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New details about American surveillance are still coming to light, months after the initial leak by former government contractor Edward Snowden. This past weekend, reports surfaced that the United States may have been eavesdropping on German Chancellor Angela Merkel since 2002. All the while, Snowden remains in diplomatic limbo in Russia. Kojo chats with Jesselyn Radack, an activist who is one of the few Americans to meet and speak with Snowden since he fled the country.
- Jesselyn Radack National Security & Human Rights Director, Government Accountability Project; author "Traitor: The Whistleblower and the "American Taliban" (Whistleblower Press)
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Later in the broadcast, breaking ground at the National Gallery of Art. We'll be talking with the first living African American artist ever to have a solo show organized there. But first, one of the only Americans who's met and spoken with Edward Snowden since he fled the country. Information leaked by Snowden about American surveillance is still sending shockwaves across diplomatic circles around the world.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIReports surfacing this weekend that the United States may have been eavesdropping on German Chancellor Angela Merkel since 2002. Lawyer and activist Jesselyn Radack traveled to Russia a few weeks ago where she had the chance to meet and speak with Snowden, the former government contractor who provided the information that set off this chain of events. She joins us now in studio. Jesselyn Radack is National Security and Human Rights Director at the Government Accountability Project. She's a former Ethics Advisor to the Department of Justice. Jesselyn Radack, good to see you again. Thank you for joining us.
MS. JESSELYN RADACKThank you for having me, Kojo.
NNAMDIFirst with the news. The Wall Street Journal reporting today that White House officials claim the President was unaware of the extent of spying on world leaders and that the National Security Agency ended such a program earlier this year after an internal review into the matter. Just interested in your thoughts on this whole recent revelation, and whether or not you buy their assertion that the President did not know.
RADACKI'm not sure what to believe anymore, because I feel like there's been so much (word?) by the government about this. Initially, we got a sort of non denial denial directly from Obama about how we're not spying on Angela Merkel's phone today or in the future, which begs the question of whether they were in the past. And then, it turned out that they had been spying on her phone since 2002. And, so now I've seen statements both from NSA and from the White House trying to either deny that the President knew or NSA trying to say that he definitely knew.
RADACKBut whatever -- whether he did or did not, I think it points to a larger problem, that spying on world leaders has really hurt our reputation.
NNAMDII was about to ask you about that. When you were traveling abroad, what sense did you get for the international backlash against the United States as a result of these revelations?
RADACKSome of the main ones, when I went to Russia, had not happened. Like the ones about France. Germany had a revelation about spying on the general population, but the revelations about spying on the Heads of State of these countries had not happened yet. The general reaction from people I just met on the street, when they found out I was American, even though they had no idea I had any affiliation with Snowden, they would be like, oh, you know Edward Snowden. You know Barack Obama, as if these folks are my personal friends.
NNAMDI800-433-8850 is our number, if you'd like to join this conversation. What do you make of the argument that some people offer that well, everyone engages in this kind of spying. This is just part of how it works.
RADACKWell, I agree that, historically, of course, intelligence agencies have spied on other intelligence agencies. And embassies spy on other embassies. But I don't think we've had this breadth of spying on the populace of a country, as well as on the President of another country. I mean, obviously, if someone hacked President Obama's Blackberry, I think they would be prosecuted.
NNAMDI800-433-8850. A lot of people are talking about this weekend, how the Germans are reacting, Spain, France, all supposed to be allies of the United States, discovering that leaders and heads of state in their country have been being spied on by the NSA, even before they became they became elected leaders of this country. But, allow me to ask a few questions about the conversation you had personally with Edward Snowden when you met him a few weeks ago.
NNAMDIDid you talk about -- what did you talk about in your time with him, and did that conversation include any discussion of news events created by the information he disclosed?
RADACKYes. We spoke a lot about whistle blowing and, I mean, there he had the first Americans to see him since he left Hong Kong. And so, I mean, a number of us, three out of the four of us, are whistle blowers. So we talked a lot about our different experiences blowing the whistle, and the kinds of retaliation experienced. He didn't talk about a specific revelation. He spoke generally that he was glad and very gratified to see that a debate was taking place, both in America and all over the world, due to his revelations.
NNAMDIIt's my understanding you read a statement by Edward Snowden at the Stop Watching Us Rally in Washington yesterday. What were the pieces of the message he delivered this week and that you felt were the most relevant, given the reporting that was being done by people like Der Spiegel.
RADACKI don't think he focused, really, much at all, on the recent revelations about spying on other countries. He was focusing more on domestic issues and the fact that that rally took place right in front of the Capitol, and there are a number of bills in Congress right now, especially. The Sensenbrenner Leahy Bill, and that he wanted people to be involved and to let their voices be heard in the upcoming discussions and debates. So, for these proposed amendments and new laws.
NNAMDIHow does he feel about living in exile? Would he prefer to be back home?
RADACKHe would, obviously, prefer to be back home. He very much loves the United States. He feels, and has said, repeatedly, he feels like he did this as a service, or to try to help the United States, which I think is the motive of most government whistle blowers. They think they're trying to help their agency or their country as a whole. So, yeah, no, I think he would love to come back, but the conditions are so hostile right now. He simply cannot.
NNAMDIDo you sense, at all, any changing in the conditions there are among those in the media, who initially denounced Edward Snowden, who have since walked their statements back and said that he is in fact a whistle blower? They are still uncertain about how he should be punished or rewarded for that, in this case? Do you sense a certain change in the conditions here in the United States?
RADACKI do. Over time, as was the case with Tom Drake and other whistle blowers who've been vindicated. I think there is a change, and I think people have seen through these revelations. This is not a disgruntled employee, or someone who was out for fame or for profit. He's someone who basically gave up his life to make these revelations in the hope that we could get back on track as a democratic society rather than as a surveillance state.
NNAMDIDo you think that this reporting will affect the reporting we're increasingly seeing in countries around the world, can affect his asylum status that other countries would rethink their approaches to Edward Snowden?
RADACKI think that is a definite possibility, that they could rethink asylum claims. There are a number of asylum claims -- they were never denied. They just were never really ruled upon, and of course, he has three other asylum offers. But, even, just opening air space so he could get to his original destination. He was ticketed for Latin America, so even having countries open their air space, as opposed to closing it, when President Obama's government downed the plane of the Bolivian President. We don't want to have another episode like that.
NNAMDIWe're talking with Jesselyn Radack. She National Security and Human Rights Director of the Government Accountability Project. She's a former Ethics Advisor to the Department of Justice. You can call us at 800-433-8850 if you have questions or comments. Jesselyn, please dawn your headphones, because we're about to hear from Lewis in Gaithersburg, Maryland. Lewis, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
LEWISThank you. I just wanted to make one comment, and that is that I think to listen to the fact that Merkel and the delegation from Germany is coming to preach to our President. They need to remember the fact that this is a country that started two world wars, and the fact that we want to keep an eye on them is just fine. And I don't think the government should put up with anything from them. That's it.
NNAMDIWell, allow me to raise a question with you, Lewis. Do you think it is equally fair for them to be monitoring the personal phone calls of the President and all 435 members of Congress, and a few people who might get elected to Congress at some point? Do you think it's okay for France, Germany, Spain to be tapping those peoples' phones, monitoring them?
LEWISI think it depends on the country, but I think that -- I understand...
NNAMDIWhat do you mean by depends on the country?
LEWISWell, I mean, Germany is a different case, as far as I'm concerned. I'm sorry. I just, you know, I can't believe that their indignation is the loudest. And I just don't they have anywhere to go on this.
RADACKYou know, I think Germany is particularly sensitive to this issue because of their history, because of the Holocaust and having a police state. And because of the surveillance state that East Germany was. I think modern Germany is exquisitely sensitive to this. In fact, when I as in Germany, I met someone in Hamburg who had lived in East Germany who said, you know, at least, you know, I came from a fascist state, but at least I knew what it was. You're turning into one, and you don't even realize it.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Lewis. You, too, can call us at 800-433-8850. What can you share about Snowden's security in Russia? Did he tell you that he feels safe in his current situation?
RADACKI think he does feel safe in his current situation. Russia certainly has a gravitas that I don't think anyone is going to try to mess with him. And he is under security, and there are security concerns. But I think, you know, moment to moment, he feels safe. I think as a general concept, I think he is obviously disturbed when people like former NSA and CIA Director Michael Hayden and House Intel Committee Chairman Mike Rogers joke about putting him on the assassination kill list.
NNAMDIYou wrote that you can, quoting here, say with certainty that Edward Snowden is not being controlled by the Russians or by anyone. What gives you that certainty?
RADACKWell, being in regular contact with him, as are a number -- there are other people I know who are also in contact with him. And he is extremely independent. Sometimes, it does stuff we might not even think was the best idea, but, you know what, he does his own thing, and there was no -- we were there for days with the people who are closest to him, and spent a long time with him. And there seemed to be -- he was absolutely free to say whatever he wanted, even whether it was critical of Russia or the US or geopolitical conditions, in general. It was obvious he did not, you know, he was not under control by anyone.
NNAMDIYou say that people have been fixated on where he is and on who's protecting him, not on why he's hiding or on why he needs sanctuary. Please explain.
RADACKEvery single reporter I meet, one of the first questions they inevitably ask is where is he? Every, people -- I mean, to the point of having people get angry with me.
NNAMDIFor not revealing exactly where he is.
RADACKExactly. But the reality of it is in order to keep him secure right now, the politics are obviously extremely heated on this. Diane Feinstein called him treasonous, which is a crime punishable by death. Like I said, other senior members of the -- of our government have joked about putting him on the kill list, which seems like a veiled threat. And there are certainly -- I mean, there's a, there was a worldwide manhunt for him, so keeping him safe is obviously still of paramount importance, especially because revelations continue to be made. I think why he had to go over to another country -- I think that's a huge question.
RADACKAnd it's because whistleblowers have been prosecuted so brutally here in the United States. Historically if you were a whistleblower you could expect to have your security clearance pulled or be demoted or be fired. But, you know, unfortunately during the Obama Administration people have been indicted who have blown the whistle. And not only indicted, but indicted under the Espionage Act which is the most serious charge you can level against an American.
NNAMDITalk about your own experience as a whistleblower, please.
RADACKWhen I blew the whistle at the Justice Department on prosecutorial misconduct in not revealing that the FBI had interrogated the American Taliban John Walker Lindh without a lawyer, even though they knew he had one, that evidence was destroyed. And when I blew the whistle on that, I ended up being put under criminal investigation and referred to the state bar in which I'm licensed as a lawyer and put on the no-fly list.
RADACKSo I -- that's where I'm coming from. That was about a decade ago and the bar charge against me was only dropped this summer, ten years later. So you can imagine the plight of what whistleblowers today are going through.
NNAMDIYou take specific issue with the assertion some have made that Edward Snowden is a narcissist. Why?
RADACKBecause he is quite the opposite despite the very circumscribed life he's in right now and position that he's in. He basically gave up a very comfortable life. He gave up contact with his family. He gave up his own statehood to try to make things better and to try to rein our country in from the vast secrecy regime that was put in place after 9/11. So the idea that he only cares about himself is completely belied by the circumstances that he's in.
NNAMDIWhat do you make of the assertion that Snowden made to the New York Times earlier this fall that he did not take any secret documents to Russia and that there's zero percent change that Russia or China ever accessed those documents?
RADACKI'm confident that he did not take anything from Hong Kong to Russia, as I've been told by other journalists -- the main journalists who broke this story. In fact, he was ticketed for Latin America and was just going without any information. And people who are experts like Bruce Schneier , he also -- I mean, people who are the technologist experts also confirmed that. And I think if Russia and China -- he joked -- he even joked during our dinner. He said, wow, if I were really a Russian spy I wonder if they normally leave their spies stranded in the transit zone of an airport for more than a month.
NNAMDIHave there been any consequences for you as a result of your visiting with Edward Snowden in Russia?
RADACKLuckily I was able to get back into the country without a problem. No -- I mean, other than people -- you know, I get a lot of trolling on Twitter. And, you know, every time I do a talk show like yours, people are calling me a traitor. But I'm used to that and I represent whistleblowers. So I don't mind that. And luckily, again, we had a lawyer set up to be on call for returning. I was not worried about getting into Russia. I was worried about returning to the U.S. and getting stopped.
NNAMDIJesselyn Radack. She is a national security and human rights director at the Government Accountability Project. She's a former ethics advisor to the Department of Justice and a whistleblower herself. Thank you so much for joining us.
RADACKThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break. When we come back, breaking ground at the National Gallery of Art. We'll be talking with the first living African American artists ever to have a solo show organized there. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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