Edward Snowden – “Permanent Record” & Life as an Exiled NSA Whistleblower | The Daily Show

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Edward Snowden, uh,
welcome to the show. -Good to be home. -Let’s jump
straight into the book, because I don’t know how long
you have in that secret hideout where you’re doing
this interview from. -Um…
-(laughs) It’s just my apartment
in Moscow. -Oh, okay.
-(laughter) Well, don’t tell us
where it is. I mean, I don’t want to…
I don’t… Don’t pull a Trump here, dude.
Come on. Um, some people call you
a patriot, right? Others believe that-that…
that you’re a traitor. Do you think this book will
change peoples’ perceptions, and what do you see yourself as? Well, when I-I-I…
I set out to write this book, I wasn’t trying
to change opinions. I was just trying to, uh, tell the story
of what has happened. Um, and when I’m looking at, like, the change of technology
and everything like that, the only way you can get people
to pay attention to something that has been in expert
conversation for so long, that’s so complex, uh, is
to give them characters, right? Um, so, yeah,
it’s the story of my life, but it’s actually about more. It’s a dual history of the change of technology
and the change of the intelligence community
over time. When people ask me
if I’m a hero or a traitor, uh, I say, “Look,
I’m-I’m just an ordinary person. I’m like you.” Whistleblowers
aren’t, uh, like… You know, we-we… we aren’t… um… elected. We’re not, uh,
exceptionally skilled. Uh, the-the thing that-that…
that puts us in place, the thing that makes, um, the disclosure matter
are-are the facts. It’s really about what you see,
rather than what you are. -So…
-Right. We’re kind of elected
by circumstance. Right, and one of… one
of the things you talk about in the book– in fact,
the first line of the book– is you say, “I used to work
for the government. Now I work for the public.” What does that mean? Well, I didn’t realize
there was a difference. Um, I-I grew up
in a federal family. My-my father worked
for the government, my mother worked
for the government, uh, in the-the courts
after she worked for the NSA. She actually still works
for the courts, uh, and they-they, uh… The government just sued me -on the day this book
hit the shelves. -Right. Uh, so you could say
it was… “born a crime.” -Um…
-(laughter) Touché. -(laughter)
-But, uh… (laughs) Yeah,
the-the nice thing about that, um, is the-the book was, uh,
not getting that much attention. It was, like, uh,
25 on the charts. And then, the government said, “You know, we don’t want you
to read this book.” Uh, they said, “God, sue Snowden
as fast as you can. Do anything you can.
Stop it! Stop it! Stop it!” And, uh, now we’re number one
basically everywhere. So you can say
the attorney general is the best hype man
that I’ve ever had. (applause) The… the attorney general
has come out and said that, like, you were supposed
to pass this book for review. So as somebody who’s worked
in-in, um… you know, in the defense space, as somebody who worked
with government secrets, you were meant
to submit this book to them. And they are saying
they would have passed it if you just followed the rules. Why didn’t you follow the rules? -(Snowden laughs)
-(laughter) Okay, well, first off,
I am a noted rule follower. -Um…
-(laughter) but, uh, while… while
they are technically right, uh, there’s no oath of secrecy. A lot of people think
there’s an oath of secrecy. There’s an oath of service,
which is not to the Agency, it’s not to the government–
it’s to support and defend the Constitution
of the United States against all enemies
foreign and domestic. But there is
a secrecy agreement, and that’s
what he’s talking about. It’s called Standard Form 312,
and it basically says: No, after I know all the secrets
and I know where the aliens are, um, I’m not gonna tell anybody
about it. Uh, however… if the thing that you see, uh,
in your secrecy agreement conflicts
with that oath of service, if the thing that you see
is that the government itself– the Agency itself– is actually violating
that Constitution, well, now you’re
kind of screwed. And then if you try
to explain what happened, and if you write a book
about how it happened and-and how we get out of it, and then you’re supposed
to send that book to the CIA and let the CIA kind of edit
your life story, would you do that? I would not. -I can safely say I would not.
-Me, neither. Right. Uh, where do people go… so then where do we go
from here? I mean, you-you became infamous
for spilling the secrets. You know, people now know
about mass surveillance. But now we live
in a world where, as you talk about in the book,
you know, surveillance has
so many levels to it. You have… institutions
that are surveilling us. We have private companies,
as you know, surveilling us. You see breaches from everyone,
you know, Equifax to Facebook. What can people do to protect
themselves and their data? Or is this something
that we should just give up? Well, so this is, you know,
a lot of people ask me this, and they want, like,
sort of the Edward Snowden operation security guide for,
like, how I would use a phone or how I avoid surveillance, but, guys, uh,
you don’t want to live like me. Um, you don’t want to have
ordinary people fighting an arms race against the most well resourced
intelligence services on the planet. You don’t want ordinary people
trying to out-engineer these technology companies
that are basically earning more money than anybody else
on the planet. Um, that’s not reasonable.
It doesn’t make sense. And then when we look
at what’s happening in Congress, Congress is like, “You know,
oh, we’ll pass some law.” By the way, the United States is one of the only
advanced democracies on the planet that doesn’t have
a basic privacy law. Right? Everybody’s like,
“Oh, we’ve got a privacy law, the Fourth Amendment.” Fourth Amendment’s
obviously very dear to me. That’s what I stood up and really burned my life
to the ground over. But the Fourth Amendment
only restricts the operations
of the federal government, the state government. It doesn’t do squat for you
against Google and Facebook. So they say
“data protection laws,” right? And we’ve had advances
since 2013– more communications
are encrypted; now you’ve got
encrypted messengers. We’ve got lots of ways
to be safe-er, right? But then when we talk about
what all these guys are doing and how they’re monitoring
all of us, um… they say,
“Well, data protection laws.” But the problem
with data protection laws is that it presumes
the data collection was okay. And that’s the problem. Um, as you might have realized, I was flipping through
your memoir before this, because that’s
kind of what spies do, -(laughter)
-um, and, uh, you wrote… you wrote
actually really movingly about something that struck me,
and it was kind of similar to one of the chapters
in my book. Mine was called “The Boy,”
and it’s about how I am, um, uh,
in my final position, working directly with the tools
of mass surveillance, I can see anybody’s e-mails, I can see what you’re texting
back and forth. You know, the guys that are
working left and right of me are turning their monitor
to show me nudes of the wife of one
of their targets, and, uh, they say, “Bonus.” Um… But then I see, uh, this picture–
it was actually a video– of a child in the lap
of his father. A-And the, you know,
it’s like a toddler, they’re smacking
on the keyboard. Um, and they don’t realize
what’s going on, but he kind of glanced
at the camera, and I felt
like he was looking at me. And this really shook me because when we talk
about surveillance, we’re talking so much
about an abstraction, -we’re talking about things
that don’t feel real. -Right. And when I was looking at yours,
you mentioned, um, buying a camera at some point. There were so many times,
you know, you get an electric razor,
it doesn’t really bother you. It doesn’t strike you
as anything criminal. -Right, but the camera
has something -But then… inside of it that contains
peoples’ memories -and their lives.
-Right. You realized
that it wasn’t a thing that had been stolen,
it-it was a memory. And that was in the context
of one person. I realized that the machine– I was a technologist
in the NSA– all of the different parts
that I’d been working with, all of the systems,
they had stolen and were stealing, not just
one person’s memories, they were stealing everyone’s,
everywhere, all the time, and they still are right now. A-And so I got up out
of the chair and, you know, I didn’t try to burn down
the NSA. I didn’t– I’ve published
zero documents. I-I gave them to journalists,
and there’s a long, complicated thing in the book
about how and why and where the lines are. Um, but I wanted not to say, “This is the way
the world should be.” I wanted to give it to you. I-I wanted to say,
“This is what’s happening.” And really, guys,
the question for you is, “How do you want to live?” We are, today, being used
against the future. We’re being used against
our children. Everything we do now
lasts forever. Not because
we want to remember it, but because we’re no longer
allowed to forget. So then when people
read this book, and people read through
the life of Edward Snowden, and-and what you had to do– as you say, burn down your life
to expose these secrets. Some might say, “Well, Edward,
why don’t you come back “to the U.S.
and then just fight, you know, the legal system,
and prove your case?” You know,
and you’ve said previously you can’t do that because
some of the information you need to fight your case
is something that they would not allow you
to use in court. But you-you are at a point now
where people know the name. You know, the book
is gonna be out now. Do you think you would take
your chances coming back to the U.S.
and hope that one juror would see your point of view? Or are you just living
in Russia now forever? Is that your life? No. This is, this is
a great question. My-My ultimate goal
will always be to return back
to the United States. And I’ve told the government,
actually, from year one, that I only had one condition
for returning, and that’s that I could get
a fair trial. Now, people go, “Oh, well,
what’s a fair trial? What does that mean?”
Um, and I-I think that’s actually not
that hard of question. There are two questions
that come up in this case. Um, one: Was the law broken? A-And that’s not actually, really particularly
the interesting question, um, because the law
in this case is simply: Was classified information
given to someone who is not authorized
to receive it? Which is basically
any journalist. It’s the public. It’s you. It’s everyone who did not know that their constitutional rights
were being violated, because that was the secret. Um, but there’s
another question there, which is, okay,
if the law was broken, was it justified?
And think about this. If you murder someone, you can tell the jury, “Well, they were trying
to kill me. It was self-defense.” The jury can go, “Well, yes,
they did break the law. -“Yes, they did murder someone.
-Mm-hmm. But it was justified.”
The government argues, um, that you…
there is no justification for telling a journalist,
no matter what. In fact, they forbid the jury from hearing
why you did what you did. You cannot voice this.
And don’t take my word for it. Just two days ago,
the day before my book came out, um, there is a whistleblower
by the name of Daniel Hale. He’s in U.S. prison right now. He was arrested for giving
documents that were classified to journalists
about the U.S. drone program. Extrajudicial killings. And the United States government
just filed– in the same court
that they’re going to charge me, the Eastern District
of Virginia– they just put in a complaint,
a filing before the judge that said,
“We demand that the court “prohibit the jury from hearing “and we prohibit the defendant “from saying
why he did what he did -because it’s irrelevant.”
-And that… Yeah. -And so you feel… -They said
the jury shouldn’t be distracted -with reasons.
-Right. So… I mean, that makes…
that makes a lot of sense. And so you’re in a… you’re in a serious predicament
right now. The book is gonna come out. Um, you know,
the U.S. government’s gonna fight not… for you to not get the money
from the book. They can’t stop the book
from coming out. Uh, but you are in Russia, where you’ve lived
for a long time now. You seem to be in good spirits,
which is interesting for someone who’s been
in Russia for this long. (laughter) -Like, what is that like? -Well,
they don’t have Taco Bell, -but they do have Burger King.
-Because, I mean, as someone who’s not a fan of surveillance,
Russia’s a weird place to be enjoying your life. -Is there something about Russia
we don’t know? -Yeah, yeah. -So, this is…
-Is, like… Is there… Are there, like,
cool spots in Russia that more people
need to learn about? -Is that where Edward Snowden
goes to chill? -At least… (laughs) So, Moscow is actually
a lot more like New York than you might think,
for good and bad there. Um, the problem is the politics
in Russia. The human rights record
of Russia are terrible. And a lot of people
don’t realize– and this is extensively covered
in the book– I didn’t choose to go to Russia. -Right. -I was en route
to Latin America. Um, the United States government
canceled my passport, and then, uh, when I was trapped
in the Russian airport… Uh, I spent 40 days
stuck in an airport because I wouldn’t cooperate
with the Russian authorities. I don’t know what the longest
layover you guys have ever had, but 40 days, uh… (laughs)
That was not the best part of the time I’ve spent
in Russia. Um, I applied for asylum in 27 different countries
around the world, places like France,
Germany, Italy, Norway. And every time they got close,
uh, to letting me come, the United States government would call, uh,
their foreign ministry, and it would be either
then the vice president or then the Secretary of State,
and they would say, “There will be consequences
if you let this guy in. “Doesn’t matter if it’s legal. “Doesn’t matter if the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights “says he has a right to seek
and enjoy asylum. “Um, there’s gonna be
consequences. “We’re not gonna say
what they are, but there will be punishment.” And so what I ask you guys is you would think, right,
former NSA, former CIA, like, the last place on Earth the government would want me
to be is in Russia. Why are they working so hard
to keep me here? And I think the reality is it’s just a convenient political
attack that will never go away. Well, you are truly one of the
most interesting human beings on the planet,
because you have lived one of the most interesting
lives on the planet. But one thing that
really struck me from the book is I think a lot of people
don’t realize how young and normal
you are and were before this happened to you. Like, you’re just a young guy
who, like, likes computers
and plays video games. -(laughs)
-And, like, I know that you-you
actually have to pirate games ’cause you can’t use
a credit card because then people
can track you. So, what–
like, what games are you– Are you, like,
a Fortnite person? Are you… -(laughs)
-Like, what-what games -does Edward Snowden play?
-I played… I-I played Fortnite recently. And, uh, I-I spent,
like, a week on it. And then I got really mad, because, like,
their matchmaking system, man. They-they just put people
who don’t know what the hell they’re doing in -with, like, the world’s
greatest pros. -(laughing) And I’m like, “Come on. Come–” I’m 36 years old, man. I can’t keep up
with these 12-year-olds. Well, you know what, man, I just want to say thank you
so much for your time. Um, the book is illuminating. Uh, I think everyone has
benefited from what you’ve done. Before you go though,
I do have one question, uh, to that r–
uh, to that regard. Do you think
you’ve made a difference? Or do you think
you’ve just been a big story? Like, is our data safer? Has the government
changed its tactics? Or was this all for nothing?
You know? Do you live in Russia
for-for nothing? There’s no question, um… And this is covered in the book.
It’s actually– The-the final chapter’s, uh, sort of an overview
of what’s changed. Um, there’s no question. The entire structure of the
Internet has changed since 2013. Uh, the world’s biggest
technology companies, good and bad for privacy,
h-have reengineered, um, the kind of protections
that we experience that you don’t even see, uh, simply because they realized
the government w-was sort of, -uh, going in, uh,
under cover of darkness -Mm-hmm. and helping themselves
to the buffet, uh, without anybody noticing. Our laws have changed. Our international standards
has changed. But the most important thing– and this is what I think
people forget– um, is you don’t look, uh, for some guy to come out of
a building a-and save the world. That-That’s not how life works. Um, what 2013 did, the most important thing
that no one can ever change, uh, is, before 2013, the idea of mass surveillance, people knew it was possible. There were technologists
and academics and people who suspected
this was going on. Um, but it was
kind of a conspiracy theory, because it was a suspicion. And that distance between suspicion and fact is everything in a democracy. That is all we have
in a free society, because we– if we can’t agree
on what is happening, how can we decide what we should do about it? Government in a democracy
derives its, uh, legitimacy from the consent
of the governed. And the biggest problem in 2013, uh, was that consent is only
meaningful if it’s informed. And they lied to us. Edward Snowden, thank you so
much for joining us on the show. Good luck in Fortnite. Permanent Record
is available now.

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