Edward Snowden: NSA Spies Most on Americans

“We watch our own people more closely than we watch any other population in the world.”

Civil liberties activists hold a rally against surveillance of US citizens as US President Barack Obama is expected to announce reforms of the National Security Agency (NSA) at the Justice Department in Washington on January 17, 2014.
National Journal
Dustin Volz
April 30, 2014, 10:12 a.m.

Ed­ward Snowden told a crowd of fans Wed­nes­day that the U.S. gov­ern­ment’s sur­veil­lance pro­grams col­lect more data on Amer­ic­ans than it does on any oth­er coun­try.

“Do you think it’s right that the NSA is col­lect­ing more in­form­a­tion about Amer­ic­ans in Amer­ica than it is about Rus­si­ans in Rus­sia?” Snowden said. “Be­cause that”s what our sys­tems do. We watch our own people more closely than we watch any oth­er pop­u­la­tion in the world.”

Snowden also took sev­er­al shots at the Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity Agency and its top of­fi­cials, and cri­ti­cized the agency for wear­ing two con­tra­dict­ory hats of pro­tect­ing U.S. data and ex­ploit­ing se­cur­ity flaws to gath­er in­tel­li­gence on for­eign threats.

“U.S. gov­ern­ment policy dir­ec­ted by the NSA … is now mak­ing a choice, a bin­ary choice, between se­cur­ity of our com­mu­nic­a­tions and the vul­ner­ab­il­ity of our com­mu­nic­a­tions,” Snowden said, sug­gest­ing the gov­ern­ment was biased to­ward the lat­ter activ­ity.

The former NSA con­tract­or was awar­ded the Riden­hour Award for Truth-Telling along with Laura Poitras, one of his chief con­fid­ants. The 30-year-old fu­git­ive re­mains in Rus­sia, where he fled and earned tem­por­ary asylum fol­low­ing his dis­clos­ures of clas­si­fied in­form­a­tion about the NSA’s bulk data-col­lec­tion prac­tices.

Poitras also beamed in­to the ce­re­mony from Ber­lin. The doc­u­ment­ary film­maker is be­lieved to be one of only two people — along with journ­al­ist Glenn Gre­en­wald — to pos­sess the en­tire cache of Snowden files.

The two col­lect­ively lam­basted both the Sen­ate and House In­tel­li­gence com­mit­tees for what they said was a fail­ure of suf­fi­cient over­sight of the in­tel­li­gence com­munity. Snowden also said he be­lieved the Ju­di­ciary com­mit­tees were more likely to en­act sub­stant­ive sur­veil­lance re­form, and noted his sup­port of the USA Free­dom Act, a bill that would end much of the gov­ern­ment’s bulk col­lec­tion of phone “metadata.”

Snowden, who has also been nom­in­ated this year for the No­bel Peace Prize, was a nat­ur­al choice for the Riden­hour award, which has honored in re­cent years journ­al­ist and un­doc­u­mented im­mig­rant Jose Ant­o­nio Var­gas and Thomas Drake, a former NSA of­fi­cial who also ex­posed secrets kept by the spy agency. The left-lean­ing group is named named after Ron Riden­hour, a Vi­et­nam vet­er­an who helped ex­pose the mas­sacre of hun­dreds of un­armed ci­vil­ians by U.S. sol­diers at My Lai in 1968.

Note: This story has been up­dated to re­flect the full con­text of Snowden’s com­ments on spy­ing, as re­flec­ted in an au­dio re­cord­ing provid­ing by Moth­er Jones.

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