this last years has been on this surveillance driven by spy agencies, state security bureaus, intelligence gathering organisations and so on. But for the average person one of the most direct application of surveillance are of different forms. We have corporate surveillance, which many of us have become intimately familiar with facebook, advertising companies, google, and so on. But also police organisations, just sheer local police now are rolling out new technologies, digital technologies such as automated license plate recognition software, where they track registration numbers of your vehicules when you drive down the road, even of you're not suspected of any wrong-doing, even if you're not suspected of any crime. And these things are beginning to create data bases where every citizen is at each point in time during the day, where they travel to, what part of the city they work in, where they sleep, what other cars go to their home, and so on and so forth. This happens with our cellular phones, this happens with our internet use tracking. 

In the United States, al least, the purchasing of this technology, the funding of it, comes primarily from taxes, of course, in you local community, but the public hasn't been given a vote on this. Even local city councils, the mayor, the governor, they don't really get a say on whether these surveillance apparatuses are being put into service in their towns. Only the police got to determines this because it is happening under the veil of secrecy, under a special type of sort of state secret authority, but it was actually just happening organisationally, institutionally at the local community level. We are trying to change that now, and ths is one of many efforts that I'm involved in. More importantly, our civil rights organisations, which os the ACLU (the American Civil Liberties Union), Electronic Frontier Foundation and other organisations, both within the United States and in the nations in the world, they are ataring to recognise: Ok, we can disagree about where we want to draw the lines, how surveillance authorities are being used in pur society, but here is one fundamental principle that we shouls always abide by, and that's that the people should have a say, we should get a vote. We don't need to know the names of every individual who's under investigation. Of course we want to monitor terrorists, individuals suspected of serious criminal activity. So we don't neemd to publish that in the newspapers. But the broad autlines of the policies that the governments are implementing, the things that our governments are doing both against us domestically in our countries and in our name, pr around the world against foreign peoples are something that have very much impact on our lives, our national charcters, and ultimately we are not a democracy when do not get a chance to guide the decision.


JA: So, I understand that you are not a code writer any more but that you hve becomea civil rights activist. Or do you do still some code writing.

ES: I dod do some types of systems building today, but nowhere nearly as much as i used to. It's quite unfortunate how much my skills are atrophied. But it had given me the chance to cooperate with people who are far more experts than I ever was. And that's very much an enjoyable thing.

JA: When are you coming to Berlin?

ES: (laughs) Is that an invitation?

JA: Yes, there are a lot of people here that would love to having you here.


ES: Well, thank you, thank you very much. I would very much love to come to Berlin in person. But I think, before we can do that, it's going to require everyone in this theater and perhaps a few more to contact the Chancellor and perhaps the Interior Minister and get them to change their position on that. 


ES: I guess, this would be fair to say, and I think this is probably well known. Just for the sake of the audience who has not followed the story in the last ...: I did in fact apply for asylum in Germany, and the government hasn't responded favorably yet.

JA: There is this international campaign going on asking for amnesty. Do you think that Barack Obama will grant amnesty before the end of his persidency?

ES: I think the key to focus on here is that's not for me to say. This is ultimately not a question for me personally of how good or bad I am, how deserving I am of this or that to ask, some kind of award or some kind of dire punishment. For me, when you think about it, and I think for broadly all people, this is less of a question of "are they a good or a bad guy?" And all these things the public needed to know, would you rather not know the truth. And I think, ultimately this is about how much we want to know, how much we want to be involved in the direction of the future of the society. 

Now, the president of the United States obviously is in a complex political position. He campaigned to getinto the office of presidency saying that he would stop all surveillance conducted [?] without warrants. Unfortunately, when he took office, we see that he actually expanded those programs. There is now more surveillance that's conducted [?] without warrants today than there was before he took office. And that is a very sad thing. But as to the question to pardon, I leave that to others to argue. 


JA: When Benjamin Bradlee, the former editor of the Washington Post died, Obama praised him with very warm words even for publishing the "Pentagon Papers", the papers that said that the President had lied to the American people over the course and causes of the Vietnam war. But with you he takes an altogether different stance. How would you explain this contradiction, that Daniel Ellsberg has become in a way a hero and Bradlee, who published his papers can be praised by the same president who wants to jail you?

ES: Time! The Pentagon Papers which Mr. Daniel Ellsberg revealed came out in the 1970s. We're of course 40 years on from that. But it's important to remember that in that contemporary period the then-president, Richard Nixon, organised an incredible number of what the press later desribed as "dirty tricks" to destroy the reputation of Mr. Ellsberg. And they arranged secret teams of former CIA operatives to create balck propaganda, to destroy his reputation with the press. They v=created secret teams of operatives to brake into the office of his psychiatrist or psycologist to figure out what his doctors were saying in case there was anything that they could then leak to the press to make him seem less trustworthy, more unstable. And there were even  plans discussed to bring up former CIA operatives from the Bay of Pigs fiasco (that planned the invasion of Cuba and that had failed) to have these Cuban operatives "permanently incapacitate" Daniel Ellsberg did the opportunity arose. Now, those things did not come to pass, but the efforts were there. Later we found through court testimony through arrest to publication of originally classified documents that all of the powers of the United States government that could be brought to bear, even those that were not lawful to use, in fact were used, simpy to get back at a man who told the truth.

Now, I want to say that this is something that we have left behind, this is something that will not happen again, but unfortunaltely we have evidence that that's not the case. But nor do i think that that's a case of fundamentally American peculiarity. It's important to understand that these are not just American properties. It's not about the United States. This is not about the National Security Agency. This is about power. Every institution of a certain size, of a certain strength that is embarrassed by the truth will find a way, or at least attempt to find a means to retaliate against those who told that truth. And until we can create some kind of structure, some kind of mechanism for regulating that natural -unfortunately- human impulse to get revenge, I think, this is a dynamic that we always struggle with regardless of the country, regardless of the place, regardless of the controversy and, ultimately, regardless of the time.


JA: What do you say to those -and it's a reproach that has been unfortunately been put forward in the Washington Post a coule of days too, that claim that your disclosures have put the US and its operatives in harms way?

ES: I point out that that report that you referenced has been widely discredited since its publication. This is the first thing. I think it is quite sad because, again, it's reasonable to disagree and understandable that the government would want to push back against the unauthorised disclosure of classified information, whether it served to create a positive result or a negative result. Because it creates a level of uncertainty, of unpredictability over things that could go wrong. And, of course, governments naturally are risk averse. But this report went further. This report traded a blatant falsehood, things that were trivially disprovable. Things like .. they argue that I had lied about passing a high-school equivalency test. Now, this is unusual for a number of reasons, one of which is the first interview that I ever gave to the public in June of 2013. I said that I never graduated from high-school. But in fact there are journalists who the day afterthis report was published got the actual record that showed the score that I passed the high-school [?] test with. And it continued to many other point through this report. It created a condition in which we see: It was easier to find things that were not true in this report than it was to find sentences that actually were true. 

This is fundamentally a dangerous thing. This is something that all of us shpuld oppose regardless of our opinion about surveillance, regardless of whether you support what I did or you are entirely against it, because it undermines the credibiity of our governancy, undermines basic trust in the democratic institutions upon which we rely. That's a very dangerous thing, because without that social lubricant of trust, of knowing that the officials that are operating our government or that are representing us in the legislature are basically honest people who are not stretching the facts for political purposes. Those are the wheels upon which democracy turns. If we lose that, we lose the ability to trust our elected representatives. That is a very risky dynamic for democracy because it means suddenly rather than a nation works together to achieve a common purpose, it's every man or woman for herself.

But beyond that I think that to simplify the question -that was a lot of preamble- why is it that more than 3 years after these disclosures occurred if what these journalists did in publishing these stories was truely so dangerous, so damaging that it was costing lives, that it was putting soldiers at risk, we had never seen evidence of a single individual case in any country around the world, where an indivudual has come to harm as a result of any of these news stories. If it had happened -I can assure you as someone who worked for the NSA and the CIA- government officials routinely leak classified information for political purposes, if they had some evidence, some smoking gun that in an individual had died, some terrorist attack had succeeded because of the story that was published in the newspaper, by that evening it would be on every TV channel in every country around the world, and, had it happened, why. 


JA: We have a very tight net of surveillance. We talked about that. And yet there were the attacks on Charly Hebdo and the Bataclan in Paris, there were the bombs in Boston and Brussels. So, is there not enough surveillance, or would there have been more attacks without the surveillance we have? What is the relationship between the actual danger and the measure of surveillance?

ES: This is a very good question. I'm glad you asked. A very complex question, unfortunately. At the heart of this is why if we're surveilling everyone in the world regardless of whether they are criminals or not that we can if we are using our powers to the absolute maximum extent of their capabilities, why do terrorist attacks do succeed, why're people still slipping through the cracks? And as you said, this is a very long legacy. The Boston Marathon bombing that you referenced occurred when the surveillance was still secret, before the world knew about it. Despite that it didn't cause the terrorists any trouble. Later on, after these stories had been published, we saw it didn't make a difference. The police showed in their investigation, the terrorists were in fact coordinating their attacks with means that were stil vulnerable to surveillance. They had intercepted phone calls, they had seen signals in theur data bases they had evidence that the individuals were coordinating them, but htey didn;t notice it. Why is that? And the answer of course is actually the contrary of what you would naturally instictively would presume


Version: 22 November 2016

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Joachim Gruber