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WikiLeaks Defends NSA Whistleblower, Condemns PRISM Digital Surveillance

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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Image of Julian Assange circa 2010 courtesy of Espen Moe, via WikiMedia Commons

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange held a press conference Monday to weigh in on Edward Snowden’s actions and comment on his organization’s role in helping the National Security Agency whistleblower seek asylum in Ecuador.

Assange, who himself has been holed up in Ecuador’s British embassy for the past year to avoid prosecution for WikiLeaks work, defended Snowden’s actions. In response to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent characterization of Snowden as a “traitor,” Assange countered, “Edward Snowden is not a traitor. He is not a spy. He is a whistleblower who has told the public an important truth.”

Snowden’s decision to leak information about the NSA’s massive PRISM digital surveillance program has stoked fears that the U.S. government routinely sifts through the average citizen’s e-mails, digital photos and other online files in search of possible ties to terrorism. The Obama administration has defended PRISM by claiming that intelligence gathered through the program has indeed helped thwart numerous terrorist attacks since it was implemented in 2007.

Assange criticized the PRISM program’s indiscriminant monitoring of communications “en masse,” rather than targeting particular terrorist groups. “To my way of thinking there is a larger more significant political problem which is when an organization like the National Security Agency has intercepted nearly the entire world’s communications at such scale and is storing it, indexing it, it leads to a concentration of power which is so dangerous that it must not be tolerated.”

Assange justified WikiLeaks’ involvement in helping Snowden avoid extradition to the U.S., saying, “The Obama administration was not given a mandate by the people of the United States to hack and spy upon the entire world, to breach the U.S. Constitution and the laws of other nations in the manner that it has.” Assange also accused the U.S. of attempting to violate international asylum law by calling for Snowden’s “rendition.”

Assange was in a situation similar to that of Snowden a few years ago, after WikiLeaks released hundreds of thousands of diplomatic documents on the Internet that included classified information. Although the U.S. government has been unable to extradite Assange from the Ecuadorian embassy in London, it did arrest U.S. Army Private First Class Bradley Manning in May 2010 and is prosecuting him on suspicion of having passed sensitive information to WikiLeaks. Snowden is hoping to avoid Manning’s predicament.

Although WikiLeaks held the press conference to address its role in fostering Snowden’s safe passage, one official said that Snowden’s fate is only part of a much larger issue of warrantless government access to personal information. “What we should be discussing—other than where is Ed Snowden and where is he going—is the massive surveillance system that has been carried out by the United States, the U.K. and perhaps other countries all over the world and the violation of rights of people all over the world,” said Michael Ratner, a WikiLeaks attorney and president of the Center for Constitutional Rights.

When asked whether he saw any irony in WikiLeaks seeking cooperation from the Chinese and Russian authorities in securing Snowden’s passage to Ecuador, given their questionable track record in respecting their own citizens’ privacy—in securing Snowden’s passage to Ecuador, Assange responded, “I simply do not see the irony. Mr. Snowden has revealed information about mass unlawful spying which has affected every single one of us.”

About the Author: Larry is the associate editor of technology for Scientific American, covering a variety of tech-related topics, including biotech, computers, military tech, nanotech and robots. Follow on Twitter @lggreenemeier.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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  1. 1. Scienceisnotagenda 7:05 pm 06/24/2013

    Comments monitored by the US government.

    Link to this
  2. 2. JPGumby 10:22 am 06/25/2013

    A puff piece by a wikileaks admirer.

    I feel a little sorry for Snowden; he doesn’t know what he’s got himself into. Running to Russia or Cuba for freedom from surveillance?

    Link to this
  3. 3. HowardB 11:09 am 06/25/2013

    Two real life heroes. The American people should be demanding the Presidential Medal of Freedom for both of these guys. The abuse of the people is not something that is going away and as long as Governments continue there will be people of principle and integrity who will blow the whistle.

    Link to this
  4. 4. carlonne 3:38 pm 06/25/2013

    Before we go ahead and crucify Mr. Snowden as a traitor, we should look carefully at what he is suggesting that the US government has been acting improperly. This will not be the first time that a whistle blower has been gone after only to find, at a later date, that he was telling the truth. We need an investigation into the whole matter .

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  5. 5. Technopoly 4:08 pm 06/25/2013

    Just more proof added to the long proven statement…” Power tends to corrupt ” The U.S. flag should stand for freedom from government interference in it’s citizens lives….unfortunately this is a direction that the U.S. government is pursuing aggressively against them. Why is it that Israel’s government profiles passengers getting on their airplanes…..but the USA does not. What is more important…the fear of offending a segment of the public, or the actual safety of the citizens.

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  6. 6. collettedesmaris 6:30 pm 06/25/2013

    I deem it extremely appropriate to share with my fellow Americans, excerpts from two documents because they are so relevant to this situation about Edward Snowden. Please pay attention – Pearls of Wisdom are coming your way – and I dedicate this posting, with gratitude, to Mr. Snowden.

    From The Declaration of Independence:

    “When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”

    “That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of The People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to
    effect their Safety and Happiness.”

    “But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right – IT IS THEIR DUTY – to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object, the establishment of an
    absolute Tyranny over these States. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.”

    On December 23rd, 1776, Thomas Paine wrote “The American Crisis”. Below are excerpts from it, and I am certain that Edward Snowden feels the same passion as Thomas Paine did, for an almost identical cause 237 years ago. Edward Snowden is a true patriot who has put his own life on the line for the enlightenment of the many. You only have to read the writings of our Founding Fathers, to draw an analogy, and know that. “He whose heart is firm, and whose conscience approves his conduct, will pursue his principles unto death.” (… thomas paine)
    The very least we can all do is get behind him to show our support and undying appreciation for the sacrifice he may make at the end of it all. Together we stand; divided we fall. Let’s stand together; rally around Snowden, and prevail. If the worst case scenario occurs and they capture him and punish him wrongly, at least he will go down comforted by the knowledge that we believed in him & his cause. His cause is the right & noble one.

    From Thomas Paine’s “The American Crisis”, 1776

    “These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of all men and women. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should
    not be highly rated. My own line of reasoning is to myself, as straight and clear as a ray of light.”

    “Their (the government’s) first object was: partly by threats and partly by promises, to terrify or seduce The People to deliver up their arms and receive mercy. There are persons who see not the full extent of the evil which threatens them; they solace themselves with hopes that the enemy, if he succeeds, will be merciful. It is madness to expect mercy from those who have refused to do justice; and even mercy, when conquest is really the object, is only a trick of war; the cunning of the Fox is as murderous as the violence of the Wolf, and we ought to guard equally against both.”

    “He is the touchstone of sincerity, and fights hypocrisy. And brings things and men to light, which might otherwise have lain forever undiscovered. He sifts out the hidden thoughts and actions of men, and holds them up in public to the world.”

    “Let them call me rebel and welcome, I feel no concern from it; but I should suffer the misery of devils, were I to make a whore of my soul by swearing allegiance to one whose character is that of a sottish, selfish, stubborn, worthless, brutish man.”
    “Quitting this class of men, I turn with the warm ardor of a friend to those who have nobly stood – and are yet determined to stand the matter out: I call not upon a few, but upon ALL – not on this state or that state, but on EVERY state: UP AND HELP US! Lay your shoulders to the wheel. SO GREAT AN OBJECT IS AT STAKE! Let it be told to the future world, that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive, that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger – that all came forth to meet and to repulse it.”

    “It matters not where you live, or what rank of life you hold – the evil or the blessing will reach you all. The far and the near, the home counties and the back, the rich and the poor – will suffer; or rejoice alike. The heart that feels, “Not now!”; is dead. The blood of his children will curse his cowardice – he who shrinks back at a time when a little might have saved the whole, and made them happy. I love the man that can smile in trouble, that can gather strength from distress, and grow brave by reflection. ‘Tis the business of little minds to shrink; but he whose heart is firm, and whose conscience approves his conduct, will pursue his principles unto death.”

    Link to this
  7. 7. Wayne Williamson 8:34 pm 06/25/2013

    Sorry dude…you broke national security agreements…which I’m sure you had to sign to be working there…See you never…

    Link to this
  8. 8. bernardpalmer 6:30 am 06/26/2013

    What a contrast between Collette’s edifying and inspiring contribution and Wayne’s stoic declaration of facts. Collette is rallying the troops and Wayne is probably preparing to shoot them if ordered.
    I would guess this was the case 1776.
    Many will again come up with excuses why they cannot join the rebellion against the police state that is America today. Probably they just don’t care. Their life is hard enough without joining some hare brained rebellion against an opposition so strong that defeat is inevitable. And just like in 1776 the war coming will be like the last one, Englishmen against Englishmen. Now it will be English mens descendants against English mens descendants. The Wayne’s of the world against the Colletes. Just like before.
    And guess who wins?
    Of course Wayne at the last minute became an revolutionary hero. With a name like that you couldn’t be anything else.

    Link to this
  9. 9. TonyTrenton 6:59 am 06/26/2013

    The saying goes :

    All power corrupts.

    Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

    Link to this
  10. 10. TonyTrenton 7:06 am 06/26/2013

    There is a constant misdirection here.

    The umbrella of “Government” as an excuse!!

    THE PEOPLE WHO MADE THE CHOICES. THE DECISIONS. ARE THE ONES WHO MUST BE HELD RESPONSIBLE.

    If you want to know who is responsible ?

    Just ask who’s choice it was !!!

    Link to this
  11. 11. TonyTrenton 7:22 am 06/26/2013

    Until we understand that as individuals we are responsible for our own thoughts , feeling, and actions.

    We will remain adolescent and immature

    Only the individual can know his or her thoughts and feeling from moment to moment.

    We cannot be responsible for another persons thoughts and feelings.

    WE CANNOT ANOTHER’S READ MIND !!

    Therefore only the individual can and must be socially responsible for their own thoughts and feelings and choices.

    THAT IS WHAT THE DEMOCRATIC ‘FREEDOM OF CHOICE’ IS ALL ABOUT.

    It is not about what the “government” did or didn’t do.

    The individual people entrusted and paid to make those decisions are individually responsible for their choices.

    Not some fictitious entity called ‘Government’

    Justice must be seen to be done!!!

    Link to this
  12. 12. TonyTrenton 7:24 am 06/26/2013

    Correction :

    WE CANNOT READ ANOTHER’S MIND

    Link to this
  13. 13. Prairie Dog 7:27 am 06/26/2013

    I’m curious: Why were so many people so naive that they didn’t realize that the government was snooping into their business, and doing so in as much detail as possible? Every single person I know personally, correspond with, or merely spoke to about the NSA and PRISM, already assumed that the fed was watching and listening. The only question was how thoroughly it was doing it. Yet once the snooping was exposed there was a great outcry with gnashing of teeth, rending of metaphorical garments, and tearing of hair over it. It’s almost pathetically naive.

    As for Assange praising Snowden, what did anyone expect? The only surprise there is that Assange didn’t inject himself into the story earlier.

    All you folks who call Snowden a whistleblower should realize that you’re using the term the way the non-scientific public uses theory: loosely and incorrectly as far as US law is concerned. Under US law, which is decades old, a whistleblower is one who exposes illegal activities, misuse of funds, improper contracting practices, sweetheart deals, and the like. Snowden’s disclosures fit none of those categories. For better or worse, both PRISM and the NSA’s program are (borderline?) legal and don’t involve ant other prohibited activities.

    OTOH, Snowden’s disclosures are themselves illegal under US law, making him, not NSA, the criminal. The same is true of Bradley Manning’s disclosures (which incidentally made Assange the Egomaniac into a celebrity that some people think is worth quoting), and those of Daniel Ellsberg’s ages ago.

    All governments at all times and in all places are conspiracies. Get over it.

    Link to this
  14. 14. Technopoly 9:59 am 06/27/2013

    Therefore Prairie Dog, you are a conspirator…because YOU ARE the government. The utter stupidity of people praising the government in a situation where said government states ( in emergency situations, in Canada at least ) that it will match the citizens donations dollar for dollar. Those dollars are the citizen’s money in the first place….governments don’t have money, the dollars that governments give away so freely came from the people by of a multitude of taxes.

    Link to this
  15. 15. truther 11:10 am 06/27/2013

    Hey prairiedog, if you got nothing to hide, why don’t you remove your bedroom curtains and put in a web cam? You sure you want us to see everything you do? Oh, just some stranger in government that checks your political loyalties, your religion, and your pretty daughter maybe?

    Fourth Amendment recognizes a natural human right, it doesn’t create one. When the NSA broke the law, it commmitted a crime against us.

    The wolf had pulled wool over our eyes. The wolf has now lost its sheepskin, Edward Snowden’s act pulled the wool off, along with his predecessor whistleblowers.

    IF this is good for stopping crime, why not install cams in all the bedrooms to stop crime? Because maybe committing a bigger crime is worse? Baby and bath water?

    Link to this
  16. 16. Chryses 8:11 pm 06/27/2013

    truther,

    I agree with the President on this issue; I think that these two programs do strike a reasonable balance between national security and individual privacy.

    And the NSA didn’t break any law with either of these programs.

    Link to this
  17. 17. collettedesmaris 8:10 am 06/29/2013

    Chryses – it always amazes me when I read entries that contain a viewpoint similar to yours – the statements are always made with such authority; as if the person really knows what they are talking about … and in reality; they have no concept of what’s going on around them.

    It escapes me where you get the notion of any “reasonable balance” existing when referring to “individual privacy”, when there isn’t any privacy any longer! You clearly aren’t grasping the reality of what is going on in your own country. As well, they are only saying that their wrongdoings are being done under the guise of “National Security” – they know quite well they are in violation of our founding documents – they’re so arrogant that they assumed they’d pull it off and tie their ends up neatly – but they got caught.

    It is abundantly clear from the reaction of all of the players in the ‘Powers That Be’ arena, that they have a lot to hide. Why else do you think they are pushing so hard to capture Snowden while they try to convince the public that he is a bad guy? Any right-thinking individual with a modicum of common sense can discern that Edward Snowden laid his life on the line to tip off his fellow Americans about the government’s shenanigans!
    Bone up on your critical thinking skills and check it out.

    Of paramount importance, I’m here to tell you that countless numbers of men lost their lives acquiring the liberties they handed down to their descendents. Their descendants are every American – including you.
    Amendment IV is one of those liberties. How dare you show no regard for their lost lives, and so willingly throw one of our liberties away; as though it holds such little value that you can discard it? I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt that you haven’t educated yourself about the history of these United States of America. That said,
    please, do yourself a favor and acquire education about the history of our country and how it came into being. Then, read a book called “1984″ written by George Orwell in 1949. See if you can draw any analogies between the book and what’s going on in our country now.

    Link to this
  18. 18. Chryses 1:50 pm 06/29/2013

    17. collettedesmaris (17),

    “Chryses – it always amazes me when I read entries that contain a viewpoint similar to yours – the statements are always made with such authority; as if the person really knows what they are talking about … and in reality; they have no concept of what’s going on around them.”

    I, in turn, am amused by those who accuse others of being unfamiliar with the subject material, when, in fact those others not only do not, but cannot know if such is true.

    “It escapes me where you get the notion of any “reasonable balance” existing when referring to “individual privacy”, when there isn’t any privacy any longer!”

    You are mistaken. Not only do we all routinely enjoy privacy – in our homes being an obvious example you’ve overlooked – but the SCOTUS has ruled that privacy is an individual right. One might argue their reasoning, but the ruling stands.

    “You clearly aren’t grasping the reality of what is going on in your own country.”

    Not only are you mistaken, but you also have no warrant for your bald Truth Claim.

    “As well, they are only saying that their wrongdoings are being done under the guise of “National Security” – they know quite well they are in violation of our founding documents – they’re so arrogant that they assumed they’d pull it off and tie their ends up neatly – but they got caught.”

    Now here, you have made the assumption that the programs in question are “wrong.” The programs in question are vetted by all three branches of the Federal Government you and your fellow citizens elected: the Legislative, Executive, and the Judiciary. Re you claiming more knowledge than all of them together?

    “It is abundantly clear from the reaction of all of the players in the ‘Powers That Be’ arena, that they have a lot to hide.”

    Zounds! You got one right! Both programs were classified, and Mr Snowden broke his oath, and violated Federal law by releasing that information without authorization.

    “Why else do you think they are pushing so hard to capture Snowden while they try to convince the public that he is a bad guy?”

    Probably because his past behavior – releasing classified information without authorization – is likely to be repeated. He cannot be trusted, so yes, he is not the sort of chap I’d entrust with my personal safety – bad guy.

    “Any right-thinking individual with a modicum of common sense can discern that Edward Snowden laid his life on the line to tip off his fellow Americans about the government’s shenanigans!”

    shenanigans? Espionage is part what a sovereign nation does. I sure hope that my elected representatives in the Legislative and Executive branches of government employ people to find out about and disrupt plans by those who would attack my fellow citizens. How about you?

    “Bone up on your critical thinking skills and check it out.”

    I recommend that you do both before posting bout issues you re unfamiliar with.

    “Of paramount importance, I’m here to tell you that countless numbers of men lost their lives acquiring the liberties they handed down to their descendents. Their descendants are every American – including you.”

    Among those liberties is personal privacy, but it is not the only item of Constitutional importance. Providing for the common defense precedes it by quite bit.

    “Amendment IV is one of those liberties.”

    “How dare you show no regard for their lost lives, and so willingly throw one of our liberties away; as though it holds such little value that you can discard it?”

    I don’t, but I forgive you your mistaken assumption.

    “I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt that you haven’t educated yourself about the history of these United States of America.”

    Another unwarranted assumption, and again I forgive you your ignorance.

    “do yourself a favor and acquire education about the history of our country and how it came into being. Then, read a book called “1984″ written by George Orwell in 1949. See if you can draw any analogies between the book and what’s going on in our country now.”

    I’m familiar with U.S. history, and the book in question; both are good reads. I commend them to your attention; you would do well to read them again, for you seem to have learned little from either. As but a trivial example, you’ve overlooked the separation of powers that is evident in the U.S. Constitution (http://tinyurl.com/5oz7c) and absent from Winston Smith’s world.

    I wish you Good Luck in your educational pursuits.

    Link to this
  19. 19. Heteromeles 9:04 pm 06/29/2013

    Let’s talk bloody-minded pragmatism here. There’s an extremely good reason why Snowden should be treated with kid gloves by the US government.

    Yes, Snowden broke the law when he broke his security agreement, and yes, he should be prosecuted for that, just like anyone else who violates their clearance. Treason? That’s stupid.

    The Cold War demonstrated that the most important espionage information was gained through double agents on both sides, people who were so disaffected that they went to the other side. We were lucky that the CIA apparently got rather more “walk-ins” (their term for this) than did the KGB.

    Now let’s consider whistleblowers here. They are, by definition, disaffected. Whether they are right about law-breaking is almost irrelevant. If the US government treats every every whistleblower as a traitor, guess what? That’s what they’re going to do. Unlike Snowden, most of them aren’t going to talk, either. They’ll simply act. Our leaders, in their blindness, are only encouraging them to go over to the other side.

    Can I point out again how stupid this is?

    The better option by far is to make a committee, staff it with retired experts, and have them investigate. Thoroughly. Have it take years. It’s probably worth taking their findings seriously, but that’s actually not the most critical goal. The critical goal is to give the whistleblowers a true hearing and keep them from defecting. They might be right, they might be wrong, but they’re not going to hurt you if they’re still part of the system.

    We seem to have forgotten that, and it’s too damn bad.

    Link to this

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