And OK, that is just being very professional. You know, people are like, how do you live? And things like that, yeah. Taking money from the Russians. And of course, the answer is no. But I do this for a living like I speak. I don't have a YouTube channel where it's on. I'm Joe Rogan, but I give speeches at universities and things like that. I do a lot of interviews. And so we're recording now radio and setup.
Is it possible that you could do a YouTube channel? Would that work? Yeah. Like I mean, if you introduced me, said, like, I get followers. Yeah, we could do that, too.
I'm all in with that. That could absolutely happen. Do you want to do that? Is that something you want to do?
No. I mean, this is a big question. So I came on because I had just written a book called Permanent Record, which is the story of my life, because that's what publishers make you do when you're writing your first book.
But it's more than that because I didn't just want to talk about me. It's actually about the changing of technology and the changing of government in this sort of post-9/11 era, which in our our generation just sort of happened to be growing up during.
And I was at the CIA and the NSA and all this stuff. But the day that the book came out, the government hit me with a lawsuit and they hit the publisher off the books with a with a lawsuit.
And because they don't want to see books like this get written. They especially don't want to see books like this get read. And so the big thing was, you know, we didn't know where this was going. We didn't know it was going to happen. And my publisher, of course, wanted me very badly to let people know this book existed in case the government leaned harder and harder and harder. We didn't know where where that's going.
The government is still pursuing that case quite strongly.
They're more focused on the financial censorship side of it, basically taking the money that I made from it, kind of as a warning to the others and getting a legal judgment against the publishers saying, you know, you can't pay this guy, that kind of thing, more so than taking the book off the shelves.
But that's not because they're OK with the book being on the shelves. It's because thankfully we've got the First Amendment. And so they can't. And that's very rare and good thing. But anyway, in the context of that, they were like, well, what about Joe Rogan? And, you know, I had heard about you at this point.
But, you know, the only thing that I had really seen that I really understood had familiarity with was like you talking to Bernie Sanders, which, by the way, very much appreciated hearing that, because a lot of people don't give the guy time to talk.
Yeah. To hear him in those soundbites, you don't really get an understanding of who he actually is.
Right. And this is the other thing. Like they're like, well, you know, you can go on all these major network shows. And I did a couple of them. I did like a morning show. I did Brian Williams.
But broadly, the media is the sort of more corporatized media, as we might say, is exactly what you just described. Right.
They they want you to be able to answer in like eight, 15 seconds or less. And when we're talking about big, massive shifts in society, we're talking about power. We're talking about technology and how it controls and influences us in the future. You can't have a meaningful conversation within those constraints. And so instead, these guys all want to say, repeat these long discredited sort of criticisms.
You know, I'm sure you'll you'll you'll ask the same thing. And that's OK. They're there for questions. But it's like we can't have the conversation if we can't have the space to think and breathe and have this sort of discussion.
So anyway, they they mentioned you and I was like Joe Rogan, Joe Rogan, Joe Rogan, where do I know this name from before Bernie Sanders.
And I look back through my and my Twitter mentions. And the funny thing is, your fans have been harassing me to death for like the last years. Wonderful people.
Wonderful people. But like, go on, Joe Rogan going, Joe me. And I remember like after I had just made a Twitter account, Neil deGrasse Tyson actually helped me get on Twitter and gave me that little initial boost.
And they said, Joe Rogan.
And so they, like, linked you.
And, you know, I mouseover your name because I use a desktop, not mobile for this because of security reasons. And it pops up. And I get your avatar, man.
And like I have to say, your logo is the worst thing in the world for people who are like trying to be like politically serious.
And, you know, they're worried about the national security adviser condemning it because like this bald guy with his maniacal grin and like the third eye on his forehead.
And I'm like, oh, man, that's show that doesn't look good. But it's actually like you watch, you know, when you watch what you do. It's great stuff, man.
It's great. But that first impression, like I.
This almost didn't happen, but everybody who has talked to you, you know, everybody who watches your show, I think they get a very different impression than how you're paying it. And for me, it's a wonderful thing because nobody understands that.
Better night. Right.
Like the government ran a smear campaign against me endlessly for six months. When I came forward in June of 2013, I know we got way off topic here. I'll get back to it.
Fine. There's no such thing as off topic. We could do talk about whatever.
Great. Great. OK.
So far for those people, first off, who have no idea who the hell I am, I'm the guy who is behind the revelations of global mass surveillance.
In 2013, I worked for the CIA.
I worked for the NSA as a contractor at the NSA, a staff officer at the CIA.
I was undercover working at embassies, but I talk about the difference between this in a book and contractor and government official and how it's all sort of lost its meaning.
But I saw something wrong and I saw basically the government was violating the law.
And what I believed to be the Constitution of the United States and more broadly, human rights for everyone in the United States and around the world.
There were domestic surveillance programs that were mass surveillance programs that worked internationally.
Basically, everything that they could monitor while they were monitoring.
And this is actually like people go. Isn't that obvious? Isn't that what they're supposed to do? This is weird, but the answer actually is no.
Under the framework of our constitution, the government is only supposed to be monitoring people that it has an individualized particularized suspicion of wrongdoing for.
This is we think about this in the investigative means. Right. Like all those TV shows where they're like, go and get a warrant.
The reason they have to do that. We fought a revolution over this.
You know, a couple hundred years back is the idea that when we had, you know, kings, when we had governments have absolute power, they could simply go in your home and go, you know, is this guy a pot smoker, get his diary, you know, whatever it is. And just like if you find evidence of a crime, you march him off to prison and it's all good. You found evidence they're criminal where you didn't find evidence.
Well, no harm, no foul. You're just doing what government does.
We were trying to build a better system where it went. Yes, the government has extraordinary capabilities, but it only uses them where they're necessary, right, where they're proportionate to the threat that is presented by this person.
You know, like we shouldn't be afraid of the person who's got like a baggy of weed in their dresser or something like that.
That is not a threat to national security. That is not a threat to public safety.
But what happened in the wake of 9/11 was a whole bunch of government officials got together behind closed doors. And this was actually led, interestingly enough, by the vice president of the United States, Cheney. Everybody remembers that name.
Or hopefully I can look that name up.
Dick Cheney and his personal attorney, sort of the Giuliani of Dick Cheney, a guy named David Addington.
And this lawyer, David Addington, wrote a secret legal interpretation that no one else was allowed to see. It was kept in the vice president's safe at the White House.
They weren't giving this even when they told people and it was just a couple of people in Congress.
Nancy Pelosi was one of them on a couple of these other folks when they talked to the heads of the agency, the NSA and the CIA and the FBI and all this stuff. They told them the White House and the Office of Legal Counsel. And, you know, this this the president's attorneys, all of these guys had decided this would be legal to do.
But we can't tell you why.
We can't show you the legal authorization. We're just gonna take our word for it.
And so they did this and this became a mass surveillance program called Stellar Wind, which they said was supposed to monitor the phone calls and Internet communications, e-mails and things like that of everybody in the United States and around the world who they could get access to for links to al-Qaida.
Because if you remember, in the wake of the September 11th attacks, they were singing. We thought there could be sleeper cells of al-Qaida. It was just, you know, peppered all throughout the country. They were just spring up at any moment, of course, like weapons of mass destruction. It just didn't exist. It was all a power grab.
But on that basis, they started doing this in secret and it was completely unconstitutional, was completely illegal, even under the very loose requirements of the Patriot Act.
But they did it for so long that they got comfortable with it.
They thought, this is it. You know, this is a really powerful capability. What if we started using this for stuff that was other than terrorism because it wasn't finding any terrorists, because there weren't any terrorists in this context that were looking for them.
And the ones who where there were terrorists, the program wasn't affected because these were guys in Pakistan that weren't using, you know, email and phone calls. They were getting on a moped with their cousin, who was a courier, who was bringing a letter to his guy, you know, who runs the food stand or whatever.
But bit by bit, over time, this grew and grew and grew and there were scandals.
And if you want to drill down on these later, I'll I'll go into him.
But what happened was step by step by step, our constitutional rights were changed and we weren't allowed to know what we were never granted a vote on it.
And even the many members of Congress write 535 in the United States. They were prohibited from knowing this.
And instead, they told only a few select people.
In the original case, there were only eight members of Congress called the Gang of Eight who knew about this.
Then there were the people on the intelligence committees, both in the Senate and the House, who were told about this, but they were only told partially about it. They weren't told the full scope of it.
And now that they have been told about it because they had security clearances and things like that, they weren't allowed telling what else, even if they objected to it.
And we had one Senator Ron Widen in another one, I believe Tom Udall was name who did object to this and who wanted something to happen.
But because they couldn't tell anybody that was having they were sort of doing these weird lassie barks to the press where they were like, we have grave concerns about the way these programs are being carried out, but nobody knew what they were talking about. And so journalists were like, you know, they've got concerns. What does that lastly, what are you trying to say? TENNISON Well, but they were getting it wrong.
They couldn't tell what was happening. So what had happened was that we, the American people, had sort of lost our seat at the table of government.
We were no longer partner to government. We had simply become subject to government.
I think everybody who's in the world today, who is aware of what's going on, whether it's under this administration, the last administration, the one before that.
They have seen a constant kind of shift where we have we, the public have less say and less influence over the policy of government with each passing year.
There's kind of a new class that's being created, a government class, and then the public civil class that are held to different standards of behavior.
When we start talking about leaking and whistleblowing, this becomes even more clear. And so what I did was I wanted to clarify that kind of lassi mark. Right. I just wanted everybody to know what was going on. I didn't want to say the government can't do this. I didn't want to say this is how you guys have to live, because that's not for me to say.
But I do believe that everybody in the United States and more broadly, people in the world were having their rights violated by a government should have at least an understanding of how that is happening, what the authorities sort of the policies and programs that are enabling that are so that they can protest them, so that they can cast a vote about them, so that they can say, you know what, you guys say this is OK. But I disagree. This is not OK.
I object and I want things to change.
And so I gathered evidence of what I believe to be criminal or unconstitutional activity on the part of government. And I gave this to journalists. Right now, I gave this to journalists under very strict conditions here, which was that they publish no story in this archive of information simply because it was interesting. Right. No clickbait, not anything. Just because they thought it would make news, it would give them awards.
They would only publish stories that they were willing to make an institutional judgment and stand behind. And this was three different newspapers that it was in the public interest to know.
And so then beyond that, there was officials, because if you could see sort of what I was doing here, what had happened, what had led us into this pitfall was that. The system of checks and balances that's supposed to self-regulate, our government had failed. The courts had abdicated their role in policing the executive in the Congress because terrorism was such a hot argument at the time.
They were worried about being criticized and blamed if something went wrong and attack did go through and they didn't have access to the information that the programs were ineffective. So they were just taking the government's word for it. They didn't want to wait in Congress. Most of them didn't even know. Right. And the ones who did know it was the same thing. They were getting their pockets stuffed with money by the defense contractors that were getting rich for building these systems that were violating the rights of each of us.
So they benefited by just saying nothing.
And then the executive themselves, whether we're talking about Bush.
Right, whether we're talking about Obama or whether we're talking about Trump. Now, all these guys were okay with a constantly growing surveillance state because they're the ones whose hands were on the lever at the time.
They got to aim at. They got to use it. If you had a little search box in front of you, they would give you the email history. And, you know, if everybody in the United States anybody want.
If you could pull up their text messages, anybody you want, if you could see anything they ever typed into that Google search box. Right. Joe, what is the worst thing you've ever typed into that search box that lasts forever? Right. And they have a record that they can get that from Google.
And so this was this was the whole thing.
How do we correct for that? So when you have somebody who wants to inform the public of something and we'll get it in the proper channels arguments later.
But you can't go through the institution to get these corrected because the institution knows it's wrong in his doing anyway. Right. That's the whole origin of the program is they want to do something that they're not allowed to do. What do you do? All right.
And so I didn't want to say I'm the president of Secrets. I didn't want to just put this stuff on the Internet. And I could have.
I'm a technologist. Right. I worked with the journalists. And then to create an adversarial step. Right. Someone who would argue against what I believed and hopefully with the journalists believe once they consulted the documents and basically authenticated them. Can we get the government to play that role? Right. And so before the journalist published any story, this is a controversial thing. People still criticize me for this, actually. They say I was to accommodate in government.
They could be right.
Is that the journalists would go to the government and give them warning, say we're about to run this story about this secret program that says you did X, Y and Z. Bad thing.
One. Is that right? The government always go, oh, no comment to. Is this going to cause harm? Is anybody going to get hurt? Is this program effective?
Is there something we don't understand right now? Is there something Snowden doesn't understand? And is this guy just not get it right? Are these documents fake? Whatever you want. Say we shouldn't run this story.
And in every case, I'm aware of, that process was followed.
And that's why. Right. Because there's a lot of people out there who don't like me, who criticize me, who go this unsafe. This caused harm to people or whatever.
We're in 2019.
Now, I came forward and these stories won the Pulitzer Prize for public service journalism starting way back in June 2013.
We've had six years to show bodies. We've had six years to show harm.
And you know as well as I do, it's happy to leak things when it's in their interest. Nobody has been hurt as a result of these disclosures because everyone who is involved in them was so careful. We wanted to maximize the public benefit while mitigating the potential risks. And I think we did a pretty good job.
But just to get back to that, the main thing, the original thing that got us off on that trail when I came forward in June of 2013, I gave one interview to the people who were in the room with the documents. Laura Poitras is Glenn Greenwald, Ewen MacAskill.
And I said who I was. I said, why I was doing this. I said what this was about, why it matters, and that we were constructing a system of turnkey tyranny. And even if you trust that to Obama, you never know whose hand is going to be on that Kleenex and only have to do is turn it. And there's nothing we can do to stop it. The only thing that's restraining these programs really is his policy more so than law.
And the president at any time can sign a napkin and those policies change.
Well, after that, I went six months without giving any interviews because I didn't want people to talk about me.
I wanted to talk about what actually matter in the government, of course, was trying very hard to change the conversation, as they always do, to be about who is this guy, what have they done wrong, what's wrong with them?
What are their problems? Who is this this loony guy? So they can controversial lies the source of a story rather than having to confront that the story itself.
And that's why I said it's I really kind of appreciate.
Your take on the media and everything like that, because when you don't tell your story, you know, other people will tell it for you. They'll say so many things about you.
And they'll have these misimpressions like I did because of something as stupid as the avatar that you were using on Twitter. Right. Well, I think it's a certain kind of show with a certain kind of guy, and it's this crazy stuff.
But when I actually listened to you, when I actually look at the facts. Right. And when I hear you just speak, I go, actually, this is a thoughtful guy.
Actually, this is somebody who does care, who does want to look at these things deeply and appearances. And our first impressions can be very misleading.
I work hard on that. I try to mislead people. It's good works to my advantage. Doing a good job, man. Thank you. I want to bring it back to when you first started with the NSA. You started as a contractor, right. What was your initial impression and when did you know that things were really squirrelly with the programs?
They were insulting.
So I'm not saying this to put put you on the spot. I know you've been a busy guy.
I know you have done, I think shows recently you come back from break. Right. But have you read the book?
Because it'll just help me be your boyfriend if you haven't got a chance or, you know. No, I have not read your book. Got a copy of it.
OK, well, I will send you a signed copy, brother. Beautiful. And I hope you'll read it. I hope you enjoy it. But all right.
So I had a really weird history in the intelligence community. I grew up in a federal family in the shadow of Fort Meade.
Right. All these little suburban communities in Maryland where basically the entire industry of the state is the federal government of all these different agencies and then all the subcontractors, all the defense industries that serve that government and really are kind of our our war making machine are our system of control for the country and the world broadly.
All that stuff spreads and, you know, a couple hundred mile radius out of D.C..
My mother worked for the district courts rather than the federal courts. And it's kind of funny because she still works there. And those are the courts that are trying to throw me in jail for the rest of my life.
Now, my father worked for the Coast Guard, retired after 30 years.
My grandfather was an admiral. He worked for the FBI as as far back as it goes.
My my family, my my whole line of family, even generations back, was working for the government.
So it was pretty ordinary, pretty expected for me to go into the same kind of work.
Now, I started I wasn't super successful in school because it I felt that, you know, this is the most arrogant thing in the world that anybody says.
That I had more to learn from computers than I did from, you know, biology class.
And so I spent more and more time focusing on technology than I got mono and I drop in high school.
And now it's like, all right, how do I make this up? I say, drop out of high school, but I'm actually going to community college. Right. They called it concurrent enrollment where I'm not taking any classes at high school. I'm going to community college instead.
And I'm not doing that great.
They're either like, it's fine, you know, I'm enjoying it.
But do you know school is school? Like I want. I can't wait to be grown.
You're bored. And I think a lot of people have felt that.
But I ran into somebody at the community college who ran their own home based business doing web design. And they could see I was kind of technical and they went, hey, do you want to work for me?
And I was like, well, that sounds great.
And so I started doing web design really, really early on. This is like cash until now, probably a 1998 vintage during the big boom and then the collapse that followed. And the funny thing is she worked.
She was married to an NSA analyst, a linguist. Right.
And so she lived on Fort Meade and she ran her business out of their home on Fort Meade.
That's right up the street from the NSA.
So before I'm even working there, I'm driving past this building all the time and trying to figure out, you know, the next step is gonna be and I enjoy this.
It's a good thing for me. And and it works well.
And I start getting trained and certified. All these little industry stamps you've got to get as a technologist to say, oh, you know, this program or whatever and just start climbing the ladder.
But then 9/11 happens. And I'm on Fort Meade when 9/11 happened. I'm just going to work. And I tell this in the book in some detail. And I think it's very much worth reading for.
People don't know this because this forgotten history.
How old were you at the already cash? I was I was born in 83, so I was probably 18 years old and.
Yeah, yeah, I had I just turned 18 a couple of months before. And what people forget is who knew what was going on before anybody else? On September 11th, the intelligence community. And what did they do? Right.
Did they give out a public warning? Did they tell you guys to evacuate? They say do this, that or that? No, no, not forever, but not for long time. But at the NSA, then Director Michael Hayden, he was a general. He later became director of the CIA, ordered the entire campus evacuated of thousands. Tens of thousands of people actually just said go home.
Right. The CIA did the same thing.
They were running on skeleton crews at the moment. The country needed them more than they ever had. Right. And I get a call.
Well, I hear a call that's from my boss's wife. Her husband to her.
He's calling from the NSA and saying, hey, you know, I think Ed should leave for the day because I'm the only employee in this business besides her.
Because I think they're gonna close the base down. I'm like, this is crazy. Never closes down and we don't know what's happening.
Then we start checking the news, which is through Web sites. Right. Because we're doing all this stuff. And suddenly it's the big story everywhere.
And, you know, nobody understands how big it is. Yet most of us are like, oh, it's going to mess with our workday.
Oh, it's going to mess with our commute.
But when I'm leaving, I hear car horns all over the base. It's the craziest thing because this is a military base, right? It's right outside the NSA. And I enter just this absolute state of pandemonium as I go past K9 Road, which is the road that travels right in part in front of the NSA headquarters.
And it's just a parking lot, as far as you can see.
They have military police out under the stop lights directing traffic because this this mass evacuation.
And I still have no idea what's happening, like the story is still developing.
But I will never forget that image. Why did these people have so much power and so much money and so much authority at that if at the moments we need them the most? They were the first ones in the country that are leaving their buildings.
And, you know, later on they said and this is covered in a book, I believe.
I think it's James Bamford who interviewed that director of NSA who gave that order about what was happening. He was going well.
You know, he he called his wife and he was asking where their kids were and everything like that.
And then after that, he wanted to think about, well, where could these other planes that they knew were in the air that it hadn't struck yet?
Where could they be headed? And this sort of shows how self centric the intelligence community is. This is the DC metro area, right. Thinking at the White House, it hit Congress. They get the Supreme Court right now think, oh, they're gonna fly their planes into CIA headquarters, they're going to fly their planes into the NSA headquarters. And, of course, it was never realistic that these would be the targets.
But on that basis, they were like, well, let's get our beacon out of the pan.
But I don't see this. I'm sorry. But just in the interests of what wasn't it possible that they could have attacked those places?
I mean, they attacked the Pentagon. They used you know, they knew that there was Tag's.
Look, it's absolutely possible they could have attacked your. Right.
You know, but it's a question of risk assessment.
If you have planes in the air, if you believe there's an ongoing terrorist attack me in the United States right now, and if you have built history's greatest surveillance agencies.
Right, that the most powerful intelligence forces in the history of the species, you are going to take those off the board or at least the majority of their personnel off the board, then in a chance that you have no sort of grounds for substantiating that they could be targeting you to begin with simply because they could.
Well, somebody else will get hit with those, as you say.
It's gonna be the Pentagon, right? It's gonna be the World Trade Center. It's gonna be someone somewhere.
And the more minutes you in front of that desk, the higher the chance, even if it's a very small chance, even if it's somebody who doesn't work on terrorism. Right. Maybe if it's somebody who normally works finance in North Korea. Right. But they go, look, this is an emergency. Everybody understands. You don't need to explain this.
You just go, stop what you're doing. Look at financial transactions related to who purchased these plane tickets.
Do this. You just go full spectrum and go. Anything you can do right now. If the building gets hit, we get hit. That's what we signed up for. Nobody wants that. Right. That that's not the desired outcome.
But if they had asked the staff to do that, they all would have agreed. That's what these people signed up to do.
And yet the director goes, no. You know, we're just just know we're not going to take that.
And this is I think it's says so much about the bureaucratic character of how government works. Right. The people who rise to the top of these governments, it's about risk management.
For them, it's about never being criticized for something.
And this is look, if we want to get really controversial, this is something that will haunt me because people will bring it up again and again and again.
People ask about, you know, people still criticize me in the book. You know, I talk about aliens and chem trails and things like that. The fact there were there is no evidence for that. I went looking on the network. Right.
And I know, Joe, I I know you want there to be aliens. I do. I know Neil deGrasse Tyson badly wants there to be aliens.
And there probably are. Right.
But the idea that we're hiding them, if we are hiding them, I had ridiculous access to the networks of the NSA, the CIA, the military, all these groups.
I couldn't find anything. Right. So if it's hidden and it could be hidden, it's hidden really damn well, even for people who are on the inside.
But the main thing is conspiracy theories. Right. Everybody wants to believe in conspiracy theories because it helps. Life makes sense. It helps us believe that somebody is control in control. Right.
That somebody is calling the shots. These things all happen for a reason. This than the other.
There are real conspiracies, but they're not typically, you know, they've got tens of thousands of people working on them. Unless you're talking about the existence of the intelligence community itself, which is basically constructed on the idea that you can get.
I think there's four million or one. Point four million people, the United States, who hold security clearances. And you can get all of these people to not talk ever to journalists in this, that or the other.
But when you look back at the 9/11 report and when you look back at the history of what actually happened, what we can prove right. Not what we can speculate on, but what are least commonly agreed facts.
It's very clear to me, as someone who worked in the intelligence community, not during this period, of course, I was too young, but very shortly thereafter that these attacks could have been prevented. And in fact, the government says this too. But the government goes the reason that they these attacks happened, the reason that they weren't prevented is what they call stovepiping right there. There is not enough sharing.
They needed to break down the walls and the restrictions that were chaining these poor patriots at the NSA and the CIA and the FBI from all working on the same team. And to some extent, they're correct on this right there.
There were limits on the way agencies were supposed to play ball with each other.
But I worked there and I know how much of this is bullshit and how much is this is not.
Those are procedural and policy limits in some cases legal limits on what can be shared without following a process, without doing this, that or the other, without basically asking for permission, without getting a signoff or anything like that.
If the FBI wanted to send absolutely everything they had to the CIA, they could have done so at the CIA, wanted to send everything they had to the FBI.
They could have done so they didn't. And people died as a result. Now government goes bureaucratic procedure realism was responsible and it's because we had too many restrictions on the intelligence community. And this is what led to the world post-9 11 where all of our rights sort of evaporated.
Where they went well, restrictions on what these agencies can do are costing lives.
Therefore, naturally, we just have to unchain these guys and everything will be better. Right. And if you remember that post 9/11 moment, you can understand how that actually could come off as persuasive, how that might be a kind of thing that go. You go. All right.
Well well, that makes sense because everybody was terrified. Right.
There were people quite quickly who got their heads back on their shoulders the right way. There were some of them who never lost their heads at all and who protested the Iraq war at the same time. I don't self with signing up to go fight it, volunteering for the army. We're going into that a minute.
Everything that has followed in the decades past came from the fact that in a moment of fear, we lost our heads and we abandoned all the traditional constitutional restraints that we put on these agencies and we abandon all of the traditional political restraints and just social constraints, ideological systems of belief about the limitations that the secret police should have in a free and open society.
And we won't look, you know, terrorists, we credit shows like 24 and Jack Bauer were his life threatening knife people's eyeballs out if they won't tell him this, that or the other.
And. We entered this era of increasingly unlimited government as result, and now in hindsight, we go. We should have been surprised, but at the time everyone, everyone panicked. Right.
But if you go back to did that help? And we know the answer now is, in fact, no, it did not. It made things worse.
I don't think any historian is going to look at the Bush administration and go this improved the position of the United States in the world.
But if you go back, you don't win back the tape to that pre 9/11 moment, whine back the tape to those silos in those walls that they said needed to come down because that was restrained government instead of the rules. That said, we can't share these things. But there's gotta be basis. There's gotta be a justification. You've got to go, why are we trading people's information like baseball cards and all of this stuff?
It's super easy as an intelligence officer to justify sharing information about a suspected terrorist who you think is planning to kill people or is even just in a country. They shouldn't be a place they shouldn't be doing something.
You don't think they should be with another agency because no one's gonna question a judge's and get a question that any judge in the world will stamp that warrant without even thinking about it, then go to bed that night, you know, without a care in the world, because you're not spying on a journalist and spying on a human rights defender.
Right. This is not an edge case. This is someone that you believed to be associate with al-Qaida or whatever.
Now, this is all a lot of preamble to say that essential fact. Government agrees. Everyone agrees the attacks probably could have been prevented if information had been shared. So why wasn't the information shared? Government says information wasn't shared because of these restrictions. And it's half true because every important lie has had some kernel truth to it. And there were these barriers.
But the reality is, why were those barriers respected? In the case of a major terrorist plot, why wasn't the CIA sharing information with the FBI? Why wasn't the FBI sharing information with the NSA? Why was the NSA sharing information with the CIA? In the case of married major terrorist plot.
And if you've worked in government, if you've worked in the intelligence community, you worked in any large institution, you if you work at a company that sells batteries, you know that every office is fighting the other office for budget for cloud for promotions. And this is the sad reality of what actually happened.
Every one of those agencies wanted to be the guy who bust the plot. They wanted to be the one who got credit for it. And they didn't realize how serious it was until it was too late because they were competing with each other rather than cooperating.
That's exactly what I was going to ask you if that was the issue. The competition between these agencies, because they they are very proud of the CIA accomplishing something or the FBI accomplishing something. And they want to be the one to take credit for that.
Yeah, I mean, I think it's important, like in their defense, because nobody else here is going to provide a defense for them, is that that's actually darkly human.
Again, this happens in every industry, this happens in every sort of big corporate thing because you want to get promoted and, you know, everybody's putting in there like achievements at the end of the year for what they did. If you're the guy who does that, you're going straight to the top.
But their solution instead is just the. So we we have a weird delay here for folks who are listening. So their solution, instead of having someone be responsible for bridging the gap and providing that information to each individual agency. Their solution was mass surveillance. Well, not they're they're different things. This is 9/11 is what woke these guys up. Right. Basically. And they went, well, we screwed up and Americans died as a result. We really don't want to take the hit on that.
And to be honest, the government had no interest in putting the hit on them. To be honest, the public had no interest in putting the hit on them at the time because everybody understood terrorism is a real thing.
There are bad people in the world. And that's true. Right. That will always be true. There's always gonna be criminals. There's always going to be terrorists, whether they're at your church, whether they're across the ocean.
There are people out there who are angry. They're disenfranchised. They're violent. And they just want to harm something.
They want to change something even in a negative way, because that's what they feel is all they have left. Which these are criminals.
Right. These are people that we don't need to pity. But if we ever want to stop it, we do need to understand it. And where those things come from, where there's there's drives come from the first place.
But basically, everybody went. All right. How do we stop this?
Because nobody wants feel unsafe. Nobody wants to feel like the buildings don't come down. Then the next time you go in it.
And so everybody just went. I don't care who does it. Stop it. And they said this to Dick Cheney, which is a historic mistake. But because Dave Dick Cheney knows how government works.
He was the person in that White House who was best placed to know all the levers of government, all the inter-agency cooperation where we were strong, where we were weak, what we could do, what we were not allowed to do.
And what he did was he took that little dial on what we're not allowed to do. And he changed it all the way until it broke and stamped off. And then there was nothing that we couldn't do anymore.
And you were there. Why this is happening? This was this. No. I was. I was not. Again, this is two thousand one. I was I was 18 years old.
I was working on a base. I had drove past the building. That was it is all hindsight. This biography, this is documented history.
But this is not, you know, the gospel of Edward Snowden. I don't know this. Right. This is public record. This is what we all know.
What we have, though, the reason that I bring this up is this is a teachable moment because there's so many people right now in the Trump administration who go, look, this guy has too much power. He's abusing it against immigrants. He's abusing it against domestic opponents. He's doing whatever. He's trying to hurt political rivals in the next election.
All of this stuff. And, you know, we can get into this stuff later if you want in detail.
But the bottom line is they're going, this is a guy who's in the White House who's thrown elbows. Right. He doesn't really care.
He wants to hurt people as long as he can convince the Americans that those are the bad guys. Right. That's the enemy.
Doesn't matter if they're far away. It doesn't matter if they're close at home. Whoever he's against, he's going to harm. And the dark thing is this is actually why he was elected in moments of fear where the world starts falling apart. And this happens in a thoughtand country after country. This is why you have Vladimir Putin in Russia who's been there for 20 years. Right. Present for basically 20 years. Think about that.
You know, he sort of skipped in the middle there because he had to dodge the fact that presidents can only serve somebody consecutive terms of drop-down prime minister. And they came back as president.
But let's think about that. How do you get that kind of political longevity? And it's because if you know anything about Russian history, which, you know, even I don't know that much about, the 90s after the collapse of the Soviet Union were an extraordinarily dark time.
If you look at Russian cinema, all they had were gangster movies, right. All they had were the disintegration of society, how things are dark and broken.
No one trusts each other. Pensions were no longer being paid. Social Security is not there anymore. Like there's nothing to buy. There's nothing to do. There's no job. No one had a future.
And so they went. If there's somebody who can lead us out of this, that there's somebody who will fix this, who will find us an enemy and defeat that enemy to restore prosperity, we'll put them in office. We see it happen in Turkey with Erdem. Right. We've seen it happen successively with bad governments, even in western democracies. We see it happening sadly in places like Poland and Hungary. You can even argue it's happening in the United Kingdom.
Right. And now there are a lot of people arguing.
That's exactly what we're seeing with Donald Trump's White House in the United States. And this is the lesson that we didn't learn from 2001 is when we become fearful, we become vulnerable. Right to. Anyone who promises they will make things better, even if they have no ability to make things better, even if they will actively make things worse.
Even if they will make things better for themselves and their buddies by taking from you. But if they tell you that they'll make things better and you believe them in a moment of fear, that typically leads to unfortunate outcomes.
So sorry. Let me let me turn this back over to you, because we got way off track there.
No, that's all right. I want to bring it back to the initial question. So you're working for the NSA. When do you realize there's a huge issue? And when do you feel this responsibility to let the American people know about this issue? Gwen, when do you contact these journalists and what was the thought process regarding this? Like what what steps did you go through once you realize that this was in violation of the constitution and that even with the laws of the Patriot Act and the Patriot Act, two things had changed so radically that you knew this was wrong and you had to do something about it.
You felt a responsibility to speak out. OK, so since we gave so much historical preamble, let me just give the CliffsNotes version to get us up to that. So after September 11th, I'm a little bit lost. I'm doing my technical stuff, but it doesn't really feel like it matters anymore.
Like I'm making more money, I'm becoming more accomplished. But the world's on fire, right?
You remember there was a crazy mood of patriotism in the country because we were all trying to come together to get through it.
You remember like people were sticking Dixie cups in the top of every chain link fence on every overpass. There was like stand together, you know, never forget. United we stand flags on every car.
Exactly. And, you know, was a young a young guy who is not especially political.
Right. And I come from a military background, federal family, all that stuff. And so that means I'm very vulnerable to this kind of stuff. I see it on the news. And Bush, in all his sort of cronies are going, look, it's al-Qaeda, it's terrorism, terrorist organization.
They have all these international connections. There's Iraq, you know, dictators, weapons of mass destruction. They're holding the world at ransom. You got Colin Powell at the U.N. dangling little vials of like fake anthrax.
And so I felt an obligation to do my part. And so I volunteered to join the army.
You probably can't tell from from looking at me, but I'm not going to be at the top of the NRMA circuit soon.
So it didn't work out. I joined a special program that was called the 18 x ray program where they take you in off the street and they actually give you a shot at becoming a special forces soldier. So you train harder and special platoons, you go further. And I ended up breaking my legs, basically. So they put me out of discharge.
Yeah. It was basically what it was. They were shin splints that I was too dumb to get off of. Right. So I kept marching under way.
I'm a pretty light guy to begin with. I had a 24 inch waist when I when I joined the army. Girls are jealous my way.
I think I weighed like 128 pounds.
I got I was in great shape. You know, in boot camp because I came up really quick because it was a you know, all I could do was gain. But it was it was just too much, I'm afraid, because I wasn't that that active.
And so when you keep running on a stress injury. Right. And you're running under weight with like rucksacks and things like that, you're running in like boots and then you're doing exercise.
The army is like a whole chapter in the book.
You got your battle buddy, right, because they never allow you to be alone.
You know, he's going to have somebody watching you. They thought it was funny to put me the smallest guy in the platoon. The drill sergeants did with the biggest dude in the platoon who is like an amateur bodybuilder was like, you know, 230 or 260, something like that. He's a big fellow.
And so, you know, he would when we're off in the woods doing these these marches and things like that, we have to practice, buddy. Kerry's like a fireman's carry and things like that. He throws me around his neck. You know, I'm like a towel. He's just skipping down like it's nothing.
And then I got to put him on me and I'm just like, oh, God, dying.
And it was it was it was weirdly fun. I enjoyed it, but it was no good for my body and sort of land navigation movement.
I step off a log because I was on point. And on the other side of the log because it's the woods and George on it sandhill.
I see a snake.
So in my my memory, you know, it's like time slows down in North Carolina, you know, where I grew up. You think all snakes are poisonous?
Like, sorry, that's an issue. Do we know where we're good? It's completely fine. No, we're fine. I just thought there was something that happened in the street. I wanted to make sure it was OK. Now, that's just SBI joining the chat. That's what I was worried about.
There's a second. It's opened up here. Yeah.
So anyway, I tried to take a much longer step in midair. I land badly and it's it's just one leg is like fire. I'm limping. I'm limping, I'm limping. But, you know, everybody says don't go to sick call because you go to sick call.
You lose your slot.
You'll end up general infantry, regular infantry. So I go back. I just tough it out. I get my rank. And the next morning when I get out of the rat, which is the top bunk bed.
Right. I jumped. And my legs, they just give out underneath me and I try to get up and I just can't get up.
And so I go to sick call and I end up going to the hospital and they end up x ray and me and they also X-ray my battle buddy because I got to go. There was somebody else and he has a broken hip where they had to bring him to surgery. And it's in the book. There's a lot more detail about it.
It's kind of dramatic moment.
But for me, they just said I had bilateral tibial fractures right all the way up my legs. They said I had spider webs and the next frit phase of the training was jump school. Right. Where you got a jump out of a plane and the doctor, you know, as like son. If you jump on those legs, they're going to turn into powder and he's like, I can hold you back. You know, we can put you for like six months.
You stay off them, then you can go back through through the whole cycle.
Right. Start basic from scratch, but you'll lose your slot in the Special Forces pipeline because of the way these things are scheduled and everything like that.
And then you'll basically be resigned to the needs of the army or which probably meant I was going back to I.T., which was what I joined the army to kind of escape or you can go out on this special kind of discharge.
That's called an administrative discharge. Right. Normally got an honorable discharge, dishonorable discharge, things like that. This is something for people who have been in for, I think, less than six months where it's like annulling a marriage.
It's as if it never happened. It's as if he never joined.
And at the time, I was like, well, you know, that's very kind of him to do that. And I took it. You know, they they sent me to sick call or sort of the sick bay where you're in, like the medical platoon and you do nothing for who isn't.
I think about a month. And then then they let you out, wants the paperwork all finishes.
But in hindsight, I realized that if you take an administrative discharge, it exempts the army for liability for your injuries.
So actually, what I thought was a kindness was just, you know, now if I had future problems with my legs, they wouldn't have to cover it or health insurance on any of those things.
And it was it was just a funny thing. But anyway, I get out of the army and here. I'm on crutches for a long time and just sort of trying to figure out. All right. Well, what's next in life? Because I had gotten a basic security clearance just for going through signing up for the military process.
I applied for a security guard position at the University of Maryland because it said you had to get a top secret clearance, which was a higher clearance than I had at the time.
And I went, well, that sounds good, because I knew if I come by my I.T. skills, which were now suddenly much more relevant again to my future with a top secret security clearance because of the way it works. If you have a Top-Secret security class and tech skills, you get paid a ridiculous amount of money for doing very little work. So it's like, all right. Well, you know, I can basically make twice what I would be making in the private sector working for government at this level, at this phase, because what we talked about earlier with September 11th and how the intelligence community changed, they no longer cared that I hadn't graduated from college.
Right. And I had gotten a g._e._d just by going in and taking a test. So for government purposes, it was the same as if I was a high school graduate.
So now suddenly it was like these these doors are open. Now, this university Maryland facility turned out to be an NSA facility. It was called a castle, the Center for the Advanced Study of Language at the University of Maryland College Park.
And all I was was literally a security guy walking around with with a walkie talkie, making sure nobody breaks in at night, managing the electronic alarm system and things like that.
But once I had my foot in the door there, I could start climbing ladders step by step. And I applied for or I went to a job fair. Actually, that was only for people who had security clearances.
And I ended up going to the table for one of the technical companies. It was a little tiny subcontractor. Nobody's ever heard of. And they said, you know, we've got tons of positions for somebody like you. Are you comfortable working nights?
And I was like, yeah, you know, I wake up in the middle of the day anyway, that's fine with me.
And suddenly I've gone from working for the NSA through a university in a weird way where it's like the NSA holds the clearance.
But I'm formerly an employee. The state of Maryland at the college and this is government. And it's all these weird dodges and boondoggles for how people are employed there.
Now, suddenly I'm working at CIA headquarters. Right.
The place where all the movies show you swoop over the marble seal and everything like that. I'm the king of the castle right there at the middle of the night when no one else is there. The lights are on motion sensors. It's the creepiest thing in the world.
There's like flags on the wall that are just like gently billowing in the air conditioning like ghosts.
The hallway lights up as you walk alongside it because it's a green building.
And they disappear behind you. And there's there's no one there. I can go down to the gym at like two o'clock in the morning at the CIA and it's like not see a soul on the other side of the building, then go all the way back.
And this kind of thing was it was my end because they were like, look, it's the nightshift. Nothing that bad is gonna happen now.
But it was on a very senior technical team and that was basically handling systems administration for everybody in the Washington metropolitan area. Right. So every basically CIA server. This is a computer system that like data is stored on the reporting is stored on that traffic is moved on, all of this stuff.
Suddenly, me, this is a circa 2005, I think. I'm in charge of and it's just me and one other guy on the night shift, and if you're interested in the book, there's a lot of detail on this, but I get sort of scouted from this position because they realize I actually know a lot about technology.
They were expecting me just to basically make sure the building doesn't burn down. All these systems don't go down overnight and never come back up. But they go, well. Are you willing to go overseas?
And to a young man at that age, that's actually like, hey, that sounds kind of exciting. You know who who doesn't want to go work overseas for the CIA? And there's a lot of people listening to podcasts who are like, not me.
I'm like, wait. The CIA is the bad guys, right? Yeah, exactly. They're like, what? You're gonna go overthrow a government somewhere? But you have to understand that I'm still very much a true believer that the government is like the living compressed embodiment of truth and goodness and light. You know, the shining city on the hill.
So I want to do my part to spread that to the world.
I didn't have skepticism is really what I'm trying to establish here.
And so I sign up and I go through this special training school like people here in movies about the farm, which is down at Camp Peary in Virginia.
I'm sent to this actually much more secret facility called The Hill, which is in Warrenton, Virginia.
And this has been covered a few times and open source media.
But I think this is one of the few book-length discussions of what what happens there in permanent record.
But yeah, so I go through training and then I get assigned overseas and I end up in Geneva, Switzerland, undercover as a diplomat.
Right. I think I'm Mike. My formal title for the embassy is like something super blandly diplomatic attache.
And what I am is I'm a forward deployed tech guy.
They send you through the school to make you into kind of a MacGyver. Right. Yes. You can handle all the computers, but you can also handle the connections for the embassy's power systems. Right. The actual electric grid connections. You can handle the h vac systems. Right. You can handle locks and alarms and security systems.
Basically, anything that's got an on button on it at the embassy that's secure.
Now you're responsible for and I traveled from Geneva to other countries in Europe for sort of assignments and it was like it was an exciting time.
I actually still enjoyed it, but this was where I first working with intelligence started to get doubts and the story's been told many times. So I won't go over in full detail here.
But the CIA does primarily and it's not the only thing they do what's called human intelligence.
Now, there are many different types of intelligence in the intelligence community is responsible for.
The primary ones are human intelligence and signals intelligence.
You want to think of signals intelligence, right, as tapping lines, hacking computers, all of these sort of things that provide electronic information, anything that's digital or analog signal that can be intercepted then turned into information. Human intelligence is seen all that fun stuff.
We've heard of the CIA doing for for decades and decades, which is where they try to turn people. Basically, they say, look, we'll give you money if you sell out your country.
It's not even your country. A lot of times it's here like organization. These guys could be working for a telecommunications provider and they want to sell customer records or they work at a bank, which was the thing that I saw. We wanted records on the bank's customers, so we wanted a guy on the inside.
But anyway, that that's sort of how it works. And what I saw was they were way more aggressive for the lowest stakes than was reasonable or responsible. They were totally willing to destroy somebodies life just on the off chance they would get some information that they wouldn't even be a tremendously valuable.
And so, you know, ethically, that that struck me as a bit off.
But I let it pass because what I what I've learned over my life short, though, it's been you know, it is that skepticism is something that needs to built up over time.
It's a skill, something that needs to be practiced. Or you can think of it as something that you develop through exposure. I kind of like radiation poisoning, but in a positive way.
It's when you. Start to realize. Inconsistencies or hypocrisies were lies.
And you notice them and, you know, you give somebody the benefit of the doubt or you trust them or you think it's all right. But then over time, you see it's not an isolated instance, it's a pattern behavior. And over time that exposure to inconsistency builds and builds and builds until it's something that you can no longer ignore.
Now, after the CIA, I went to the NSA in Japan where I was working there in Tokyo. And then from there a couple of years later, I went to the CIA again. Now, I was working as private employee for Dell, but I was the senior technical official on Dell's sales account. The CIA, you know, people, these big companies, they have sales accounts to the CIA. And so this means I'm going in. And now it's crazy because I'm still a very young man.
But I'm sitting across the table from chiefs of these enormous CIA divisions.
I'm sitting across from their chief technology officer for the entire agency or the chief intelligence or chief information officer for the entire CIA.
And these guys are going, look, here's a problems. Here's what we want to do.
And it's my job to pitch them a system. Right. And I've paired up with the sales guy. And the whole thing is just go, how much money can we get out of the government? Right.
That's the whole goal. And we'll build them. What we were pitching was a private cloud system. Right. Everybody knows about cloud computing now. It's like why you're G-mail account is available wherever you go.
It's why Facebook has this massive system of records for everyone everywhere.
The government wanted to have this these kind of capabilities to Dell ended up getting beat out by Amazon people. Some people aren't familiar with as many of them are. But Amazon runs a secret cloud system for the government.
I forget what they've rebranded it now, but this is just there's this massive connection between industry and government in the classified space that just goes deeper and deeper and deeper and deeper. But at this point, I was already I had misgivings because of what I'd seen in Japan about government. But I was just trying to get by. I was trying to ignore the conflicts. I was trying to ignore the inconsistencies. And I think this is a state that a lot of people in these large institutions, not just in our country, but around the world, struggle with every day.
Right. They got a job. They're going to family. They the bills that they're just trying to get by. And they know that some of the things they're doing are not good things. They know some of the things they're doing are actively wrong, but they know what happens to people who rock the boat. Eventually. I changed my mind. And when I had gone to Hawaii, which was the final position in my career with the intelligence community. I was because of an accident of history here, I wasn't supposed to be in this position at all.
I was supposed to be at a group called the National Threat Operations Center and Talk.
But because of the way contracting works and again, this is covered in the book, I end up being reassigned to this little rinky dink office that nobody's ever heard of in Hawaii called the Office of Information Sharing.
And I'm replacing this old timer who's who's about to retire. Really, really nice guy. But he's spent most of his days just reading novels and doing nothing and letting people be content to the fact they're letting people forget that his office existed because he was the only one in it. There's there's a manager who's like over him, but it's actually over a larger group. And he just looks over him as a sort of a favor.
So now I come in and now I'm the sole employee of the Office of Information Sharing, but I'm not close enough to retirement that I'm okay with just doing nothing at all.
So I get ambitious and I come up with this idea for a new system called the heartbeat. And what the heartbeat is going to do is connect to basically every information repository in the intelligence community, both at the NSA and across network boundaries, which you normally can't cross.
But because I'd worked at both the CIA and the NSA, I knew the network well enough, both sides of its sides that normal work as the NSA would never have seen, because you have to be in one or the other. I can actually connect these together.
I could build bridges across this kind of network space and then draw all of these records into a new kind of system that was supposed to look at your digital I.D..
Basically, your sort of I.D. card that says, this is who I am. I work for this agency. I work in this office. These are my assignments. These are my group affiliations.
And because of that, the system would be able to eventually aggregate records that were relevant to your job, that were related to you.
And then it could provide them.
And basically you could hit this site and it would be an update of what we used to call read boards which were manually created. There we go. Look, you work in network defense, right? These are all the things that are happening on network defense you work on. I don't know, economic takeovers in Guatemala.
This is what's going on for you there.
But in my off time, I helped the team that sat next to me, which was a systems administration team for Windows Networks, because I had been Microsoft certified systems engineer, which means basically I knew how to take care of Windows Networks. And this was all those guys did.
And they always had way too much work, way too much work.
And I had basically no work that I needed to do at all because all I was supposed to do was share information, which was not something that was particularly in demand because most people already knew what they wanted or what they needed.
So it was basically my job was to sit there and collect a paycheck unless I wanted to get ambitious.
And so I did some side gigs for these other guys.
And one of them was running what were called dirty word searches.
Now dirty word searches. Ah, let me let me dial this back, because I know we're sort of this is hard to track. Everything that the NSA does in large part is classified. Everything the CIA does in large part is classified. If I made lunch plans with other people, my office, it was classified. That was the policy.
It's dumb that this overclassification problem is one of the central flaws in government right now. This is the reason we don't understand what they're doing. This is why they can get a wrong way. This is why they can get away with breaking the law or violate our rights for so long. You know, five years, 10 years, 15, 50 years before they see before we see what they were doing. And it's because of this routine classification. Right.
But every system, computer system has a limit on what level of classified information is supposed to be stored on it.
And we've got all these complicated systems for code words and caveats that established a system of what's called compartment nation. And this is the idea when you work at the CIA, when you work at the NSA, you're not supposed to know what's happening in the office next to you. Right. Because you don't have a need to know. Right. Again, that thing from the movies. And the reason they have this is they don't want one person to be able to go and know everything.
Ryan, tell everybody everything. They don't want anybody to know too much, particularly when they're doing lots of bad things, because then there's the risk that you realize they're doing so many bad things that it's past the point that we can justify that they might develop sort of an ideological objection to that.
Well, in the office of information sharing.
And actually in basically every part of my career before that, I had access to everything.
I had what was called a special caveat on my access is called PREVATT, which brings privileged access. What this means your kind of super user, you know, most people have all of these controls on the kind of information they can access.
But I'm in charge of this system. Right. People who need information, they have to get it from somewhere they don't know.
Even the director of the CIA right now, he says, I need to know everything about this. He doesn't know where to get it. He's just a manager. Somebody has to be able to actually cross these thresholds and get those things.
That guy was me.
And so dirty word searches were these kind of automated queries that I would setup to go across the whole network and look at all of the different levels of classification and compartment station and exceptionally controlled information.
That's kind of you could think of it as above top secret in these special compartments, right.
Where you're not even supposed to know what these compartments are for. You only know the code word unless you work in them, unless you have access to them, unless you read into them.
One day I get a hit on the dirty word search for a program that I'd never heard of called Stellar Wind.
It came back because the. The little caveat for called handling caveats, which is like, you know, you can think of like burn after reading or for your eyes only. But this one's called Esti LW, which means Stellar Wind, unless you know it's Stellar Wind is you don't know how to handle it.
All I know is it wasn't supposed to be on my system.
You know, this is a little bit unusual and it turned out this document was placed on the system because one of the employees who had worked on this program years before had come to Hawaii. And this person was a lawyer, I believe, and they'd worked in the inspector general's office.
And they had compiled a report, part of the inspector general's report, which is when the government is investigating itself into.
The operations and activities of this program, well, this was the domestic mass surveillance program that I talked about in the very beginning of our conversation that started under the Bush White House, stellar wind was no longer supposed to be really an operation.
It had been unveiled in a big scandal in December 2005 in The New York Times by journalist James Risin. And I'm not going to name him because I don't want to get wrong. Another journalist.
You can look at the byline and if you want to see their involvement. But and there's there's a lot of history here, too. But what they had found was, of course, the Bush White House had constructed a warrantless wiretapping program. If you remember the warrantless wiretapping scandal that was affecting everyone in the United States. Well, the Bush White House was really put in a difficult position by this scandal. They would have lost the election over this scandal because The New York Times actually had this story in October 2004, which was the election year.
They were they were ready to go with it.
But at this specific request of the White House, talking to the publisher of The New York Times, Sulzberger and Bill Keller, then the executive editor of The New York Times, The New York Times said, we won't run the story because the president just said, if you on this story a month before the election, that's very tight margin.
If you recall, you'll have blood on your hands.
And it was so close in 2001, The New York Times just went, you know, buying. Americans don't need no constitution to be violated, they don't need to know. That the Fourth Amendment doesn't mean what they think it means. If the government says it's all right and it's a secret, you should know about it, that's fine. Now, December 2005, why did that change? Why did The New York Times suddenly run this story? Well, it's because James Risen, the reporter who found this story, had written a book and he was about to publish this book.
And The New York Times was about to be in a very uncomfortable position of having to explain why they didn't run this story and how they got scooped by their own journalist. And so they finally did it, but it was too late. Bush had been re-elected and now it was sweeping up the broken glass of our lost rights. So Congress and the Bush White House was very effective.
And as I said before, telling a very few select members of Congress that this program existed and they told them this program existed in ways that they wouldn't object to, but made them culpable for hiding the existence from the program, the existence of the program from the American people.
And this is why someone like Nancy Pelosi, who you wouldn't exactly think would be Buddy Buddy with George Bush, was completely OK in defending this kind of program, in fact. And, you know, later she said, oh, well, she had objections to the program that she wrote in a letter to the White House, but she never showed us the letter. She went on. Well, that was that was classified. Right. And this is not to bag on her individually.
It's just she's a great example in here and not named example.
Everyone knows of how this process works. The White House will implicate certain very powerful members of Congress in their own criminal activity.
And so when the when then when the White House gets in trouble for it, the Congress has to run cover for the White House. And so what happened was Congress passed an emergency law in 2007 called the Protect America Act, which should have been our first indication.
This is a very bad thing because they never name a law, something like that unless it's something terrible.
And what it did was it retroactively immunized all of the phone companies in the United States that had been breaking the law millions of times a day by handing your records over to the government, which they weren't allowed to do simply on the basis of a letter from the president saying, please do this.
And these companies went.
Look, now that we've been uncovered, now that we've been shown that we're breaking, now that these journalists have shown that we've broken the law and violated the rights of Americans and a staggering scale that could bankrupt our companies because we can be sued for this, we will no longer cooperate with you unless you pass a law that says people can't sue us for having done this.
And so we get the Protect America Act, which they say is, you know, as an emergency, if this is all public history, too.
Yeah, you can look this up on Wikipedia.
You know, and so then. They may go it's an emergency law, we have to pass this now, we have to keep this program active.
Bush is going to end the warrantless wiretapping program and continue it under this new authority where it's going to have some special level of oversight and these kind of things eventually.
But for now, we just have to make sure people are safe again. They go to fear. They say if we don't have this program, terrorist attacks will continue.
You know, people will die. Blood on your hands. Blood on your hands. Bleeding hands. Think of the children.
Protect America Act passes the companies.
Get off the hook. The Bush White House gets off the hook. The Congress. That was then chairing in criminal culpability for authorizing or rather letting these things go by without stopping them. Then passes in 2008, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act amendments of 2008. This is called the FAA FISA Amendments Act of 2008.
And rather than stopping all of the unlawful and sort of unconstitutional activities that the intelligence agency was doing, they continued it in different ways simply by creating a few legal hoops for them to jump through. Now, this is not to say, you know, these things aren't helpful at all. It's not say they're not useful at all. But it's important to understand when the government's response to any scandal and this applies to any country is not to make the activities of the person who's caught breaking the law, comply with the law, but instead make the activities of the person who is breaking the law.
Legal. Right. They make the law comply with the agencies want to do rather than make the agencies comply with the law. That's a problem. And that's what happened here. Now, the intelligence community's powers actually grew in response to this scandal in 2008 because Congress was on the hook and they just wanted to move on and get this over with.
There were objections. There were people who knew this was a bad idea, but it passed on.
Now, what the public took away from this, because a part of these laws was a requirement that the inspector general of all of these different intelligence community elements and the director of national intelligence submit a report saying this is what happened under that warrantless wiretapping program.
This is how it comply with the law. How it didn't comply with the law.
And basically, look back at how this program was constituted, what it did, what the impacts and effects were. And that was supposed to be sort of the Truth and Reconciliation Council.
Right. Now, why am I talking about all this ancient history? Well, I'm sitting here in 2012 with a classified inspector general's report, draft report from the NSA that names names that says Dick Cheney.
It says David Addington, this is Nancy Pelosi. This is all these people who are involved in the program, the tick tock of how it happens. It says the director of the NSA, that guy who is evacuating the building at the beginning of our podcast here.
That guy was asked by the president of the United States if he would continue this program after being told by the White House and the Department of Justice that these programs were not lawful, that they were not constitutional.
And the president said, would you continue this program on my say so alone, knowing that it's risky, knowing that it's unlawful? And he said, yes, sir, I will. If you think that's what's necessary to keep the country safe at that moment, I realize.
These guys don't care about the law. These guys don't care about the Constitution. These guys don't care about the American people. They care about the continuity of government. They care about the state. Right. And this is something that people have lost.
We hear this phrase over and over again, national security, national security, national security.
And we're meant to interpret that to mean public safety. But national security is a very different thing from public safety. National security is a thing that in previous generations we refer to as state security. National security was a kind of term that came out of the Bush administration to run cover for the fact that we were elevating a new kind of secret police across the country.
And what does it mean when, again, in a democracy in the United States, the public is not partner to government. The public does not hold the leash of government any more. But we are subject to government, right?
We are subordinate to government, and we're not even allowed to know that it happened now.
Now, in the book, I tell the fact that I had access to the unclassified version of this report back in Japan.
And what's interesting is the unclassified version of a report and we've all seen this today with things like the Mueller report and all of the intelligence reporting that's happened in the last several years when the government provides a classified report to the public.
It's normally the same document, the unclassified version, the classified version of the same thing, just the unclassified version. Has things blacked out or redacted that they say, oh, you're not allowed to know this sentence for this paragraph of this page or whatever?
The document that the public had been given about the warrantless wiretapping program was a completely different document. It was a document tailor made to deceive and mislead the Congress and the public of the United States. And it was effective in doing that. And in 2012, what I realized was.
This is what real world conspiracies look like. Right. It doesn't have to be a smoking man behind closed doors. Right. It's lawyers and politicians. It's ordinary people from the working level to the management level who go. If we don't explain this in a certain way, we're all going to lose our jobs. Or the other way they go. We're going to get something out of this if we all work together. Civilization is the history of conspiracy, right?
What is civilization? But a conspiracy for all, all of us to do better by working together.
Right. But it's this kind of thing that I think too often we forget because it's boring as hell.
I want all your listeners right not to go to The Washington Post, because this document that I discovered that that really changed me has been published courtesy of The Washington Post. It's called the Inspector General's Report on On Stellar Wind. And you can look at the actual document that I saw that was unredacted. Right. I had no blacked out pages on mine.
And what I believe it shows. Is that some of the most senior officials in the United States, elected and unelected, worked together to actively undermine the rights of the American people to give themselves expanded powers. Now, in their defense, they said they were seeking these powers for a good and just a noble cause. Right.
They say they were trying to keep us safe, but that's what they always say. That's what every government says. That's no different than what the Chinese government says or the Russian government says.
And the question is, if they are truly keeping us safe, why wouldn't they simply just tell us that? Why wouldn't they have that debate in Congress? Why wouldn't they put that to a vote? Because if they were. And they could convince us that they were. They'd win the vote. And politically, we all know, like the Patriot Act passed more, the worst pieces of legislation in modern history passed.
Why didn't we get a vote? And I think if you read the report, the answer was clear. So I'm sorry, Joy. I went on for very no is amazing.
It's OK. Don't don't apologize at all. It's just completely fascinating that the continuation of this policy came down to one man and the president having this discussion. That is.
So it's it's much it's much, much more, much more. But. Right. Right. Literally.
The president at the heart of it. Yes. At the heart of it. In every expression of executive power. Right. And by executive, we mean the White House here, the CIA, the NSA, the FBI, the DOJ. Right. These guys exist as a part of the executive branch of government and are in a real way. They work for the White House.
Now, there are laws and regulations and policies that are supposed to say they're supposed to do this and they're supposed to say they're not supposed to do that.
But when you look at federal regulations, when you look at policies as an employee of government, when you violate these policies, the worst thing that happens to you is you lose your job because there's no criminal penalty for the violation of these laws.
And so it's very easy for for people who exist in these structures, particularly the very top levels of these structures to go, look, we have a given set of lawful authorities and these are defined very broadly to to give us leeway to do whatever it is we think is proper and appropriate.
And just now take that proper and appropriate and just from the perspective of any given individual right at any given president.
Now intersect that with what's good for them politically. And that's where problems begin to arise. Now, the safety measure that's supposed to protect us from this in the U.S. system, in a democracy broadly, is these people are supposed to be what are called public officials. That means we know their decisions. That means we know their policies. That means we know their programs and prerogatives and powers like what they are doing both in our name and what they're doing against us.
And because they are transparent to us, we the people can then police their activities. We can go and disagree with this. We can protest it. We can campaign against it. Right.
We can try to become the president, do whatever they are, public officials. And we are private citizens. They're not supposed to know anything about us. Right. Because we. In relative terms, hold no power and they hold all the power. So they have to be under the tightest constraints.
We need to be in the freest circumstances. And yet the rise of the state secrets doctrine. Right.
This whole classification system that goes all the way back to last century, about the middle of the last century believes is when it really started getting tests in court.
And I think you know more about this in many cases than I do when you start talking about what happened in the FBI and the CIA and the NSA is sort of old dirty work in the 20th century is a.
They abuse their powers repeatedly and continuously. They did active harm to domestic politics in the United States. The FBI was spying on Martin Luther King and trying to get Martin Luther King to kill himself before the Nobel Prize was going to be awarded.
In fact, after MLK gave his I Have a Dream speech, two days later, the FBI classified him as the greatest national. I think it was the greatest national security threat in the United States. And yet this is the FBI.
This is the group that everybody's plotting today, saying all these these wonderful patriots and heroes.
Now, I'm not saying everybody the FBI is bad. I'm not saying anybody. Everybody, the CIA and NSA is bad. I'm saying that you don't become patriot based on where you work. Patriotism is not about loyalty to government. Patriotism, in fact, is not about loyalty to anything. Patriotism is a constant effort to do good for the people of your country. Right. It's not about the government. It's not about the state.
And this is what we'll get into loyalty later, because I think one of the big criticisms against me that should be talked about is on the go. Look, this guy is disloyal.
He broke an oath. He did whatever loyalty. Loyalty is a good thing. When it's in the service of something good, but it is only good when it's in the service of something good, if you're loyal to a bad person, if you're loyal to a bad program, if you're loyal to a bad government, that that loyalty is actively harmful. And I think that's overlooked.
But yeah, when you get back into this whole thing about sort of where it came from.
Why it happened, how it could come out of just this small group, and then they could slowly kind of poison by implication, by complicity, by bringing them into the conspiracy and then having them not say anything about it, wider and wider, broad body of people.
And then once you've got enough people in on it, it's much easier to convince other people that it's legitimate because they can go, look, we've got 30 people who know about this and none of them have objected to it. Why are you going object to this? All of this derives from that original sin, which is in a democracy creating a system of government. That is, in fact, a secret government, a body of secret law. Body of secret policy dead is far beyond what legitimate government secrets could be.
This is not, say, like government hasn't can have no secrecy at all. If the government wants to investigate someone without having them respond. Right. We're talking traditional law enforcement. Sure. You know, I got to tell this mobster. Hey, you know, we're going to start investigating you. We, the public don't need to know the names of every terror suspect out in the world.
Right. But we do need to know, again, the powers and programs, the policies that a government is asserting. At least the broad outlines of it, because otherwise, how can we control it? How do we know if the government is applying?
It's. Authorities that are supposed to be grant to it by us if we don't know what it is that they're doing.
And so this is the main thing. And really the story behind the title Permanent Record.
Is look, Joe, when you were a kid, you know, when I was a kid, when you were a teenager, right. What's the worst thing you ever said?
Did you say anything you weren't proud of? Did you do anything that you weren't proud of? Something that today in like the WOAK is to Twitter land you would get in trouble for, I'm sure.
And that. Right. One of the horrible things about kids growing up today is that they do have all this stuff out there on social media forever and they can be judged horribly by something they did when they were 13. It's exactly that. Our worst mistakes are our deepest shames were forgotten. Right. They were lost. They were ephemeral. Even the things we did get caught for, they were known for a time. Maybe they're still remembered by people who are closest to us, whether we like them or dislike them.
But they were people connected to us. Now we're forced to live in a real way, naked before power. Whether we're talking about Facebook, whether we're talking about Google, whether we're talking about the government of any country. They know everything about us or much about us, rather, and we know very little about them.
And we're not allowed to know more. Everything that we do now lasts forever, not because we want to remember, but because we're not allowed to forget. Just carry a phone in your pocket is enough for your movements to be memorialized. Because every cell phone tower that you pass is keeping a record of that. And AT&T keeps those records going back to 2008 under a program called Hemispheres The Search for a Hemisphere in AT&T. You get a story in The Daily Beast about it.
AT&T keeps your phone records going back to 1983. If any of your listeners were born after 1983, right? Born after me or it might be 1987 excuse me, 1987, if they're born after 1987 and their AT&T customer or their calls cross AT&T network AT&T has every phone call they ever made. Read the record that it happened not in to serve the contents of a phone call.
And so, I mean, let me turn this around for you, Joe, because I feel like I've just been given a given a speech. When you look at this stuff, right, when you look at what's happening with government, when you look at what's happening with the Trump White House, the Obama White House, the Bush White House, you could see this trend happening.
When you look what's happening with Facebook, when you look at what's happening with Google. When you look the fact that you go to every restaurant today and you see people looking at phones, you know, you get on a bus, you get on a subway, you know, you see somebody sitting next to you in traffic.
You see people looking at phones. These devices are connected all the time. Now, people again, Alexa, right now.
Now people have OK, Google, they have, you know, Siri on their phones that are in their house. They've always got these connected microphones. Where do you think this leads? And what is it that gives you sort of trust in the system? Faith in the system? Like how? Just just so we can start a conversation here. What strikes you about this?
Well, it's completely alien and it's new. This is something that's unprecedented. We don't have a long human history of being completely connected via technology. This is something we're navigating right now for the first time. And it's probably the most powerful thing that the human race has ever seen in terms of the distribution of information. There's nothing that even comes close to it in all of human history. And we're figuring it out as we go along. And what you exposed is that not only are we figuring out as we go along, but that to cover their ass, these cell phone companies in cahoots with the government have made it legal for them to gather up all of your phone calls, all of your text messages, all of your emails and store them somewhere so that retroactively, if you ever say anything they don't like or do something you don't like.
They can go back, find that and use it against you. And we don't know who they are. We don't know why they're doing it. And we didn't know they could do it until you exposed it. The connection of human beings via technology is is both amazing and powerful and incredible in terms of our access to knowledge, but terrifying in terms of the government's ability to track our movements. Tracked your phone calls, track everything. And under the guise of protecting us from terrorists and protecting us from sleeper cells, protecting us from attacks like they really are attack is protecting us from these attacks.
That's great. But there's. There's no provision in the Constitution that allows any of this. And this is where it gets really squirrelly because they're making up the rules as they go along and they're making up these rules the way you're describing it. It is step by step. This has happened to sort of protect their ass and keep themselves from being implicated in what has been a violation of our rights and our privacy and the Fourth Amendment.
Yeah. I mean, I think I think one of the things that that. Everybody needs to understand that when you look at these things and the reason, you know, we talked about before when I got this information, why I didn't just put it on the Internet and people criticize me for this, they go, I didn't share enough information because the journalists are gatekeeping.
Right. They've got a big archive and they haven't published everything from it. And I told them not to publish everything.
Why? Why did you do that? Struck? Why did you do that? Because. So, again, to get back to legitimate secrets and illegitimate secrets and some spying.
From my perspective, you know, career spy is OK, right?
I agree. If you have hacked a terrorist's phone. Right. And you're getting some information about that. Useful.
If you're spying on a Russian general in charge of a rocket division.
But there there are lines and degrees in that where it's not useful. Now, the examples that I just gave you. These are targeted. This is where you're spying on an individual. They're known named person that is being monitored for specific reasons.
That is related hopefully from a law people.
Well, even for foreign intelligence and some indications you don't need a warrant strictly, although I think they should have warrants for all of these investigations because they established a court for precisely this reason called the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
Right. And there's not a judge in the world who wouldn't stamp a warrant saying, hey, spy on Abu Jihad over here. Right.
And if you want to spy on another guy, Borris Bad and off of the rocket division. Right. That that's OK. They're going to go with that.
But then you look at these edge cases in the archive that are provided to journalists, there've been stories that come out where they've spied on journalists.
Right. They've spied on human rights groups and these kinds of things. I think people miss.
I'm gonna throw up some slides here. So forgive me if this gets weird. I put up the wrong ones.
But since I came forward in this Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that the government says authorized these programs 15 different times, I was overruled by the first open courts to look at the program. These are federal courts here. Right? That said, no, actually, these programs are unlawful. They're likely unconstitutional when you start looking at the facts.
You see even within the context of the very loose restrictions and laws that apply to the NSA and surveillance, they say they broke their own laws, two thousand seven hundred and seventy six times in a single year. And then you asked about that thing that motivates me, like why I came forward. We had been trying as a country before I came forward to prove the existence of these programs legally, because this is our this is our means of last sort of recourse in our system.
We get the executive, we get the legislature, we got the judiciary. Right. So Congress makes the laws, the executive suites, to carry them out. The courts are supposed to play referee.
The executive had broken the laws. Congress was turning a blind eye to laws and the courts were. And this is just months before I came forward going.
Well, it does appear that the ACLU and Amnesty International, like all of these human rights groups and nongovernmental organizations, had established that, you know, these programs are likely unlawful.
They likely exist. They're simply classified. But the government responded with this argument that you just saw it saying that, well, it's a state secret. If they do exist, you, the plaintiffs don't have a hard concrete evidence that they do exist. And the government is saying legally, you have no right to discover evidence from the government. Right. Documents demand documents or demand an answer from a government as to whether things these are written as to whether or not these things exist, because the government's just going to give its standard what they call Glomar response.
We can neither confirm nor deny that these things exists, which leaves you out in the cold. Which leaves the courts out in the cold. The courts go, look, the government could be breaking law here. Look, they could be violating the constitution here.
But because you can't prove it and because the government does want to play ball and the government says if we were doing this, it would be legal and it would be necessary for national security or whatever.
The court can't presume to know national security better than the executive because the courts aren't elected. And so this leads to this fundamentally broken system where, OK, the only way to have the courts review the legality of the programs is to establish the programs exist, but the programs are classified. So you can't establish they exist unless you have evidence. But providing that evidence to courts, to journalists, to anyone is a felony, right. That's punishable by 10 years per count under the Espionage Act.
And the government has charged every source of public interest journalism. Who's really made a significant difference in these kind of cases since Daniel Ellsberg really going back to that under the same Espionage Act? It's always the same law. And this is there's no distinction to government between whether you've sold information to a foreign government for private benefit. Right. Or whether you provided information only to journalists for the public interest. And then that's a fundamentally harmful thing.
I think when you look at things that have come in the wake of this, we're talking about the post-2013 court rulings that found what the government was doing was unlawful.
You see the courts saying actually that leaks or air quotes leaks can actually be beneficial. Leak is used in the government's.
And this you know, this is from a federal court. These are not exactly my biggest supporters. They're recognizing that although leak implies harm, it implies something that's broken. It's actually helpful. It's a leak that's letting in daylight in this context. That is the only thing that allows the system to operate in a context where one year before I came forward, we had the NSA saying this kind of stuff didn't happen.
We had. Hang on.
This famous exchange, which more than anything made me realize this was a point of no return, because I've told you this, you've heard this.
But if you haven't seen it, you might not believe me, right? Maybe I'm a sketchy guy. Whatever. One of those senators I told you that objected to this stuff that was doing, the lassie barks for all those years. Ron Widen was confronting the most senior spy in the United States, General James Clapper, who was then the director of national intelligence.
Right. There's no guy higher than him. The buck stops with him when it comes to intelligence. He's testifying under oath in front of Congress right now. But more broadly, in front of the public, this is televised. And Ron, one, ask him a very specific question about a program, mind you, that Ron Wyden knows exists because he has security clearance. He sits on the Intelligence Committee and he knows there's domestic mass surveillance.
And this is how it goes. This is how the top spy responds under oath.
So when I wanted to see if you could give me a yes or no answer to the question, does the NSA collect any type of data at all, millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?
No, sir, it does not.
Not wittingly. There are cases where they could inadvertently perhaps collect, but not not wittingly.
So that was a lie widen it was a lie. Klapper knew it was a lie. He actually admitted it was a lie after I came forward. You know, three months later.
But he said it was the least untruthful thing he could think of to say in the context of being in the hot seat there. But what does it mean for a democracy when you can lie under oath to Congress and the congressman even knows you're lying to them, but they're afraid to correct you and widen? By the way, it wasn't a surprise.
Widen gave him those questions 24 hours in advance, and he wrote a letter afterwards asking for Clapper to amend his testimony. Right now, not even a press conference, but just say this was incorrect. Whatever. So he could go through the legal process and show his fellow congressmen that there was a problem and that they need to do it. But all of that was refused to us. All of it was denied to us.
And here I am sitting at the NSA next to my buddies, who I talked to about these programs. You know, I've gone look at this and they're laughing at it.
You know, I'm laughing at it. And it's not it's not that we go all hahaha.
He's getting away with it. It's like, what are you going to do?
These guys are, you know, they're bullshitters that the system is built on lies that even many people, many experts who have studied this know our lies. But if you can't prove they are lies, how do you move beyond that?
And that's really a question that has never been more relevant than I think it is today under the current White House.
So you're in this position where you have this information and you know that these surveillance systems are in place and they're unconstitutional. And you feel this deep responsibility to let the American people know about this. What what makes you take the leap?
So this is covered extensively in the book. Because it took a long time. I would imagine people people, you know. Yeah, right. Exactly. People like to think it's like a cinematic moment where I find this golden document, like this stellar wind report. And that's the closest thing to a smoking gun, right? That that exists.
But look, if you found that, you can read that later, look at that. And like, imagine yourself being like, oh, I'm gonna go outside on the courthouse steps and wave this thing and burn my life to the ground, burn my family to the ground.
I'm never going to be work again. I'm going to jail for the rest of my life. The question is, what would it take for you to light a match and burn your life to the ground? Time too long, the answer was nothing. And I'm I'm I'm ashamed of that. It took me so long.
To get over that hump because I was waiting for somebody else to do it when I saw people like Ron widen on this, when I saw people like the court case that I showed before where people were actively challenging these programs.
Right. Journalists had the scent of it.
And, you know, there are a lot of people who are going to be in, you know, the YouTube comments or whatever. No, I knew this was happening. No, you did.
Well, Bill Bimini, you had he any bill?
Bill excuse me, Bill Bennett. He initially was the one that came out and spoke about this issue.
And so, yeah, Bill BINNIE is part of, shall we say, the group of early NSA whistleblowers who came with Thomas Drake. Bill Binney, Kirk Wiebe, I believe in Ed Loomis.
And these guys all got their doors kicked in. You know, they they got harassed by the FBI.
Tom Drake, who was a senior executive at the NSA. This is a guy who had a lot to lose, was charged under the same lie was the Espionage Act. And these guys were doing it earlier during the Bush administration.
Some of them were talking to the journalists that, you know, maybe it's alleged I want to put them on the spot. Maybe they deny it. Maybe they don't leave that to them. But somebody somewhere was informing this reporting. Right. That got into The New York Times about the Bush era warrantless wiretapping program. And eventually journalist put this out there.
People knew these capabilities existed. But yeah, then then there's the person in the YouTube comments who's like all we knew all about, this is nothing new. And the thing is, you can know about some programs and not know about others. You can have a suspicion. You can know with certainty that this stuff is capable or it is possible the capability exists. You can know that the government has done this stuff in the past. You can know they're likely to do it again.
You can have all these indications you can have like the jewel versus NSA case that's run by the NFF, which is about the 18.
It's about AT&T setting up a secret rooms in their telecommunications facilities where they basically drag all the fibers for their domestic Internet communications and like phone communications into a room that's purpose built for the NSA and then they bring it out.
But AT&T denies it's the NSA. The NSA denies that these things happen or that are done at all. Right. And so this is the context. You say, you know and you know, let's put it the other way. Maybe you do know, right?
Maybe you are an academic researcher, maybe your technological specialist. Maybe you're just somebody who reads all the reporting and you actually know you can't prove it. But, you know, this is going on. But that's the thing. In a democracy, the distance between speculation and fact, the distance between what you know and what you can prove to everybody else in the country is everything in our model of government, because what, you know, doesn't matter. What matters is what we all know.
And the only way we can all know it is if somebody can prove it.
If you can prove it. And if you don't have the evidence, you can't prove it.
And of course, when we talk about the earlier stuff right. Like this or a more corporatized media, they've got a thousand incentives not to get involved in this stuff. They need access to the White House. They need these officials to sit down with them and give interviews. Right. That's constant content that they need. That's access that they need. They need to be taken seriously. They need to be, you know, admitted to briefers. It is a co-dependent relationship.
And yet. Rather, and so the only way to make sure people understand this broadly is if we all work together. All right. If we collectively can establish a corpus of evidence. Right. A body of facts that is so large and so persuasive, it overcomes the natural and understandable resistance of these more corporatized media groups. It overcomes the political and partisan sort of loyalties that that all of these political factions in the country do where they go.
You know, it's it's my president. Even if I don't like this stuff, even if I don't agree with this stuff, I don't want to say it exists. I want to deny it until it's proved.
You know, in HD on video, you know, signing the order to do this, that or the other, because otherwise there's a chance my guy might not get reelected.
And that's the only way this kind of stuff can happen. And the sad fact is the opportunities that we have to prove this like that, the moments in history where we do prove something, anything beyond a reasonable doubt are so few and so rare that they almost always only come from whistleblowers.
And I think that's one of the problems that we have, particularly in the climate movement. Did you look. Go ahead. I'm sorry.
Did you take any comfort from knowing that Obama, when he was running for office and and his Hope and change website, he had provisions to protect whistleblowers and provisions to reward people?
Right. I mean, do you remember all that mean it was eventually redacted or he eventually deleted it from the Web site that's appeared it from? Yes. But that was a big part of his program when he was running on. Was that when people were exposing unlawful activity, he was going to protect those people. Did that did you take any comfort in those who campaigned?
Well, Obama also during his campaign said he campaigned actively against the warrantless wiretapping, the Bush administration, because, remember, Bush is in the scandal, the height of this on 2007. You know, the elections coming up right after and he's going. Obama saying, you know, that's not who we are. They're not what we do. And yet within 100 days of him becoming president, now he's sitting in that chair. Rather than extinguishing these programs, he embraces them and expands.
Why do you think that a more entrenched. I think it's actually, again, what we talked about earlier. First thing. Every time a new president comes into the White House, they get their clearances right. They get read into all this stuff. During the campaign, they get clearances and get written and stuff.
But when they find the president right now, they're the only people who can sign what these are called the covert action findings and things like that, which are basically, you know, the intelligence community wants to assassinate somebody.
They want to run this illegal program here. They're everywhere.
And they can't do it because their executive agencies without that top level executive sign off. And so they got to open the vest. Right. They got to get these guys onside.
And basically, every president since Kennedy, they had been successful in what they call fearing up where as soon as they come in, they lead.
You read you the litany of horribles and they go. These are all the threats that we're facing. And let's be real. It is a dangerous world. It's not just all made up B.S.. Some of it is right where it's inflated. It's not that it's completely false, but they'd make it sound more serious than it actually is. But there are real bad people out there who are trying to do real bad things. And you have just gone through a hellish election because our our electoral politics are so disease.
And now after you've crawled through fire, you're already thinking four years ahead. You know, how how do I stay in this seat?
And these guys are basically saying if you don't do X, Y and Z, this is going to fall on your lap.
And the implication, which I don't think they actually say, but every president knows is these guys can undermine you to death if you've got the ICC against you. Right. They can stonewall you. They can put out stories that are gonna be problematic for you every day presidency.
And it's not that it's necessarily going to get to uncashed you out of the White House, but it's a problem that as president, you very much don't want. So in the most charitable interpretation of this, you've got a new guy coming in. In Obama's case, this is a pretty young guy doesn't focus in this kind of national security, foreign policy stuff throughout his earlier career.
He's more interested in domestic policy and always has been. That's actually one of the positive things to say about Barack Obama.
He's just trying to make things better at home. And now suddenly they go, look, you need to worry about this country.
You need to worry about this group that you've never heard of. You need to worry about, you know, this technology. You do all this stuff.
And the only reason we can tell you this stuff and the only thing dividing America and the abyss are these terrible, terrible, terrible, terrible programs right now that are, in fact, wonderful things because they keep back the darkness. And so here's here's the real problem. Every president hears an every president, you know.
First off, they've got so many other things to do. They just kind of nod their head. No. I'll deal with this later in my administration.
And this is one of the ironies when I come came forward in 2013. This is now Barack Obama's second term president.
One of the responses that they had to the mass surveillance scandal was, yes, we think they went a little too far. This is after the initial thing where they went. Nobody's listening to your phone calls. You know, just way the data.
Right. Nobody nobody can have perfect privacy and also have perfect security, so we got to sort of divide a line here between the Constitution and, you know, what the government wants to do.
But they said.
We were gonna get to it. We knew these programs were problematic, but if they just gave us more time, we would fix them.
Maybe it's true, right?
It seems awfully convenient in hindsight that throughout the entirety the first time well, it seems like what you would say if you got caught.
Right. Right. Right, right. But look in. If we're being the most generous that we are here, the president is briefed on real and legitimate threats and they scare the hell out of him, I'm sure. And we can we can all imagine being there.
Right. Those those of us who remember what the world was like post-9 11, fear is a powerful thing. But the guys who are doing that briefing, they're no longer scared of it because they've been dealing with this for years.
This is the oldest thing they've given this briefing times before.
You know, when we talk about people talk about the deep state, right. They they they talk about it like some conspiracy lizard people. It's not that it's something much simpler. The deep state is simply the career government. It's the people who are in the same offices who outlive and outlast presidents. He's right. They've seen Republicans. They've seen Democrats. They don't really care. And they give that same briefing again and again. And they get good at it.
They know what they want. They know what this person saying.
Where's the president? They know. They don't know who these people are.
These people who've been there before, the president, they're gonna be there after the president. And so they give this very effective, very fear inducing speech and then they follow it up with their asks, which are really demands just politely provided.
And anyone in that position who is not an expert on this stuff, who is not ready for this sort of tradeoff, and who you have to understand is a career politician. He's entirely used to the horse trading game. Ryan, go on. I'll deal with this later or not now or what are this, the cost benefit here and the intelligence community goes?
If you give us what we want, no one will ever know about it because it's classified. It's obviously the easy answer. And maybe Barack Obama honestly did want to get to this later.
But what we can say today is for all the good that may have been done in that White House, this is an issue where the president went through two full terms and did not fix the problem.
But in fact, made it worse.
Well, it seems like the president has a job that's absolutely impossible. And if you come across someone who has been in the position, like, you know, someone who is the head of an intelligence agency for a long time and is very persuasive and has some, you know, legitimate credentials that show that he's very good at his job. But he tells you this is important for national security. We need to keep these things in place.
It doesn't seem like any one person can run the country and be aware of every single program that every single agency is implementing. It seems completely unrealistic. And the job itself, it just it doesn't seem like any person can do it adequately.
And when it comes to something like this mass surveillance state, I could see a president being persuaded by someone who comes to him and says, this is why we need to do this.
Yeah. I mean, it one of the things that I think is the underlying problem in everything that you just described is the president has too much power. Right. And because they have too much power, that means they have too much responsibility.
And I don't think people understand if they haven't lived outside the United States, that they haven't sort of traveled or studied broadly just how exceptional the American presidency is. Most countries don't have a single individual with this level of power. It's really only the super states. And that may be by design.
Perhaps that's why they're there, super states.
But when we look at sort of complex advanced democracies that are more peaceful, they tend to have a more multilateral system that has more people involved in smaller portfolios. And a lot of this derives from just the size of the government. Like like you said, you know, the president is responsible for basically everything executive branch and the executive branch is basically every agency that actually doesn't work.
And so how do you how do you correct for that without breaking it up where you have smaller ministers and ministries and things like that that have different levels of responsibility, having a smaller government overall? You know, back in 1776, the federal government, you know, was pretty much a dream. We weren't even interested in having standing armies. The idea of an army that existed from year to year was terrifying, forbidding thing.
And then when you moved this idea that we have a president, that they have these extorting powers, it's okay.
Was the government's very small. The federal government especially is seen as sort of this small and toothless and weak thing.
He paused for one second as spin possible once again, because my air pods are about to die and I'm a swap over to another pair. This these suckers are good for a couple hours, but we're two hours and 15 minutes here.
We'll have a little bit of a weird audio issue with the last half of it.
But Jimmy, Jamie, I'll take care of it. I wanted to talk about you.
What? Where you are right now in your life and how you're handling this because you've been in exile for how many years now? It's been more than six years, 6 6 June of 2013. Yeah, I mean, well, actually, I left May. So what is life like? I mean, are you in constant hiding? I mean, what are the issues like in in the beginning? My operational security level, as we would call it, was was very high.
I was concerned about being recognized, was concerned about being followed. I was concerned really about very bad things happening to me because the government made it very clear that from their position I was the most wanted man in the world. They literally brought down the president of Bolivia, his aircraft, and would not let it depart as it tried to cross the airspace of Europe. Not even the United States.
They wouldn't let it leave until they confirmed I was not on board. So, yeah, that that made me a little bit nervous. But you can't live like that forever. And although I was as careful as I could be, I still lived pretty happily because I was an indoor cat to begin with. Right. I've always been a technologist. I've always been pretty nerdy. So as long as I have a screen and internet connection, I was pretty happy.
But in the years past, my life has become more and more open. You know, now I speak openly, I live openly. I go out, I ride the metro, I go to restaurants, I go, you know how often they recognize.
So this is a funny thing is I'm almost never recognized one of those things is I don't give Russian interviews because I don't want my face all over the news, which is nice because it just allows people to sort of forget about my face and I can go about my life. But I it's one of the weird things that I'm recognized a couple times a year, even when I'm I'm not wearing my glasses in a museum or a grocery store or something like that or out on the street just by somebody who I swear like these people or you might have read a story about him like super recognisers.
The people just have a great memory for faces.
Yeah. Because I can be like a wearing a hood and like a jacket can have a scarf around my face like in the winter.
And it's like you can barely see my face. And they'll come up to me and they're like, Are you Snowden?
And I'm like, Whoa! What do you say? That's pretty impressive. I'd say, yeah. Nice to meet you.
And yeah, it's I've I've never had a negative interaction from being recognized.
But for me, I'm because I'm a privacy advocate.
Like, I would much rather go unrecognized, like I don't want to be a celebrity.
But the other thing is I'll get recognized in computer stores.
And I think there's just like a mental association where people are like their brain when it's cycling through faces that it recognizes it's going through like the subset of nerdy people or something like that when you're a computer store, because for whatever reason, I'm recognized much more frequently when there's some kind of technological like locus.
So you're living freely.
You had to learn Russian. Did you learn it?
I mean, my my my Russian is still pretty crappy, too. Took it to my great shame because all of my life, all of my work is primarily an immigrant.
Right. Now, you've talked about returning home.
If you could get a fair trial. Is is that a feasible thing?
A fair trial for someone like you? Is that such a wow? Is that. Yeah. Is that even possible question?
I mean, look, if we're being frank, I think all your audience knows the chance of me getting a fair shake in the eastern district of Virginia, a couple miles from the headquarters of the CIA is probably pretty slim because that's where they draw the jury pool. Right. But my objection here is on a larger principle, what happens to me is less important if I spend the rest of my life in jail, that that's less important than what I'm actually requiring the government to agree to, which is a single thing.
Right. They say face the music, face the music. And I'm saying, great. Let's pick the song.
The thing is.
The law that I've been charged under, the one that all these whistleblowers I'm in charge under Thomas Drake. Daniel Ellsberg, Chelsea Manning, Daniel Hale, the drone whistleblower who is in prison right now, going through a trial that is precisely similar to what I would be facing.
His lawyer is asking the court or telling the court that we want to tell the jury why he did what he did, that the government is violating laws, government is violating human rights, and that these programs are immoral, that they're unethical.
This is what motivated this guy to do it. And the jury should be able to hear why he did what he did. And the jury should be able to decide whether that was right or wrong.
And the government has responded, you know, to this whistleblower argument, basically saying we demand the court forbid this guy from breathing the word whistleblower in court. He cannot talk about what motivated him. He cannot talk about what was revealed, why it was revealed, what the impacts and effects were. He can't talk about whether the public benefited from it or was harmed by it because it doesn't matter. Now, this might surprise a lot of people because to a lot of us, we think that's what a jury trial is.
We think that's what a fair trial is.
But the Espionage Act for the government uses against whistleblowers, meaning broadly here the sources of journalism. Is fairly unique in legal system in that it is what's called a strict liability crime, a strict liability crime is what the government considers to be basically a crime worse than murder, because if you if you murdered somebody like if you just beat Jamie with the microphone stand right now.
You would be able to go to the court and say it was self-defense. Right. You you felt threatened, you were in danger for your life even if you weren't right. Even you obviously weren't. Even if you were on tape, you could still argue that and the jury could go, you're full of crap. Right. And they could convict you.
But if you were, in fact, acting in self-defense, if the jury did, in fact, believe you, they could take that into consideration in establishing their verdict.
Right. Strict liability crimes forbid that the jury is not allowed to consider why you committed a crime. They're only allowed to consider if you committed a crime.
They're not allowed to consider if the murder was justified. They're only allowed to consider if the murder took place. And the funny thing in this case is that the murder that we're talking about is telling the truth. The Espionage Act in every case is a law the government exclusively uses against people who told the truth.
Right. Like that. That's what it's about in the context of journalism. They don't bring the Espionage Act against people who lie. And they would use fraud or some other statute.
They say the government is arguing in the context of whistleblowing that telling a telling a important truth to the American people by way of a journalist is a crime worse than murder. And I believe and I think most Americans would agree this is fundamentally indefensibly wrong.
And so my whole argument with the United States government since the very beginning was bent. I'll be back for jury trial tomorrow. But you have to agree to permit whistleblowers a public interest defence.
It doesn't matter whether they are whistleblower or not. It's just they argued it's the jury that decides whether they are a whistleblower or not.
They have to be able to consider the motivations of why someone did what they did.
The government says we refuse to allow that because that puts the government on trial and we don't trust the jury to consider those questions.
Wow. So you have had these conversations then. So this has been discussed.
You know, this is this is from the Obama administration.
There's been no contact since since the Trump administration, because the government basically when they got to this point, they went, we have no good argument against this and we will never permit this to happen.
And again, I just want to make clear, this is not speculation. This is not me thinking this is actively happening.
The case of Daniel Hale right now, I hope you guys can pull up a graphic for it, because this story just hit the papers like two or three weeks ago saying the government is forbidding this guy from from making this argument.
So your city is seemingly in a state of limbo. Then you're they're not actively pursuing you. It seems that if you're able to move around freely, they they haven't discovered where you are. You're just free to live your life. You.
Well. Yeah. Yeah.
And it's one of these things where, you know, whether they they know where I am or whether they don't know where I am, where I put my head on the pillow doesn't matter so much. I'm in Russia. Right. And we should lean into that because I think people they hear Russia, particularly in the context of today's news.
And you see like what people are saying about Tulsi Gabbard and things like, you know, any kind of association, any anytime your name appears in the same sentence, paragraph, same story is the word Russia.
It's considered a negative thing now. And don't get me wrong, I've been a longtime critic of the Russian government.
I just actually had a major story written about me in a Russian state news outlet called RIA Novosti. You guys could probably pull it. It's only in Russian, though. And that's saying because I spoke favorably about a member of the Russian opposition, Alexei Navalny, which I wasn't even speaking positively about this guy.
I was saying, look, I think people have a right to express their opposition in a country and they should be able to do that without fearing retaliation in the future. Because the background here is this.
This opposition figure has been a longtime thorn in the Russian administration side. And they've just suddenly magically been accused of being foreign agents or something like that. And so everyone connected to this, which is like a big civil society body, had their doors like simultaneously kicked in across the country. And they're being investigated for some kind of corruption or something. It doesn't even matter.
And, you know, I said I oppose that. Just like I was tweeting, you know, footage of ballot stuffing in the Russian elections, just like I've criticized the Russian president by name. I've criticized Russian surveillance laws. Many things again and again and again and again and again. But yeah. So look, it does not make my life easier to be trapped in a country that I did not choose. And people don't remember this. I was actually en route to Latin America when the U.S.
government cancelled my passport, which trapped me in Russia. And for those who are interested, again, I wrote an entire book that has a lot of detail on this. But yeah, it's difficult to be. Basically engaged in civil opposition to policies, the United States government at the same time as the Russian government.
And it's a hard thing, you know, and it's not a happy thing. But I feel like it's a necessary thing. The problem is nobody wants to talk about that. Nobody wants to engage in that kind of nuance. Nobody wants to consider those kind of conversations in the current world.
People believe and this is actually one of the worst things that Western media does in the context of discussing Russia is they create this aura of invincibility around the Russian president. They go, you know, this guy's calling all the shots. He's pulling on the strings. You know, this guy's in charge of the world.
And that's very useful for the Russian government broadly, because they can then take that and replay that on their domestic media and they can go, look how strong we are. You know, the Americans are afraid of us. The Chinese are afraid of us. Everybody's afraid of us. The French are afraid of us.
We are strong, right. There's no question that Russia is going to be interfering in elections. There's no question that America is going to be interfering with Russian elections. Right. Nobody nobody likes to talk about this. And again, I need to substantiate that. Now that I've said that, I've got an old note that I've signed a billion times.
The New York Times published a story in the wake of, you know, this contest and 2016 election where they looked into the history of electoral interference in Russia and the Soviet Union.
And they found in roughly 50 years 36 different cases of election interference by Russia or the Soviets. Right. It's not a new thing.
This is something that always happens because that's what intelligence services do. That's what they think they're being paid for, which is a sad thing. But it's a it's a reality because we aren't wise enough to separate covert action from intelligence gathering.
But in that same study that they found 36 different cases by the Russians and the Soviets, they found 81 different cases by the U.S. And this was published by Scott Shane in The New York Times and both The Washington Post as well.
But this is this is the thing like there is a way to criticize the Russian government's policies without criticizing the Russian people who are ordinary people who just want to have a happy life. They just want to do better. They want the same things that you do. Right.
And every time people go, oh, Russia, Russia, Russia. Every time people go Russia bad, every time they go, Russia's doing this, they go Russia's doing that. Russian people who have nothing to do with the government feel implicated by that. Like, do you feel like you're in charge of Donald Trump? Why do you want to be have Donald Trump's legacy around your neck and then people go, oh, well, you know, you could overthrow Donald Trump.
You know you could overthrow Putin. Can you really like is that how it works? So, yeah, I mean, look, I have no affiliation.
I have no love for the Russian government. It's not my choice to be here. And I've made it very clear I would be happy to return home.
Is there any concern that they would deny you Visa? I mean, how how are you staying there? It's a good question.
So I have a permanent residents. People think I'm under asylum, but I'm no longer on it. It's like a green card now. It's going to be renewed every three years.
So, yeah, sure, it's possible they could kick me out. And this was what the story I was telling you about before in Russian media was they were saying, you know, the Russian government should take some action against me. Now, I should be welcome here or I should go home. Because why is he criticizing the Russian government right when they're the people?
Is that like the Russian version of Fox News they have over there?
I don't know enough about Russian media to tell you. I think it's supposed to be more like Reuters or Associated Press, but the telephone.
But the thing is this. What's the alternative? Right. Yes. The Russian government could screw me, but they could screw me even if I didn't say anything. And so should I. Shut up and be quiet in the face of things that I think are injustices because it makes me safer. Well, a lot of pragmatic people say, yeah, they say you've done enough.
They've said you've done your part. You know, they say whatever. Be safe. Live long. Be happy. But I didn't come forward to be safe.
If I wanted to be safe, I'd still be sitting in Hawaii making a hell of a lot of money to spy on all of you. Right. And nobody ever would have known about this. The system would have gotten worse. But the system, the world, the future gets worse every day that we don't do something about, every day that we stay silent about all the injustices we see, the world gets worse. Things get worse. And yeah, it's risky.
Yeah. It's uncomfortable.
But that's why we do it, because if we don't, no one else will. All those years I was sitting hoping for someone else to come forward and no one did. Right. That's because I was waiting for a hero. But there are no heroes. Right. There's only heroic decision. You are never further than one decision away from making a difference. Doesn't matter where there's a big difference. Does it matter if it was a small difference because you don't have to save the world by yourself.
In fact, you can't. All you have to do is lay down one brick. All you have to do is make things a little bit better in a small way so that other people can lay their brick on top of them or beside. And together, step by step, day by day, year by year, we build the foundation of something better.
But yeah, it's not gonna be safe, but it doesn't matter because individually it's not. You know me. Whoever you are, that's the Iron Man. I don't care.
Fear the biggest doomsday prepper with cans full of beans. If the world ends, it's going to affect you. We make things better. We become safe. Take. Gather, right. Collectively, that is our strength. That is the power of civilization. That is the power that shapes the future.
Because even if you make life great for you, you're going to die someday. You're gonna be forgotten someday.
Your cans of beans are gonna rot. Someday you can make things safe. Her. You can be more careful. Right. You can be more clever. And there's nothing wrong with that. But at the end of the day, you have to recognize if you're trying to eliminate all risks from your life. What you're actually doing is eliminating all possibility from your life. You're trying to collapse the universe of outcomes such that what you've lost is freedom. You've lost the ability to act because you afraid.
That's a that's what got us into this mess.
That's a beautiful way to put it.
Are you aware at all of the current state of surveillance? And what, if anything, has changed since your revelations? Yeah. I mean, the big thing that's changed since I was in in 2013 is now it's mobile. First everything mobile was still a big deal. Right. And the intelligence community was very much grappling to get its hands around it and to deal with it. But now people are much less likely to use laptop than use a desktop.
Then use, you know, got any kind of wired phone than they already use a smartphone.
And both Apple and Android devices, unfortunately, are not especially good in protecting your privacy, I think, right now. You got a smartphone, right? You might be listening to this on a train somewhere and in traffic right now or you. Right now you got a phone somewhere in the room. Right.
The phone is turned off for at least the screen is turned off. It's sitting there. It's powered on. And if somebody sends you a message. The screen Burle blinks to life. How does that happen? How is it that if someone from any corner of the earth dials a number, your phone rings and nobody else's rings, how is it that you can dial anybody else's number and only their phone rings? Right. Every smartphone, every phone at all is constantly connected to the nearest cellular tower.
Every phone, even when the screen is off, you think it's doing nothing? Can't see it because radio frequency emissions are invisible.
It's screaming in the air saying, here I am. Here I am. Here is mine. IMEI I think it's individual manufacturers, equipment identity and IMEI individual manufacturers subscriber identity. I could be wrong on the break out there, but the acronyms are the IMEI and the ISI and you can search for these things there too.
Globally unique identifiers that only exist anywhere in the world in one place, right? It's makes your phone different than all the other phones. The IMEI is burned into the handset or your phone no matter what SIM card you change too. It's always going to be the same and it's always gonna be telling the phone network. It's this physical handset.
Naiomi Essi is in your SIM card, right? And this is what holds your phone number, right? Is that basically the key? The right to use that phone number? And so your phone is sitting there doing nothing, you think, but it's constantly shouting and saying, I'm here, who is closest to me? That's a cell phone tower. And every cell phone tower with its big years is listening for these little cries for help and guy. All right.
I see Joe Rogan's phone right now.
I see Jamie's phone. I see all these phones that are here right now.
And it compares notes with the other network towers and your smartphone compares notes with them to go, who do I hear the loudest and who you hear the loudest is a proxy for proximity, for closeness, distance. Right. They go whoever I hear more loudly than anybody else, that's close to me. So you're going to be bound to this cell phone tower. And that cell phone tower is gonna make a no a permanent record saying this phone this phone handset with this phone number at this time was connected to me.
Right. And based on your phone handset and your phone number, they can get your identity right.
Because you pay for this stuff with your credit card and everything like that.
And even if you don't write, it's still active at your house overnight. It's still active, you know, on your nightstand when you're sleeping. It's still whatever the movements of your phone are, the movements of you as a person.
And those are often quite uniquely identifying. It goes to your home. It goes to your workplace. Other people don't have it. Sorry, in any.
Anyway, it's constantly shouting this out and then it compares notes with the other parts network. And when somebody is trying to get to a phone, it compares notes that the network compares notes to go where is this phone with this phone number in the world right now? And to that cell phone tower that is closest to that phone, it sends out a signal saying, we have a call for you. Make your phone start ringing. So your owner can answer it and then it connects it across this whole path.
But what this means is that whenever you carry a phone over, the phone is turned on. There is a record of your presence at that place that is being made and created by companies. It does not need to be kept forever. And as fact, there is no good argument for it to be kept forever. But these companies see that as valuable information, right? This is the whole big data problem that we're running into and all this information that used to be ephemeral.
Right. Where were you when you were 8 years old? You know, where were you? Where'd you go after you had a bad breakup? Who'd you spend the night with? Who'd you call? After all, this information used to be ephemeral, meaning it disappeared, right?
Like like the morning dew. It would be gone. No one would remember it. But now these things are stored. Now these things are saved. It doesn't matter whether you're doing anything wrong, doesn't matter where the most ordinary person on earth, because that's how bulk collection, which is the government's euphemism for mass surveillance, works. They simply collect it all in advance in hopes that one day it will become useful.
And that was just talking about how you connected phone network. That's not talking about all those apps on your phone that are contacting the network even more frequently. Right. How do you get a text message notification?
How do you get an email notification? How is it that Facebook knows where you're at?
You know, all of these things, these analytics, they are trying to keep track through location services on your phone.
g._p._s through even just what wireless access points you're connected to because there's a global console. We updated map. There's actually many of them of wireless access points in the world because just like we talked about, every phone has a unique identifier that's globally unique. Every wireless access point in the world, right.
Your cable modem at home, whether it's in your laptop, every device that has a radio modem has a globally unique identifier in it. And this is standard term.
You can look it up and these things can be mapped when they're broadcasting in the air because again, like your phone says to the cell phone tower. I have this identifier. The cell phone tower responds and says, I have this identifier. And anybody who's listening, they can write these things down. And all those Google Street View cars that go back and forth. Right. They're keeping notes on who's Wi-Fi is active on this block. Right.
And then they build a new giant map. So even if you have g._p._s turned off, right, as long as you connect the Wi-Fi, those apps can go. Well, I I'm connected to Joe's Wi-Fi, but I can also see his neighbor's Wi-Fi here. And the other one in this apartment over here. And the other one in the apartment here.
And you should only be able to hear those four globally unique Wi-Fi access points from these points in physical space. Right. The intersection in between the spreads, the domes of all those wireless access points is a proxy for location.
And it just goes on and on and on. We can talk about this for four more hours. We don't have that kind of time.
Can I ask you this? Is there a way to mitigate this personally? I mean, is he shutting your phone off? Doesn't even work. Right.
Well, so it does in a way. It's. Yes. No. The thing was shutting your phone off. That is a risk is how do you know your phone's actually turned off?
He used to be when I was in Geneva, for example, working for the CIA. We would all carry like drug dealer phones. You know, the old smart phones are smart, old dumb phones. They're not smart phones.
And the reason why was just because they had removed all of that from the banks where you could take the battery out. Right. And the one beautiful thing about technology is if there's no electricity in it. Right. If there's there's no go juice available to it. If there's no battery connected to it. It's not sending anything because you have to get power from somewhere. You have to have power in order to do work. But now your phones are all sealed, right.
You can't take the batteries out. So there are potential ways that you can hack a phone where it appears to be off, but it's not actually off. It's just pretending to be off, whereas in fact, it's still listening in and doing all this stuff. But for the average person, that doesn't apply.
And I got to tell you guys, they've been chasing me all over the place. I don't worry about that stuff. Right. And it's because if they are applying that level of effort to me, they'll probably get the same information through other routes. I am as careful as I can.
And I use things like Faraday Cage as I turn devices off. But if they're actually manipulating the way devices display, it's just too great a level of effort even for someone like me to keep that up on a constant basis. Also, if they get me, I only trust phones so much.
So there's only so much they can derive from the compromise. And this is how operational security works.
You think about what are the realistic threats that you're facing that you're trying to mitigate, and with the mitigation that you're trying to do is what would be the loss, what be the damage done to you? If this stuff was exploited, much more realistic than worrying about these things that I call voodoo hacks. Right. Which are like next level stuff and actually just shut up for those of your readers who are interested in this stuff. I wrote a paper on this specific problem.
How do you know when a phone is actually off? How do you know when it's actually not spying on you with a brilliant, brilliant guy named Andrew Bunnie Huang. He's an M.I.T. p_h_d_ and I think electrical engineering called the Introspection Engine that was published in the Journal of Hope in engineering. You can find it online and it'll go as deep down in the weeds, a promise as you want.
We take an iPhone 6. This was back when I was fairly new and we modified it so we could actually not trust the device to report its own state, but physically monitor its status for spying on you.
But for average people ranked this academic year, that's not your primary threat.
Your primary threats are these bulk collection programs.
Your primary threat is the fact that your phone is constantly squawking to these cell phone towers, is doing all of these things because we leave our phones in a state that is constantly on here, constantly connected. Right. Airplane mode doesn't even turn off Wi-Fi really anymore. It just turns off the cellular modem.
But the whole idea is we need to identify the problem, and the central problem with smartphone use today is you have no idea what the hell it's doing at any given time. Like the phone has the screen off. You don't know what it's connected to. You don't know how frequently it's doing it.
Apple and ISIS unfortunately makes it impossible to see what kind of network connections are constantly made on the device and to intermediate them going. I don't want Facebook to be able to talk right now. You know, I don't want Google to be able to talk right now. I just want my secure messenger app to be able to talk. I just want my weather app to be able to talk. But I just check my weather and now I'm done with it.
So I don't want that to be able to talk anymore. And we need to all make these intelligent decisions on not just an app by app basis, but a connection by connection basis. Right.
You want let's say you use Facebook because, you know, for whatever judgment we have, a lot of people might do it. You want it to be able to connect to Facebook content servers. You want to be able to message a friend, you want to be able to download a photograph or whatever, but you don't want it to be able to talk to an ad server. You don't want to talk to an analytics server that that's moderating your behavior.
Right. You don't want to talk to all these third party things because Facebook crams they're garbage.
And almost every app that you download and you don't even know it's happening because you can't see it. Right. And this is the problem with the data collection use today is there is an industry that is built on keeping this invisible. And what we need to do is we need to make the activities of our devices, whether it's a phone, whether it's computer, whatever, more visible and understandable to the average person, and then give them control over it.
So like if you could see your phone right now and at the very center of is a little green icon, that's your handset or it's a picture, your face, whatever. And you see all these little spokes coming off of it. That's every app that your phone is talking to right now or every app that is active on your phone right now.
And all the hosts that it's connecting to and you can see right now, once every three seconds your phone is checking into Facebook and you could just poke that app and then boom, it's not talking to Facebook anymore. Facebooks, Facebook is not allowed. Facebook speaking privileges have been revoked. Right. You would do that? We would all do that if there was a button on your phone that said do what I want but not spy on me. You would press that button, right?
That button is not a does not exist right now. And both Google and Apple, unfortunate Apple is a lot better at this than Google. But neither of them allow that button to exist.
In fact, they actively interfere with it because they say it's a security risk.
And from a particular perspective, they they actually aren't wrong there, but it's not enough to go away.
You know, we have to lock that capability off from people because we don't trust they would make the right decisions. We think it's too complicated for people to do this. We think there's too many connections being made. Well, that is actually a confession of the problem right there. If you think people can't understand it, if you think there are too many communications happening, if you think there's too much complexity in there, it needs to be simplified, just like the president can't control everything like that.
If you have to be the president of the phone and the phone is as complex as the United States government, we have a problem. Guys, this should be much more some process. It should be obvious. And the fact that it's not and the fact that we read story after story year after year saying all your date has been breached here. This company is spying on you here. This company is manipulating your purchases or your search results or they're hiding these things from your timeline or they're influencing you or manipulating you in all of these different ways.
That happens as a result of a single problem. And that problem is in any equality of available information. They can see everything about you. They can see everything about what your device is doing. And they can do whatever they want with your device. You, on the other hand, owned the device well, rather, you paid for the device. But increasingly, these corporations own it. Increasingly, these governments own it. And increasingly, we are living in a world where we do all the work right.
We pay all the taxes. We pay all the costs, but we own less and less. And nobody understands this better than the youngest generation.
Well, it seems like our data became a commodity before we understood what it was. It became this thing that's insanely valuable to Google and Facebook and all these social media platforms before we understood what we were giving up. They were making billions of dollars. And then once that money is being earned and once everyone's accustomed to the situation, it's very difficult to pull the reins back.
It's very difficult to turn that course around precisely because the money then becomes power. Right? Right. The information then becomes influent. That also seems to be the same sort of situation that would happen with these mass surveillance states once they have the access. It's going to be incredibly difficult for them to relinquish that, right? Yeah.
No, you're you're exactly correct. And this is the subject of the book. I mean, this this is the permanent record and this is where it came from. This is how it came to exist. The story of our lifetimes is how intentionally by design, a number of institutions, both governmental and corporate, realized it was in their mutual interest to conceal their data collection activities, to increase the breadth and depth of their sensor networks that were sort of spread out for society.
Rumor back in the day, intelligence collection in the United States, even at Segan, used to mean sending an FBI agent right to put alligator clips on an embassy building or sending in somebody disguised as a workman. And they put a bug in a building or they built a satellite listening site. Right. We called these foreign psac were foreign satellite collection. We're in the desert somewhere.
They built a big parabolic collector. And it's just listening to satellite emissions. Right.
Put these satellite emissions. These satellite links were owned by militaries. They were exclusive to governments. Right. It wasn't affecting everybody broadly. All surveillance was targeted because it had to be.
What changed with technology is that surveillance could now become indiscriminate. It could become dragnet. It could become bulk collection, which should become one of the dirtiest phrases, language if we have any kind of decency. But we were intentionally this was intentionally concealed from us. Right. The government did it. They use classification. Companies did it. They intentionally didn't talk about it. They denied these things were going.
They they said, you agreed to this and you didn't create and nothing like this. I'm sorry. Right. Where they go. We put that terms of service page up and you click that, you click the button. That said, I agree because you were trying to open an account so you could talk to your friends. You were trying to get driving directions, you were trying to get an email account. You were trying to agree to some 600 page legal form.
Even if you read, you wouldn't understand. And it doesn't matter even if you did understand, because one of the very first paragraphs in it said this agreement can be changed at any time unilaterally without your consent by the company. Right. They have built a legal paradigm that presumes records collected about us do not belong to us.
This is sort of one of the core principles on which mass surveillance from the government's perspective in the United States is legal. And you have to understand that all the stuff we talked about today, government says everything we do is legal. Right? And they go. So it's fine. Our perspective, the public should be will. That's actually the problem, because this isn't okay. The scandal isn't how they're breaking the law. The scandals that they don't have to break the law.
And the way they say they're not breaking the law is something called the third party doctrine. That third party doctrine is a. Legal principle derived from a case and I believe the 1970s called Smith vs. Maryland. And Smith was this knucklehead who was harassing this lady, making phone calls to her house.
And when she would pick up, he'd just sit there, heavy breathing, whatever, like a classic creeper. And, you know, it was terrifying, this poor lady.
So she calls the cops and says, one day I got one of these phone calls and I see this car creeping past my house on the street. And she got a license plate number. So she goes, the cops and she goes, is this the guy?
And the cops, again, they're trying to do a good thing here. They look up his license plate number and they find out where this guy is.
And then they go, well, what phone numbers registered to that house? And they go to the phone company and they say, can you give us this record? And the phone company says, Yeah, sure.
And it's the guy. The cops got their man. Right. So they go arrest this guy.
And then in court, his lawyer brings all this stuff up and they go. You did this without a warrant that was sorry, that was that was that the problem was they went to the phone company, they got the records without a warrant. They just asked for it. They subpoenaed it. Right. Some lower standard of legal review.
And the company gave it to him and got the guy. They march more to jail and they could have gotten a warrant. Right. But it was just expedients. They just didn't want to take the time. Small town cops. You can understand how it happens. They know the guy's a creep. They just want to get him off to jail.
And so they made a mistake with the government doesn't wanna let go. They fight on this and they go. It wasn't actually they weren't his records. And so because they didn't belong to him, he didn't have a Fourth Amendment right to demand a warrant be issued for them.
They were the company's records and the company provided them voluntarily and hence no warrant was required because you can give whatever you want without a warrant. As long as it's yours. Now, here's the problem. The government extrapolated a principle in a single case of a single known suspected criminal who they had real good reasons to suspect suspect was their guy and use that to go to a company and get records from them and establish a precedent that these records don't belong to the guy, they belong to the company.
And then they said, well, if one person doesn't have a Fourth Amendment interest in records held by a company, no one does.
And so the company then has absolute proprietary ownership of all of these records about all of our lives.
And we're with to spend the 1970s. You know, the Internet hardly exists in these kind of context. Smartphones don't exist. Modern society, modern communications don't exist.
This is the very beginning of the technological era. And flash forward now 40 years. And they are still relying on this precedent about this one. You know, pervy creeper to go. Nobody has a privacy right for anything that's held by a company. And so long as they do that. Companies are going to be extraordinarily powerful and they're going to be extraordinarily abusive. And this is something that people don't get. They go, oh, well, it's data collection, right?
They're exploiting data. This is data about human lives. It is state about people. These records are about you. It's not data that's being exploited. It's people that are being exploited. It's not data. It's being manipulated. It's you. It's being manipulated.
And this this is this is something that I think a lot of people are beginning to understand.
Now, the problem is the companies in the governments are still pretending they don't understand or disagreeing with this. And this is right.
My enemy is something that one of my old friends, John paired, BARLOW, who served with me at the Freedom of Press Foundation on the president of the board, used to say to me. Which is you can't awaken someone who's pretending to be asleep. He said it's an old Native American saying. That's a great expression.
That's a good way to shit. I think that's a good way to end this. Ed, thank you very much for doing this.
I really appreciate it. Please tell everybody the title of your book and it's available right now. Sure, yes. It is it's on shelves everywhere, at least until the government finds some other way to ban it. It is called a permanent record. And I hope you will read it. I will read it.
And I think what you've done is incredibly brave. And I think you're a very important part of history. I think when all is said and done, what you did and what you exposed is going to change the way we view mass surveillance, change the way we view government oversight and change the way we view the distribution of information. I really think it's very, very important. And it was an honor to talk to you, man.
Thank you. It was my pleasure. Thank you so much for. Take care yourself, man. Stay safe.
No, no, no, no, no, no. Don't stay safe. Stay safe. Open space days. Freeze open as possible. Take care.