NBC’s Snowden Interview Overlooks Pre-9/11 Data Collection by the NSA
NSA whistleblower Kirk Wiebe says that the interview was a missed opportunity to remind Americans that the spy agency had information about the 9/11 terrorist attacks before they occurred
JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jessica in Baltimore.
NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden had his first sit-down interview with a U.S. television network. He sat down with NBC’s Brian Williams in Moscow to discuss everything, from his background to whether he thought that he was a patriot for bringing to light the United States government’s bulk data collection program on its own citizens. Here’s a look at what he had to say.
EDWARD SNOWDEN, NSA WHISTLEBLOWER: My priority is not about myself. It’s about making sure that these programs are reformed and that the family that I left behind, the country that I left behind can be helped by my actions. And I will do everything I can to continue to work in the most responsible way possible and to prioritize causing no harm while serving the public good.
DESVARIEUX: Snowden did say he’d like to return home to the United States. And in an interview with MSNBC, Secretary of State John Kerry reacted to his interview.
JOHN KERRY, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Edward Snowden is a coward, he is a traitor, and he has betrayed his country. And if he wants to come home tomorrow to face the music, he can do so.
DESVARIEUX: Here to discuss the significance of the Snowden interview is our guest, Kirk Wiebe. He is a former NSA senior intelligence analyst and an NSA whistleblower who worked with the NSA for more than 32 years.
Thanks for joining us, Kirk.
J. KIRK WIEBE, FMR. SENIOR INTELLIGENCE ANALYST, NSA: It’s good to be with you, Jessica. Thank you for having me.
DESVARIEUX: So, Kirk, I want to get your reaction to the Snowden interview. Did you actually even learn anything from the interview? And if you did, what did you learn?
WIEBE: Jessica, I think Brian Williams missed an opportunity to raise an issue that has not been broadly or widely discussed, and that is the fact that NSA had information that could have prevented 9/11. This is before any Patriot Act, before any terrorist surveillance program on behalf of the president and Cheney and all of this stuff. If [you] go back, push the clock back to before 9/11, we actually had the information. But we didn’t know we had it in one instance. And in another instance, we did know we had it, but didn’t report it to anybody, didn’t tell anybody. Drake has made that very clear. And they have said so publicly. He was there at NSA right after 9/11. He was there. And Binney and myself and Loomis retired, but Drake was still there. And at some point, he participated in the Saxby Chambliss 9/11 committee that looked into what went wrong and told that committee that NSA had the data to prevent 9/11 and didn’t share it. Why you wouldn’t share that information I don’t know, but I think he should have raised that as an issue.
DESVARIEUX: Alright. And in the interview, they also raised the issue, this argument that a lot of people make, which is that, you know, why do we even care if NSA is violating our privacy if we have nothing to hide? Essentially, if this is going to make us safer, then let them do their job, let them find the terrorists, and if they’re going to read my emails, record my phone calls, what’s wrong with that?
WIEBE: Okay, it’s very wrong. It presumes that the government only does good. There’s an automatic assumption in that statement that says, I can trust the government completely, when the truth is NSA has operated unconstitutionally for 60 percent of the time it has existed, since the late 1940s–60 percent. Everybody must remember the reason we have been intelligence committee in both houses of Congress is specifically due to the fact that NSA was caught spying on Americans back in the ’50s and ’60s, including such people as Senator Church himself, who led the Church committee that formed the two intelligence committees as steps to rein in the NSA. In other words, this is déjà vu. We’ve been there, done that, and it didn’t work. And now we’re about to do it again. And we keep repeating that kind of behavior, we keep trusting.
The point of it is the person who says, I’m not doing anything wrong, doesn’t get to decide what the government thinks is wrong or wrongful thinking, wrongful politics, wrongful cultural beliefs. You don’t get to decide. Someone else does.
DESVARIEUX: And, Kirk, at the end of the program, Brian Williams basically posed a question to the audience–if Snowden was a traitor or a patriot, and people could Tweet their response. And, you know, folks are saying that the fact that the Pulitzer went to journalists who reported on the documents that Snowden provided to them, that sort of vindicated him. And also there’s a House bill that just was passed last week that is going to–well, it seems on the surface–sort of protect privacy. First of all, what’s your take on that bill? And do you think Snowden is vindicated?
WIEBE: Well, let me take the Snowden vindication first. Yes, I do think he’s vindicated. And it really goes back to the simple but so valuable principles embodied in the United States Constitution. You know when you sign up to work for the government–and he’s been in the military; he told us that–you swear an oath not to uphold Congress, not to uphold the Supreme Court, not to uphold John Kerry, not to uphold the president in the White House, but to uphold the United States Constitution and what it says against all enemies foreign and domestic. And here we have people, arrogant people, I think, running off in this closed group making legal decisions. My gosh, Jessica, even the Supreme Court did get asked whether what NSA was going to do was constitutional, and I know you weren’t and I weren’t asked or any of my neighbors. So we have a small group. Some people would call that a coup, overthrowing a government. So I think he’s vindicated in the fact that he has made known and proven it to be true that the government is subverting the Constitution. And for that he is certainly vindicated and a real patriot in my books.
DESVARIEUX: And what about the House bill, Kirk?
WIEBE: Well, as far as new legislation, what I’ve seen are some draft pieces to it, and it’s troubling. The House has just passed it, as you said. And it implemented–yes, it puts metadata under the control of the telephone companies. But you know, Jessica, in today’s world it doesn’t make any difference where data is. People, every time they click on a website just to view furniture or to go on Facebook and speak with friend–in my case, I have relatives in Sweden, and I go to their Facebook page. Now, that’s 3,000 miles away. And it’s accessible to me within microseconds. It pops up on my screen, and I’m reading about my relatives in Sweden. So what I’m trying to say is it isn’t where information is, ’cause it can all be gotten to through fiber-optic communications channels that serve the internet all over the world. So that is false security. That doesn’t do much for privacy.
DESVARIEUX: Alright. And for you, what do you see needs to happen if, you know, this moves on to the Senate? What are some amendments or what sort of things should be placed in that legislation?
WIEBE: I think that all metadata that is commercially gathered for all of us, through all the devices we use–and I don’t care whether it’s a phone or pager or whatever it is or a iPhone, whatever, text messaging–all of it should be encrypted when stored by anyone. And, of course, you can encrypt it to send it if you want to. Everyone has that option. And it shouldn’t be viewed as a red flag by the FBI as it currently is. So if you take steps personally to invest in your own privacy, it’s viewed by the FBI as suspect. So you’ll get a red flag on your name. And that should not be true. We are all being treated as guilty and then have to prove ourselves innocent. And that’s not the justice system or the principle that we operate on in this country.
So I think it all should be encrypted. That would do two things. It would allow NSA to use encrypted metadata not to identify us, but to look for patterns that could be patterns of terrorism, criminality, etc. NSA needs all the metadata to do that effectively. Otherwise, we’ll be hit by the unknown and we’ll be focused only on what we know and not ready to detect what we don’t know.
And so it’s–the legislation is not anywhere close to being what it should be to give us all privacy and allow NSA to do its job also.
DESVARIEUX: Alright. Kirk Wiebe, thank you so much for joining us.
WIEBE: My pleasure, Jessica. Thank you.
DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.