Story Summary

NSA surveillance

A former CIA employee admits he’s the man who leaked information about U.S. domestic surveillance programs.

Edward Snowden, 29, worked at the National Security Agency. He said he’s seeking political asylum in Iceland.

He left America with highly sensitive documents, and is now believed to be in Hong Kong.

Snowden told the British newspaper The Guardian that the NSA has become too powerful.

The Obama administration is expected to demand Snowden’s arrest and extradition back to America to face charges.

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As U.S. federal agents build a case against the contractor who exposed controversial electronic surveillance programs by the National Security Agency, one of the journalists who has been working with him says more secrets are set to be revealed soon.

“There are extremely invasive spying programs that the public still does not know about that the NSA regularly engages in or other capabilities that they’re developing,” said Glenn Greenwald, a columnist for the Guardian, the British newspaper that broke the first story based on secret NSA documents.

“We are working on stories right at this moment that we think are very valuable for the public to know that don’t in any way harm national security but that shine a light on this extremely secretive though momentous agency,” he said in an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Monday.

Greenwald received the documents from Edward Snowden, a 29-year-old employee at the computer consultant Booz Allen Hamilton, a contractor for the U.S. electronic intelligence agency.

EdwardSnowdenSnowden told the Guardian that he left behind his family and a six-figure job in Hawaii to reveal the extent of the NSA’s collection of telephone and Internet data, which he called “an existential threat to democracy.”

He said he expects to be prosecuted for the leak. And a federal law enforcement official said Monday that FBI agents have begun an investigation by searching Snowden’s home and computers and seeking interviews with his girlfriend, relatives, friends and co-workers.

The leaker’s exact whereabouts are unclear at the moment.

Snowden checked out of a Hong Kong hotel where he had been staying on Monday but remains in the semiautonomous Chinese territory, Ewen MacAskill, one of the Guardian journalists who worked with him, said Tuesday.

Surveillance debate

His disclosures have fueled new debate about the U.S. government’s collection of records of domestic telephone calls and overseas Internet activity in the global hunt for terrorists and criminals.

Civil liberties advocates say the measures are an unacceptable intrusion into citizens’ privacy. But supporters of the programs say they are legal and have yielded evidence that has helped put terror plotters in prison, though many of the details remain classified.

Obama administration officials and leaders of the intelligence committees in Congress say the program undergoes periodic review by all three branches of government, and that the content of Americans’ calls is not being monitored.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said Monday the measures are a necessary middle way between total privacy and unacceptable threat. He said President Barack Obama would be willing to consider changes should a national debate show the public wants them — but he wryly noted, “This is not the manner by which he hoped to have the debate.”

Snowden’s actions have brought together some liberals and conservatives to hail him as a hero.

Liberal activist and filmmaker Michael Moore tweeted that Snowden is “HERO OF THE YEAR.” Conservative commentator Glenn Beck, meanwhile, called Snowden a “patriot leaker” who could help America “regain her moral compass.”

A petition filed on the White House website Sunday, calling for the Obama administration to issue Snowden a complete pardon, had collected nearly 43,000 signatures by early Tuesday.

Despite Snowden’s insistence that he didn’t want the story to become about him, a great deal of attention remains focused on figuring out where he is and what will happen next.

He planned his disclosure and his getaway in great detail, “but this next phase, the phase we’re in now, he was almost vague about it,” MacAskill said. “I don’t think he actually knew or even cared that much. His main objective was to get the information about the level of surveillance out into the public domain and then beyond that, he didn’t care.”

Legal experts say Hong Kong’s extradition treaty with the United States could make it hard for Snowden to successfully fight any proceedings against him unless he is able to prove, for example, that any charges against him are politically motivated.

Although Hong Kong is part of communist-ruled China, the former British colony has a separate system of government that allows a free press and tolerates political dissent.

Patricia Ho, a lawyer with Daly & Associates in Hong Kong whose firm has handled asylum and refugee claims, said that given Hong Kong’s lackluster track record on granting asylum, she was surprised Snowden had lauded the territory for its commitment to civil liberties.

“Within China itself, Hong Kong has better civil liberties but I couldn’t see the Hong Kong government granting him asylum given their present practices,” she said.

Advice from Assange

Snowden has told the Guardian he hopes to seek asylum, potentially in Iceland because of the way it dealt with WikiLeaks, a group that facilitates the anonymous leaking of secret information through its website. The group reportedly once operated from there.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, bottled up in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London since last June, said Snowden should be looking to the southeast, not northwest.

“I would strongly advise him to go to Latin America,” Assange told CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360″ on Monday night. “Latin America has shown in the past 10 years that it is really pushing forward in human rights. There’s a long tradition of asylum.”

Assange sought refuge in the Ecuadorian mission to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning over allegations that he raped one woman and sexually molested another. He has repeatedly said the allegations in Sweden are politically motivated and tied to the work of his website.

Assange has said he fears Sweden will transfer him to the United States.

Traveling to another country could become difficult for Snowden if U.S. authorities issue an Interpol “red notice” against him, according to Don Borelli, a former FBI agent and U.S. legal attache overseas.

“Many countries recognize an Interpol red notice as kind of a universal arrest warrant,” he said.

CNN’s Michael Pearson, Joe Johns, Carol Cratty, Tom Cohen, Brian Walker and Elise Labott contributed to this report.

The-CNN-Wire/Atlanta/™ & © 2012 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.


US surveillance program leaker goes public

The admitted whistleblower who exposed massive government spying against American citizens, has gone public.

Edward Snowden, the man behind of one of the biggest leaks in the history of U.S. intelligence, is a former technical assistant for the CIA who is now holed up in a Hong Kong hotel, in danger of running out of money and hoping to find asylum somewhere in the world.

U.S. Rep. Peter King, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee’s Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence, called Snowden “a defector” who should be turned over to the United States with an eye toward harsh prosecution.

“This person is dangerous to the country,” King told CNN’s “Starting Point” on Monday.

Snowden, 29, identified himself this weekend in American and British newspapers as the person who exposed details of a top-secret American program that collects vast streams of phone and Internet data.

The revelations have set off a furious debate in the United States about whether the surveillance program is a disturbing form of government overreach or an important tool for intelligence agencies trying to prevent attacks against the nation.

They have also dealt a fresh blow to the Obama administration, which has found itself on the defensive early in the president’s second term amid other complaints of intrusions of privacy.

As details of the U.S. government’s widespread telecommunications surveillance emerged last week in reports by the British newspaper The Guardian and The Washington Post, speculation built about who the source of the information might be.

Could it be a disgruntled high-ranking official at the National Security Agency, the U.S. electronic intelligence service?

It turned out to be Snowden, who until recently was working as a computer technician for a U.S. Defense contractor.

Snowden told the Guardian he began final preparations for his disclosures three weeks ago, copying documents and telling his boss he needed a few weeks off work for epilepsy treatment before traveling to Hong Kong.

Snowden told the newspaper he walked away from a $200,000 salary with the computer consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton, a comfortable life in Hawaii and his girlfriend for a good reason.

“I’m willing to sacrifice all of that because I can’t in good conscience allow the U.S. government to destroy privacy, Internet freedom and basic liberties for people around the world with this massive surveillance machine they’re secretly building,” he said.

He said he chose Hong Kong because of its “spirited commitment to free speech and the right of political dissent,” and because he hoped its leaders would resist possible U.S. efforts to extradite him.

Hidden in Hong Kong

It was unclear Monday where Snowden was staying. But the two journalists who wrote the stories for The Guardian based on the information Snowden leaked — Glenn Greenwald and Ewen MacAskill — were at the W Hotel in the city’s Kowloon district.

“From morning to night he’s in his hotel room, has his meals in his room,” MacAskill told CNN, declining to give any information about which hotel Snowden is in.

Hotel staff at the W said nobody under Snowden’s name was staying there.

Mandy Chan, an employee at the Mira Hotel in the nearby neighborhood of Tsim Sha Tsui, said somebody by the name of Edward Snowden had checked out of the Mira on Monday. She declined to provide further details on his stay.

He has only left his room three times since he arrived in Hong Kong about three weeks ago, MacAskill said, “and that was only briefly.”

The cost of living in a hotel is threatening to burn through Snowden’s remaining funds, according to MacAskill.

“His credit card is going to max out pretty quickly,” he said.

Snowden left the United States for Hong Kong without telling his family or girlfriend where he was going or why. Now he’s concerned about the repercussions his actions could have for them.

“The terrible thing is he is worried about his family, that they’ll be victimized,” MacAskill said. “He’s basically cut off from family.”

But Snowden acted with full awareness of the possible consequences.

“He’s thought this out; he’s been thinking about this for a few years,” MacAskill said. “He’s not impetuous, and this wasn’t a hasty decision.”

Will he be extradited?

Snowden has not yet been charged with a crime, but an investigation that could lead to charges is certain, said CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin.

“He’s in enormous trouble,” Toobin said Monday.

Any U.S. request to extradite him from Hong Kong could be complicated, however.

Although Hong Kong is part of communist-ruled China, the former British colony has a free press and tolerates political dissent under a semi-autonomous government.

Hong Kong’s extradition treaty with the United States has exceptions for political crimes and cases when handing over a criminal suspect would harm the “defense, foreign affairs or essential public interest or policy” of either party.

“I think he looked around, this seemed the safest bet,” MacAskill said.

Snowden hopes to get asylum, he added, with Iceland his first choice because of the way it dealt with Wikileaks.

Iceland is one of the countries that offered a degree of legal protection to Wikileaks, a group that facilitates the anonymous leaking of secret information through its website. The group reportedly once operated from there.

But Kristin Arnadottir, Iceland’s ambassador to China, said that according to Icelandic law, a person can only submit an application for asylum once he or she is in Iceland.

‘An enormous service’

But freedom of information advocates take a different view.

“I think he’s done an enormous service,” said Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers — documents showing the government had lied about the progress of the Vietnam War.

“It gives us a chance, I think, from drawing back from the total surveillance state that we could say we’re in the process of becoming, I’m afraid we have become,” Ellsberg said on CNN Newsroom on Sunday.

In Snowden’s case, The Guardian on Wednesday published a top secret court order demanding that Verizon Business Network Services turn over details of phone calls published from April 25 to July 19. Intelligence officials later confirmed the program, which analysts say likely covers all U.S. carriers.

On Thursday, The Guardian and The Washington Post disclosed the existence of PRISM, a program they said allows NSA analysts to extract the details of people’s online activities — including “audio and video chats, photographs, e-mails, documents” and other materials — from computers at Microsoft, Google, Apple and other Internet firms.

Intelligence officials similarly confirmed that program’s existence, but said it only targets overseas residents who are not U.S. citizens.

Snowden said the NSA’s reach poses “an existential threat to democracy.” He said he had hoped the Obama administration would end the programs once it took office in 2009, but instead, he said, President Obama “advanced the very policies that I thought would be reined in.”

“I don’t see myself as a hero, because what I’m doing is self-interested,” he said. “I don’t want to live in a world where there’s no privacy, and therefore no room for intellectual exploration and creativity.”

On Friday, Obama said he entered office skeptical of such programs, but decided to reauthorize them after a thorough vetting and the addition of unspecified additional safeguards. He called them only “modest encroachments on privacy” that help thwart terror attacks.

Defending the program

James Clapper, director of the Office of National Intelligence, had no direct comment on Snowden’s admission, but noted, “Any person who has a security clearance knows that he or she has an obligation to protect classified information and abide by the law.”

The Justice Department declined to comment, citing an ongoing investigation into the leak.

Leaders of the intelligence committees in Congress defended the program Sunday.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said it helped lead to convictions in two cases:

– Najibullah Zazi, an Afghan-born Colorado man who pleaded guilty to conspiring to bomb targets in New York.

– David Headley, who pleaded guilty to conducting advance surveillance for the Pakistani jihadists who attacked hotels and other targets in Mumbai, India, in 2008, killing 164 people.

“These programs are within the law,” Feinstein, D-California, told ABC’s “This Week.” And Rep. Mike Rogers, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, told ABC, “The inflammatory nature of the comments does not fit with what Dianne and I know this program really does.”

“The instances where this has produced good — has disrupted plots, prevented terrorist attacks — is all classified,” said Rogers, R-Michigan. “That’s what’s so hard about this.”

Clapper: Programs authorized

Clapper’s office declassified some details of the programs, which it said were “conducted under authorities widely known and discussed, and fully debated and authorized by Congress.”

It said PRISM was created in 2008, targets “foreign targets located outside the United States” and gets reviewed by the administration, Congress and judges. And Rogers told reporters Sunday that “there is not a target on Americans.”

But Greenwald, the lead author of the Guardian pieces, told ABC’s “This Week” that Americans need an “open, honest debate about whether that’s the kind of country that we want to live in.”

“These are things that the American people have a right to know,” said Greenwald, a lawyer and civil liberties advocate. “The only thing being damaged is the credibility of political officials and the way they exercise power in the dark.”

Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colorado, who has long called for greater transparency in how the government collects data on Americans, said the legal authority should be reopened for debate after last week’s disclosures.

“Maybe Americans think this is OK, but I think the line has been drawn too far toward ‘we’re going to invade your privacy,’ versus ‘we’re going to respect your privacy,’” Udall told CNN’s “State of the Union.”

The Obama administration is already under fire following revelations the Justice Department seized two months of phone records from Associated Press reporters and editors as part of an investigation into leaks of classified information.

‘I do not expect to see home again’

The Guardian reported that Snowden grew up in North Carolina and Maryland. He joined the Army in 2003 but was discharged after breaking both his legs in a training accident. He never completed a high-school diploma but learned computer skills at a community college in Maryland.

He started his career as a security guard for an NSA facility at the University of Maryland, then went to work for the CIA in Internet security. In 2009, he got the first of several jobs with private contractors that worked with the NSA.

In a statement issued Sunday afternoon, Booz Allen said Snowden had worked for the company for less than three months. Reports that he had leaked American secrets were “shocking” and if true, “represents a grave violation of the code of conduct and core values of our firm,” the company said.

Snowden told the Guardian that he left for Hong Kong on May 20 without telling his family or his girlfriend what he planned.

“I do not expect to see home again,” he told the paper, acknowledging the risk of imprisonment over his actions.

“You can’t come up against the world’s most powerful intelligence agencies and not accept the risk,” he said. “If they want to get you, over time they will.”

CNN’s Jethro Mullen reported and wrote from Hong Kong with Matt Smith in Atlanta. CNN’s Brian Walker and Anjali Tsui in Hong Kong; and Elise Labott and Carol Cratty in Washington contributed to this report.

The-CNN-Wire/Atlanta/™ & © 2012 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.

The Obama administration is defending the use of the massive surveillance program called PRISM as they dispute the details of a new report that revealed the existence of the top secret anti-terror initiative.

Using PRISM, the government tapped into the servers of the largest internet companies in the country to search for data potentially linked to terrorism, espionage or nuclear proliferation through email and phone records.

The U.S. director of national intelligence confirmed the existence of the surveillance program on Thursday.

The administration said that PRISM is targeting only non-U.S. citizens outside the country.

However, the government can see what internet users are typing or sending in real time according to the Washington Post’s source that first shared the top secret documents.

The U.S. is seizing the phone records of millions of Americans. Is it for their protection or an invasion of privacy?
That’s the question touched off by an explosive report that the feds are collecting records from Verizon.
A secret court order and the Patriot Act allow it for counter-terrorism.
The FBI can know your number, who calls it and how long you talked, but not the content of the call.
Top republicans and democrats say it’s vital to national security.
Senator Durbin agrees with putting security first, he is looking to beef up privacy protections in the law.

By Chelsea J. Carter and Josh Levs, CNN

The U.S. government has obtained a top secret court order that requires Verizon to turn over the telephone records of millions of Americans to the National Security Agency on an “ongoing daily basis,” the UK-based Guardian newspaper reported.

The four-page order, which The Guardian published on its website Wednesday, requires the communications giant to turn over “originating and terminating” telephone numbers as well as the location, time and duration of the calls.

If genuine, the order gives the NSA blanket access to the records of millions of Verizon customers’ domestic and foreign phone calls made between April 25, when the order was signed, and July 19, when it expires.

While the report infuriated people across the country — former Vice President Al Gore called the idea “obscenely outrageous” — a senior official in the Obama administration defended the idea of such an order early Thursday.

Without acknowledging whether the order exists, the administration official emphasized that such an order does not include collection of “the content of any communications or the name of any subscriber. It relates exclusively to metadata, such as a telephone number or the length of a call.”

“Information of the sort described in the Guardian article has been a critical tool in protecting the nation from terrorist threats to the United States, as it allows counterterrorism personnel to discover whether known or suspected terrorists have been in contact with other persons who may be engaged in terrorist activities, particularly people located inside the United States,” the unnamed official said in a written statement to media.

The official also insisted that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act authorizes intelligence collection. Activities “are subject to strict controls and procedures under oversight of the Department of Justice, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the FISA Court, to ensure that they comply with the Constitution and laws of the United States and appropriately protect privacy and civil liberties.”

That response was unlikely to quell the quickly growing criticism.

“While I cannot corroborate the details of this particular report, this sort of widescale surveillance should concern all of us and is the kind of government overreach I’ve said Americans would find shocking,” said Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colorado, who serves on the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Gore, in a tweet, also criticized the move.

“In the digital era, privacy must be a priority. Is it just me, or is secret blanket surveillance obscenely outrageous?” he said.

Verizon spokesman Edward McFadden declined to comment on the report.

According to the document published by The Guardian, Judge Roger Vinson of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Court signed a “Secondary Order” granting an FBI request for access to the records.

The FBI did not respond to a CNN request for comment. The NSA told CNN it will respond “as soon as we can.”

The order does not say why the request was made, but it bans the government and Verizon from making the contents public.

“As far as we know, this order from the FISA court is the broadest surveillance order to ever have been issued: it requires no level of suspicion and applies to all Verizon subscribers anywhere in the U.S.,” the Center for Constitutional Rights said in a statement released shortly after the story broke.

“It also contains a gag order prohibiting Verizon from disclosing information about the order to anyone other than their counsel.”

It is not the first time such an action has been taken.

In 2006, it was revealed that the NSA was secretly collecting telephone records as part of an effort to root out potential terror plots.

At that time, Verizon denied reports that it was providing the NSA with data from customers’ domestic calls. The company said that while it is committed to helping the government protect against terrorist attacks, “we will always make sure that any assistance is authorized by law and that our customers’ privacy is safeguarded.”

Reacting to Wednesday’s disclosure, the American Civil Liberties Union called for an immediate end to the order and a congressional investigation into the move.

“It’s a program in which some untold number of innocent people have been put under the constant surveillance of government agents,” said Jameel Jaffer, the ACLU’s deputy legal director.

“It is beyond Orwellian, and it provides further evidence of the extent to which basic democratic rights are being surrendered in secret to the demands of unaccountable intelligence agencies.”

The news about the Verizon order comes as the Obama administration is under fire following revelations that the Justice Department seized two months of telephone records of a number of Associated Press reporters and editors, saying the requests were part of an investigation into the leak of classified information.

Justice officials haven’t specified the leak that triggered the probe, but the AP has said it believes the investigation focuses on its account of a foiled plot to bomb a U.S. airliner in May 2012.

CNN’s Adam Levine, Jake Tapper, Carol Cratty, William Mears, Brianna Keilar and Sara Pratley contributed to this report.

™ & © 2012 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.