Edward Snowden: Congress’s Failures Forced My Hand

In a new interview, the NSA leaker says House and Senate leaders “elected” him by failing to do their oversight jobs themselves.

A bus drives past a banner supporting Edward Snowden at Central, Hong Kong's business district, Tuesday, June 18, 2013. 
National Journal
Matt Berman
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Matt Berman
Dec. 24, 2013, 4:34 a.m.

Ed­ward Snowden isn’t giv­ing the Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity Agency a break. The NSA leak­er has de­clared vic­tory in a new in­ter­view with The Wash­ing­ton Post, pub­lished just a week after a fed­er­al judge ruled that the data-col­lec­tion pro­gram Snowden un­veiled in­fringes on Fourth Amend­ment rights. 

“For me, in terms of per­son­al sat­is­fac­tion, the mis­sion’s already ac­com­plished,” Snowden told The Post earli­er this month. “I already won. As soon as the journ­al­ists were able to work, everything that I had been try­ing to do was val­id­ated. Be­cause, re­mem­ber, I didn’t want to change so­ci­ety. I wanted to give so­ci­ety a chance to de­term­ine if it should change it­self.”

But Snowden isn’t just giv­ing grief to the NSA. In the in­ter­view, he says he was forced to take the re­spons­ib­il­ity for stand­ing up for Amer­ic­an so­ci­ety be­cause Amer­ica’s elec­ted lead­ers had failed.

“That whole ques­tion — who elec­ted you? — in­verts the mod­el. They elec­ted me. The over­seers,” Snowden says. And he gets more spe­cif­ic:

“Di­anne Fein­stein elec­ted me when she asked soft­ball ques­tions” in com­mit­tee hear­ings, he said. “Mike Ro­gers elec­ted me when he kept these pro­grams hid­den…. The FISA court elec­ted me when they de­cided to le­gis­late from the bench on things that were far bey­ond the man­date of what that court was ever in­ten­ded to do. The sys­tem failed com­pre­hens­ively, and each level of over­sight, each level of re­spons­ib­il­ity that should have ad­dressed this, ab­dic­ated their re­spons­ib­il­ity.”

This ob­vi­ously doesn’t make life any easi­er for Sen. Di­anne Fein­stein, D-Cal­if., the chair­wo­man of the Sen­ate In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee.

Last week, more than 50 civil-liber­ties groups came out in op­pos­i­tion to Fein­stein’s at­tempt to re­form the NSA, the FISA Im­prove­ments Act. The bill, which would lay out prop­er use for the col­lec­tion pro­grams, “does not of­fer real re­form to stop the NSA’s mass col­lec­tion of our com­mu­nic­a­tions and com­mu­nic­a­tions re­cords,” the groups con­tend. The bill would of­fer “fig-leaf trans­par­ency and over­sight pro­vi­sions while em­bra­cing NSA sur­veil­lance,” says the Elec­tron­ic Fron­ti­er Found­a­tion. 

Now, Snowden is pil­ing on.

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