Ex-CIA employee source of leak on PRISM program


Former CIA employee Edward Snowden revealed Sunday that he was the source of a leak about a top-secret US program code-named PRISM that monitored internet and phone records, saying his "sole motive is to inform the public".


Former CIA employee Edward Snowden revealed on Sunday that he was the source of a leak about a top-secret US program code-named PRISM that monitored internet use and phone records, saying he revealed the information to protect “basic liberties for people around the world”.

Edward Snowden, 29, said he deliberated at length before publicising the details of the National Security Agency (NSA) program, saying he did so because he felt the United States was building a “massive surveillance machine” that spied on Americans.

"My sole motive is to inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them,” he told Britain’s “Guardian” newspaper, which published a video interview with him on its website.

“I do not want to live in a world where everything I do and say is recorded. That is not something I am willing to support or live under,” he said.

Both the “Guardian” and the “Washington Post” reported last week that US security services had monitored data about phone calls from US telecoms firm Verizon and Internet usage data from large companies such as Google and Facebook.

PRISM reportedly grants the NSA access to emails and other online communications from US internet servers in order to track foreign nationals suspected of terrorism or espionage. The NSA also collects information from the telephone records of US clients, but not the content of calls.

Snowden on Monday left the Hong Kong hotel in which he had sought refuge after fleeing Hawaii on May 20. He told the “Guardian” that he chose Hong Kong, a semi-autonomous Chinese territory, in part because “Hong Kong has a strong tradition of free speech.”

A former systems engineer and senior adviser at the CIA, Snowden said he had been working at Booz Allen Hamilton as an infrastructure analyst for the NSA. He said he decided to leak the privileged information after becoming disenchanted with President Barack Obama, who he said was continuing the policies of predecessor George W. Bush.

Election records show that Snowden contributed to the presidential campaign of Ron Paul, a long-shot Libertarian candidate, in March 2012.

“The NSA has built an infrastructure that allows it to intercept almost everything,” Snowden said.

He said that in its pursuit of primarily foreign surveillance targets, US agencies are increasingly monitoring American citizens and temporarily storing vast amounts of their information because “it is the easiest, most efficient and most valuable way” to collect intelligence.

“With this capability, the vast majority of human communications are automatically ingested without targeting. If I wanted to see your emails or your wife’s phone, all I have to do is use intercepts. I can get your emails, passwords, phone records, credit cards,” he said.

“I’m willing to sacrifice all of that because I can’t in good conscience allow the US government to destroy privacy, Internet freedom and basic liberties for people around the world with this massive surveillance machine they’re secretly building,” Snowden said of his decision to give up his comfortable life in Hawaii, where he reportedly earned about $200,000 a year.

Post-9/11 expanded surveillance

The “Guardian” reported that Snowden had been working at the NSA for four years as a contractor for outside companies.

Three weeks ago, he copied secret documents at the NSA office in Hawaii and told his supervisor he needed “a couple of weeks” off for treatment for epilepsy, the paper said. On May 20 he flew to Hong Kong.

The CIA and the White House declined to comment, while a spokesman for Director of National Intelligence James Clapper would not comment directly about Snowden but said the intelligence community was reviewing any damage done by the leaks.

“Any person who has a security clearance knows that he or she has an obligation to protect classified information and abide by the law,” said the spokesman, Shawn Turner.

The NSA has requested a criminal probe into the leaked information. On Sunday, the Justice Department said it was in the initial stages of a criminal investigation following the leaks.

Booz Allen, a US management and technology consultancy, said reports of the leaked information were “shocking and if accurate, this action represents a grave violation” of company policy.

It said Snowden had been employed by the company for less than three months and that it would cooperate with any investigations.

Snowden’s decision to reveal his identity and whereabouts lifts the lid on one of the biggest security leaks in US history and escalates a story that has placed a bright light on Obama’s extensive use of secret surveillance.

The exposure of the secret programs has triggered widespread debate within the United States and abroad about the vast reach of the NSA, which has expanded its surveillance dramatically since the September 11, 2001, attacks on Washington and New York.

In the hours since Snowden’s name went public, a petition for him to be pardoned on the website had garnered more than 15,500 signatures.

US officials say the agency operates within the law. Some members of Congress have indicated support for the NSA activities, while others pushed for tougher oversight and possible changes to the law authorising the surveillance.

“My primary fear is that they will come after my family, my friends, my partner,” Snowden said. “Anyone I have a relationship with. I will have to live with that for the rest of my life. I am not going to be able to communicate with them. [The authorities] will act aggressively against anyone who has known me. That keeps me up at night.”

(FRANCE 24 with wires)

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