Oct 23, 2019
Joe Rogan Edward Snowden Podcast Interview Transcript: Rogan Spends Almost 3 Hours Interviewing Snowden
Joe Rogan surprised everyone by releasing an almost 3 hour podcast where he interviewed Edward Snowden, the famous whistleblower who leaked classified information about the NSA in 2013. Read the full transcript of Rogan’s Snowden podcast right here.
Edward Snowden: (00:11)
Okay, that’ll just be [crosstalk 00:00:13].
Joe Rogan: (00:13)
You’re very professional.
Edward Snowden: (00:15)
Well, you know, people are like, “How do you live?” and things like that. They might be taking money from the Russians. Of course, the answer’s no, but I do this for a living. I speak. I don’t have a YouTube channel where I’m Joe Rogan, but I give speeches at universities and things like that. I do a lot of interviews, so I’ve got my own setup.
Joe Rogan: (00:35)
We’re recording now, right? Is it possible that you could do a YouTube channel? Would that work?
Edward Snowden: (00:43)
Yeah. I mean, if you introduced me so like I get followers, yeah, we could do that.
Joe Rogan: (00:49)
Dude! I’m all in! That could absolutely happen. Do you want to do that? Is that something you want to do?
Edward Snowden: (00:55)
No, I mean this is a big question. 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 our generation just sort of happened to be growing up during.
Edward Snowden: (01:23)
I was at the CIA and the NSA all this stuff, but the day that the book came out, the government hit me with a lawsuit, and they hit the publisher of the books with a lawsuit because they don’t want to see books like this get written. They especially don’t want to see books like this get read, so the big thing was, we didn’t know where this was going. We didn’t know what 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 that’s going.
Edward Snowden: (01:57)
The government is still pursuing that case quite strongly. They’re more focused on the financial censorship side of it, basically taking any money that I made from it, kind of as a warning to the others and getting a legal judgment against the publisher, saying 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 okay with the book being on the shelves. It’s because, thankfully, we’ve got the First Amendment, so they can’t. That’s a very rare and good thing.
Edward Snowden: (02:29)
Anyway, in the context of that, they were like, “Well, what about Joe Rogan?” I’d heard about you at this point, but the only thing that I had really seen that I really understood, had familiarity with, was you talking to Bernie Sanders which, by the way, I very much appreciated hearing then because a lot of people don’t give the guy time to talk.
Joe Rogan: (02:52)
Yeah. To hear him in those soundbites, you don’t really get an understanding of who he actually is.
Edward Snowden: (02:58)
Right, and this is the other thing. They’re like, well, you can go on all these major network shows, and I did a couple of them. I did a morning show, I did Brian Williams but, broadly, the media, the sort of more corporatized media, as we might say, is exactly what you just described, right? They want you to be able to answer in like eight, 15 seconds, or less. When we’re talking about big, massive shifts in society, when we’re talking about power, when 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.
Edward Snowden: (03:38)
Instead, these guys all want to say, repeat these long discredited sort of criticisms. I’m sure you’ll ask the same thing, and that’s okay. They’re fair 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. Anyway, they mentioned you, and I was like, “Joe Rogan, Joe Rogan, Joe Rogan. Where do I know this name from before Bernie Sanders?” I looked back through my Twitter mentions, and the funny thing is, your fans have been harassing me to death for like the last year. Wonderful people. Wonderful people. “Go on Joe Rogan! Go on Joe Rogan!”
Edward Snowden: (04:20)
I remember after I had just made a Twitter account. Neil deGrasse Tyson actually helped me get on Twitter, gave me that little initial boost. They said Joe Rogan, so they linked you, and I mouse over your name because I use a desktop and not mobile for this because of security reasons, and it pops up and I get your avatar, man. I have to say, your logo is the worst thing in the world for people who are trying to be politically serious, and they’re worried about the National Security Advisor condemning them because this bald guy with this maniacal grin and like the third eye on his forehead, and I’m like, “Oh, man, that show!” That doesn’t look good, but it’s actually when you watch what you do, it’s great stuff, man.
Edward Snowden: (05:07)
It’s great, but that first impression, this almost didn’t happen, but everybody who has talked to you, everybody who watches your show, I think they get a very different impression than how you’re painted. For me, it’s a wonderful thing because nobody understands that better than I do. 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.
Joe Rogan: (05:33)
Fun! There’s no such thing as off topic. We could talk about whatever.
Edward Snowden: (05:39)
Great. Okay, so for those people, first off, who have no idea who the hell I am, I’m the guy who was 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, staff officer at the CIA. I was under cover working at embassies. I talk about the difference between this and 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 believe to be the Constitution of the United States and, more broadly, human rights for everyone in the United States and around the world.
Edward Snowden: (06:21)
There were domestic surveillance programs. There were mass surveillance programs that worked internationally. Basically, everything that they could monitor, they were monitoring, and this is actually like, people go, “Well, 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. We think about this in the investigative means, right?
Edward Snowden: (06:51)
All those TV shows where they go and get a warrant, the reason they have to do that, like we fought a revolution over this a couple of hundred years back, is the idea that, when we had kings, when we had governments with absolute power, they could simply go in your home and go, “Is this guy a pot smoker?”, get his diary, whatever it is and, if you find evidence of a crime, you march him off to prison and it’s all good. You found evidence they’re a criminal or you didn’t find evidence. Well, no harm, no foul. You’re just doing what government does.
Edward Snowden: (07:25)
We were trying to build a better system where, “Yes, the government has extraordinary capabilities, but it only uses them where they’re necessary, where they’re proportionate to the threat that is presented by this person. We shouldn’t be afraid of the person who’s got a baggie 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.
Edward Snowden: (07:52)
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, can look that name up, Dick Cheney, and his personal attorney, sort of the Giuliani of Dick Cheney, a guy named David Addington.
Edward Snowden: (08:19)
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 and a couple of these other folks. When they talked to the heads of the agency at 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 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 for it. You just got to take our word for it, so they did this.
Edward Snowden: (09:04)
This became a mass surveillance program called Stellar Wind, which they said was supposed to monitor the phone calls and internet communications, emails and things like that of everybody in the United States and around the world who they could get access to for links to Al-Qaeda because, if you remember in the wake of the September 11th attacks, they were saying, “We thought there could be sleeper cells of Al-Qaeda.” They were just peppered all throughout the country, and they were going to spring up at any moment. Of course, like weapons of mass destruction, it just didn’t exist. It was all a power grab.
Edward Snowden: (09:38)
On that basis, they started doing this in secret, and it was completely unconstitutional. It 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, and they thought, “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 they were looking for them.
Edward Snowden: (10:07)
The ones where there were terrorists, the program wasn’t effective because these were guys in Pakistan that weren’t using 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 who runs the food stand or whatever. Bit by bit, over time, this grew and grew and grew, and there were scandals. If you want to drill down on these later, I’ll go into them, but what happened was, step by step by step, our constitutional rights were changed, and we weren’t allowed to know it. We were never granted a vote on it, and even the many members of Congress, 535 in the United States, they were prohibited from knowing this. Instead, they told only a few select people.
Edward Snowden: (10:55)
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. Now that they had been told about it because they had security clearances and things like that, they weren’t allowed to tell anybody else, even if they objected to it.
Edward Snowden: (11:19)
We had one senator, Ron Wyden, and another one, Tom Udall was the name of him, who did object to this and who wanted something to happen but, because they couldn’t tell anybody that it was happening, 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. Journalists were like, “You know they’ve got concerns. What is that, Lassie? What are you trying to say?” Timmy’s said, “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.
Edward Snowden: (11:55)
We were no longer partnered to government. We had simply become subject to government, and 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, 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.
Edward Snowden: (12:35)
So, what I did was, I wanted to clarify that kind of Lassie bark. 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 who are having their rights violated by 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 okay, but I disagree that this is not okay. I object, and I want things to change.”
Edward Snowden: (13:19)
So, I gathered evidence of what I believed to be criminal or unconstitutional activity on the part of the government, and I gave this to journalists, right? Now, I gave this to journalists under a very strict condition here, which was that they publish no story in this archives of information simply because it was interesting, no click bait, not anything just because they thought it would make news, it would get 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.
Edward Snowden: (13:58)
So, then beyond that, there was additional, 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 an 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 wade in.
Edward Snowden: (14:37)
Congress, most of them didn’t even know, right? 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, or 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, whether we’re talking about Obama, or whether we’re talking about Trump now, all these guys were okay with the constantly growing surveillance state because they’re the ones whose hands were on the level at the time they got to aim it. They got to use it.
Edward Snowden: (15:11)
If you had a little search box in front of you, they would give you the email history of everybody in the United States, anybody you 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. Joe, what is the worst thing you’ve ever typed into that search box? That lasts forever, and they have a record of that. They can get that from Google. This was the whole thing.
Edward Snowden: (15:37)
How do we correct for that? When you have somebody who wants to inform the public of something, and we’ll get into the proper channels arguments later, but you can’t go through the institution to get these corrected because the institution knows it’s wrong and is doing it anyway. 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? 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?
Edward Snowden: (16:11)
I worked with the journalists and then, to create an adversarial step, someone who would argue against what I believed and, hopefully, what the journalists believed once they consulted the documents and basically authenticated them, can we get the government to play that role? So, before the journalists published any story,… This is a controversial thing.
Edward Snowden: (16:36)
People still criticize me for this, actually. They say I was too accommodating of government, and they could be right, is that the journalists would go to the government and give them warning and say, “We’re about to run this story about this secret program that says you did X,Y,&Z bad thing. One, is that right? Two, is this going to cause harm. Is anybody going to get hurt? Is this program effective? Is there something we don’t understand? Is there something Snowden doesn’t understand? Does this guy just not get it? Are these documents fake? Whatever you want, say we shouldn’t run this story.”
Edward Snowden: (17:12)
In every case I’m aware of, that process was followed, and that’s why because there’s a lot of people out there who don’t like me, who criticize me, who go, “This was 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 back in June of 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, the government’s happy to leak things when it’s in their interest. Nobody has been hurt as a result of these disclosures because everyone who was involved in them was so careful.
Edward Snowden: (17:53)
We wanted to maximize the public benefit while mitigating the potential risks, and I think we did a pretty good job. Just to get back to 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, Glenn Greenwald, Ewan McCaskill. 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. Even if you trust that to Obama, you never know whose hand is going to be on that key next, and all they have to do is turn it and there’s nothing we can do to stop it.
Edward Snowden: (18:34)
The only thing that’s restraining these programs, really, is policy more so than law, and the president at any time can sign a napkin and those policies change. After that, I went six months without giving any interviews because I didn’t want people to talk about me. I wanted them to talk about what actually mattered, and the government, of course, was trying very hard to change the conversation, as they always do, to be about who is this guy, what’ve they done, what’s wrong with them, what are their problems, who is this loony guy so they can controversialize the source of a story rather than having to confront the story itself.
Edward Snowden: (19:13)
That’s why I said I really kind of appreciate your take on the media and everything like that because, when you don’t tell your story, 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 where 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 listen to you, when I actually look at the facts, 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.
Joe Rogan: (19:59)
I work hard on that. I try to mislead people. It’s good. It works to my advantage.
Edward Snowden: (20:04)
You’re doing a good job, man.
Joe Rogan: (20:05)
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 squirrely with the programs you were [crosstalk 00:20:22].
Edward Snowden: (20:23)
I’m not saying this to 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 a break, right? Have you read the book, because it’ll just help me put things in frame?
Joe Rogan: (20:36)
Edward Snowden: (20:36)
If you haven’t got a chance to read it, yeah, my book.
Joe Rogan: (20:38)
No, I have not read your book or got a copy of it.
Edward Snowden: (20:41)
Okay, well, I will send you a signed copy, brother.
Joe Rogan: (20:43)
Beautiful. Thank you.
Edward Snowden: (20:44)
I hope you’ll read it, and I hope you will enjoy it. 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, 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 war-making machine, our system of control for the country and the world, broadly. All that stuff spreads in a couple hundred mile radius out of DC.
Edward Snowden: (21:26)
My mother worked for the district courts, rather 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, and then he worked for the FBI. As far back as it goes, my family, 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.
Edward Snowden: (22:01)
Now, I started, I wasn’t super successful in school because I felt, and this is the most arrogant thing in the world that anybody says, that I had more to learn from computers than I did from biology class, so I spent more and more time focusing on technology. Then, I got mono, and I dropped out of high school. 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. 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 there, either. It’s fine. I’m enjoying it, but school is school. I can’t wait to be grown.
Joe Rogan: (23:00)
You were bored.
Edward Snowden: (23:02)
Yeah. 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?” I was like, “Well, that sounds great,” so I started doing web design really, really early on. This is like, gosh, I don’t know, probably 1998 vintage during the big boom and then the collapse that followed. The funny thing is, she worked, she was married to an NSA analyst, a linguist, so she lived on Fort Meade, and she ran her business out of their home on Fort Mead that’s right up the street from the NSA.
Edward Snowden: (23:51)
So, before I’m even working there, I’m driving past this building all of the time and trying to figure out what the next step is going to be. I enjoy this. It’s a good thing for me, and it works well. 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 happens. I’m just going in to work, and I tell this in the book in some detail, and I think it’s very much worth reading for people who don’t know this because this is forgotten history. Nobody…
Joe Rogan: (24:32)
How old were you at the time?
Edward Snowden: (24:35)
Gosh, I was born in ’83, so I was probably 18 years old. Yeah, I had just turned 18 a couple months before. What people forget is who knew what was going on before anybody else on September 11th? The intelligence community, right? What did they do? Did they get out a public warning? Did they tell you guys to evacuate? Did they say do this, that, or the other? No, no, not for everybody, not for a 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. He just said, “Go home.” The CIA did the same thing.
Edward Snowden: (25:39)
They were running on skeleton crews at the moment the country needed them more than they ever had, 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 going to close the base down.” I’m like, “This is crazy! It never closes down.” We don’t know what’s happening. Then, we start checking the news, which is through websites because we’re doing all this stuff and, suddenly, it’s the big story everywhere. You know, nobody understands how big it is yet.
Edward Snowden: (26:23)
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 entered just this absolute state of pandemonium as I go past Canine Road, which is the road that travels right in front of the NSA’s headquarters. It’s just a parking lot as far as you can see. They have military police out under the stoplights directing traffic because there’s this massive evacuation, and I still have no idea what’s happening. The story is still developing, but I will never forget that image.
Edward Snowden: (27:11)
Why did these people have so much power and so much money and so much authority that, at the moments we need them the most, they’re the first ones in the country that are leaving their buildings. 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 called his wife and he was asking where their kids were and everything like that and then, after that, he wanted to think about where could these other planes that they knew were in the area that hadn’t struck yet, where could they be headed?
Edward Snowden: (27:57)
This sort of shows how self-centric the intelligence community is. This is the DC Metro area, right? They could hit the White House, they could hit Congress, they could hit the Supreme Court, and they go, “Oh, they’re going to fly their planes into the CIA Headquarters” or, “They’re going to fly their planes into the NSA Headquarters.” Of course, it was never realistic that these would be the targets but, on that basis, they were like, “Ooh, let’s get our bacon out of the pan.”
Joe Rogan: (28:26)
Edward Snowden: (28:27)
I don’t say this…
Joe Rogan: (28:28)
I’m sorry, but just in the interest of… Wasn’t it possible that they could’ve attacked those places? I mean, they attacked the Pentagon. They knew that there were attacks.
Edward Snowden: (28:39)
Look, it’s absolutely possible they could have attacked your Denny’s, but it’s a question of risk assessment. If you have planes in the air, if you believe there’s an ongoing terrorist attack that’s happening in the United States right now and if you have built history’s greatest surveillance agencies, 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?
Edward Snowden: (29:22)
To begin with, simply because they could? Well, somebody else will get hit with those. As you say, it’s going to be the Pentagon. It’s going to be the World Trade Center. It’s going to be someone, somewhere, and the more minutes you’re in front of that desk, the higher the chance is, even if it’s a very small chance, even if it’s somebody who doesn’t work on terrorism, maybe if it’s somebody who normally works finance in North Korea, but they go, “Look, this is an emergency.”
Edward Snowden: (29:48)
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 do anything you can do right now. If the building gets hit, we get hit. That’s what we signed up for. Nobody wants that. That’s not the desired outcome but, if they had asked the staff to do that, they all would’ve agreed. That’s what these people signed up to do and yet, the director goes, “No. Just no. We’re not going to take that ri-…”
Edward Snowden: (30:22)
It says so much about the bureaucratic character of how government works, 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, if we want to get really controversial, and this is something that’ll haunt me because people will bring it up again and again and again, people ask about… People still criticize me. In the book, I talk about aliens and chemtrails and things like that and the fact that there’s no evidence for that. I went looking on the network, right? I know, Joe, I know you want there to be aliens.
Joe Rogan: (31:09)
Edward Snowden: (31:09)
I know Neil deGrasse Tyson badly wants there to be aliens, and there probably are, but the idea that we’re hiding them… If we are hiding them, I had ridiculous access to the networks at the NSA, the CIA, the military, all these groups. I couldn’t find anything so, if it’s hidden, and it could be hidden, it’s hidden really damn well, even from people who are on the inside. The main thing is conspiracy theories, right? Everybody wants to believe in conspiracy theories because it helps life make sense. It helps us believe that somebody is in control, that somebody is called the shots, that these things all happen for a reason, this, that, and the other.
Edward Snowden: (31:52)
There are real conspiracies, but they’re not typically that 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 1.4 million people in the United States who hold security clearances, and you can get all of these people to not talk ever to journalists or this, that, or the other.
Edward Snowden: (32:23)
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, not what we can speculate on, but what are at least t commonly agreed facts, it’s very clear to me that 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’ve been prevented. In fact, the government says this too, but the government goes, the reason that these attacks happened, the reasons that they were prevented is, what they call, stovepiping. There was not enough sharing.
Edward Snowden: (33:03)
They needed to break down the walls and the restrictions that were chaining these poor patriots at the NSA and the CIA and FBI from all working on the same team. To some extent, they’re correct on this. 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 of 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.
Edward Snowden: (33:42)
If the FBI wanted to send absolutely everything they had to the CIA, they could’ve done so. If the CIA wanted to send everything they had to the FBI, they could’ve done so. They didn’t, and people died as a result. Now, government goes bureaucratic proceduralism 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…
Edward Snowden: (34:03)
… on the intelligence community, and this is what led to the world post-9/11 where all of our rights sort of evaporated was 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?”
Edward Snowden: (34:14)
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 you go, “All right, well, will that make 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, my dumb self was signing up to go fight it. Volunteering for the Army. We’ll get into that in a minute.
Edward Snowden: (34:47)
But 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 had put on these agencies, and we abandoned 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.
Edward Snowden: (35:22)
And we went, “Look, terrorists.” We created shows like 24 and Jack Bauer where he’s threatening to knife people’s eyeballs out if they won’t tell them this, that, or the other. And we entered this era of increasingly unlimited government as a result. And now in hindsight we go, “Well, we shouldn’t have been surprised.” But at the time, everyone panicked, right?
Edward Snowden: (35:46)
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 wind back the tape to that pre-9/11 moment, wind back the tape to those silos and those walls that they said needed to come down because that was restraining government. Instead of the rules, they said, “Well, you can share these things, but there’s got to be a basis. There’s got to be a justification.” You’ve got to go, “Why are we trading people’s information like baseball cards and all of this stuff?”
Edward Snowden: (36:23)
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, or a place they shouldn’t be, or doing something you don’t think they should be with another agency, because no one’s going to question that. A judge isn’t going to question that. Any judge in the world will stamp that warrant without even thinking about it and then go to bed that night without a care in the world. Because you’re not spying on a journalist, you’re not spying on human rights defender, right? This is not an edge case. This is someone that you believe to be associated with al Qaeda or whatever. Now, this is all a lot of preamble to say that essential fact. The government agrees, everyone agrees the attacks probably could have been prevented if information had been shared. So, why wasn’t the information shared? The government says information wasn’t shared because of these restrictions. And it’s half true, because every important lie has some criminal truth to it. And there were these barriers.
Edward Snowden: (37:28)
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 wasn’t the NSA sharing information with the CIA in the case of a major terrorist plot?
Edward Snowden: (37:45)
And if you’ve worked in government, if you’ve worked in the intelligence community, if you work in any large institution, you know? If you work at a company that sells batteries, you know that every office is fighting the other office for budget, for clout, for promotions, and this is the sad reality of what actually happened.
Edward Snowden: (38:06)
Every one of those agencies wanted to be the guy who busted 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.
Joe Rogan: (38:21)
That’s exactly what I was going to ask you, if that was the issue. The competition between these agencies, because 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.
Edward Snowden: (38:36)
Yeah. And I mean, I think it’s important 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 everybody’s putting in their achievements at the end of the year for what they did, and if you’re the guy who does that, you’re going straight to the top.
Joe Rogan: (39:02)
But their solution instead of-
Edward Snowden: (39:03)
But this was the-
Joe Rogan: (39:05)
So we have a weird delay here-
Edward Snowden: (39:07)
Joe Rogan: (39:07)
… for folks that are listening.
Edward Snowden: (39:08)
Joe Rogan: (39:08)
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?
Edward Snowden: (39:19)
Well, no. They’re different things. 9/11 is what woke these guys up.
Joe Rogan: (39:24)
Edward Snowden: (39:25)
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 going to 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.
Edward Snowden: (40:17)
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 these drives come from in the first place. But basically everybody went, “All right, how do we stop this?” Because nobody wants to feel unsafe. Nobody wants to feel like the building’s going to come down 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 because 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 interagency cooperation, where we were strong, where we were weak, what we could do, what we were not allowed to do.
Edward Snowden: (41:05)
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 snapped off, and then there was nothing that we couldn’t do anymore.
Joe Rogan: (41:16)
And you were there while this was happening. This was-
Edward Snowden: (41:19)
No, I was not. Again, this is in 2001. I was 18 years old. I was working on the base, I had drove past the building, but that was it. This is all hindsight. This is biography. This is documented history, but this is not the gospel of Edward Snowden. I don’t know this, right? This is public record.
Joe Rogan: (41:39)
Edward Snowden: (41:39)
This is what we all know.
Edward Snowden: (41:44)
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.
Edward Snowden: (42:04)
And 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 throwing 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. It 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.”
Edward Snowden: (42:27)
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 authoritarian country after country. This is why you have Vladimir Putin in Russia who’s been there for 20 years, right? President for basically 20 years. Think about that. He sort of skipped in the middle there because he had to dodge the fact that presidents can only serve so many consecutive terms. So he dropped down to prime minister and then came back as president. But think about that. How do you get that kind of political longevity? And it’s because, if you know anything about Russian history, which even I don’t know that much about it, 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’s not there anymore. There’s nothing to buy, there’s nothing to do, there’s no job. No one had a future.
Edward Snowden: (43:31)
And so they went, “If there’s somebody who can lead us out of this, if 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 Erdogan, 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.
Edward Snowden: (44:40)
So, sorry, let me turn this back over to you because we got way off track there.
Joe Rogan: (44:43)
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-
Edward Snowden: (44:50)
Joe Rogan: (44:51)
… and when do you feel this responsibility to let the American people know about this issue? When do you contact these journalists, and what was the thought process regarding this? What steps did you go through once you realized that this was in violation of the Constitution, and that even with the laws of the PATRIOT Act and the PATRIOT Act II, things had changed so radically that you knew this was wrong and you had to do something about it, or you felt a responsibility to speak out?
Edward Snowden: (45:20)
Okay. So since we gave so much historical preamble, let me just give the CliffsNotes version-
Joe Rogan: (45:24)
Edward Snowden: (45:24)
… to get us up to that. So after September 11th, I’m a little bit lost.
Joe Rogan: (45:30)
Edward Snowden: (45:31)
I’m doing my technical stuff, but it doesn’t really feel like it matters anymore. I’m making more money, I’m becoming more accomplished, but the world’s on fire, right?
Joe Rogan: (45:39)
Edward Snowden: (45:39)
You remember, there was a crazy mood of patriotism in the country because we were all trying to come together and get through it. You remember people were sticking Dixie cups in the top of every chain link fence on every overpass that was like, “Stand together. Never forget. United we stand.”
Joe Rogan: (45:55)
Flags on every car.
Edward Snowden: (45:57)
Joe Rogan: (45:58)
Edward Snowden: (45:58)
And I was 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 and all his sort of cronies are going, “Look, it’s al Qaeda, it’s terrorist organization, they have all these international connections. There’s Iraq, dictators, weapons of mass destruction, they’re holding the world at ransom.” You got Colin Powell at the UN dangling little vials of fake anthrax.
Edward Snowden: (46:34)
And so I felt an obligation to do my part, and so I volunteered to join the Army. You probably can’t tell from looking at me, but I’m not going to be at the top of the MMA circuit anytime soon, so it didn’t work out. I joined a special program that was called the 18XRAY Program where they take you in off the street and they actually give you a shot at becoming a Special Forces soldier.
Edward Snowden: (46:56)
So you train harder in special platoons, you go further, and I ended up breaking my legs basically. So they put me out under-
Joe Rogan: (47:02)
Both your legs?
Edward Snowden: (47:03)
… a special discharge. Yeah, basically what it was, they were shin splints that I was too dumb to get off of, right? So I kept marching under weight and I’m a pretty light guy to begin with, I had a 24-inch waist when I joined the Army.
Joe Rogan: (47:18)
Girls are jealous.
Edward Snowden: (47:20)
Yeah. I think I weighed like 128 pounds. I was in great shape in bootcamp because I came up really quick because all I could do was gain, but it was just too much on my frame because I wasn’t that active.
Edward Snowden: (47:39)
And so when you keep running on a stress injury, right? And you’re running under weight with rucksacks and things like that, and you’re running in boots and then you’re doing a exercise, and the Army is a whole chapter in the book. You’ve got your battle buddy, right? Because they never allow you to be alone, you’ve always got to have somebody watching you.
Edward Snowden: (47:58)
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 was like an amateur bodybuilder. He was like 230 or 260, something like that. He was a big fellow. And so he would, when we’re off in the woods doing these marches and things like that and we have to practice buddy carries, like the fireman’s carry and things like that, he throws me around his neck. 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 weirdly fun. I enjoyed it, but it was no good for my body.
Edward Snowden: (48:35)
And so in a 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 in Georgia at Sand Hill, I see a snake. And so in my memory, it’s like time slows down. Because North Carolina, where I grew up, you think all snakes are poisonous.
Joe Rogan: (48:57)
It just popped up.
Speaker 1: (48:59)
[inaudible 00:48:59], that’s fine.
Joe Rogan: (49:00)
Okay. Sorry, there’s an issue.
Edward Snowden: (49:00)
Do we need to take a break?
Joe Rogan: (49:01)
No. We’re good. We’re good. We’re good.
Edward Snowden: (49:02)
It’s completely fine.
Joe Rogan: (49:03)
No we’re fine.
Edward Snowden: (49:03)
Joe Rogan: (49:04)
There was something that happened on the screen and I wanted to make sure it was okay.
Edward Snowden: (49:07)
Oh that’s just the FBI joining the chat.
Joe Rogan: (49:09)
That’s what I was worried about, there’s a second image opened up here.
Edward Snowden: (49:13)
Yeah. Yeah. So anyway, I tried to take a much longer step in mid-air, I land badly and it’s just one leg is like fire. I’m limping, I’m limping, I’m limping. But everybody says don’t go to sick call, because if you go to sick call, you’ll lose your slot, you’ll end up in general infantry or regular infantry.
Edward Snowden: (49:35)
And so I go back, I just tough it out. I get in my rack. And the next morning when I get out of the rack, which is the top bunk bed, right? I jumped out 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-raying me. And they also x-rayed my battle buddy because I got to go there with 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 was kind of a dramatic moment.
Edward Snowden: (50:07)
But for me, they just said I had bilateral tibial fractures, right? All the way up my legs. They said I had spiderwebs and the next free phase of the training was jump school, right? Where you’ve got to jump out of a plane. And the doctor is like, “Son, if you jump on those legs, they’re going to turn into powder.” And he’s like, “I can hold you back. We can put you for like six months, you stay off them, then you can go back 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 reassigned to the needs of the Army,” which probably meant I was going back to IT, 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?”
Edward Snowden: (51:06)
Normally you’ve got 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 you never joined. And at the time I was like, “Wow, that’s very kind of him to do that.” And I took it. They sent me to sick call or sort of the sick bay where you’re in the medical platoon and you do nothing for, it was I think about a month, and then they let you out once the paperwork all finishes.
Edward Snowden: (51:43)
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 it was a kindness a was just, now if I had future problems with my legs, they wouldn’t have to cover it or health insurance or any of those things. And it was just a funny thing.
Edward Snowden: (52:02)
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 combined my IT 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 clearance and tech skills, you get paid a ridiculous amount of money for doing very little work.
Edward Snowden: (52:52)
So I was like, “All right, well 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 GED just by going in and taking a test. So for government purposes, it was the same as if I was a high school graduate.
Edward Snowden: (53:19)
So now suddenly it was like these doors were opened. This University of Maryland facility turned out to be an NSA facility. It was called CASL, the Center for the Advanced Study of Language at the University of Maryland College Park. And all I was was literally a a security guy walking around with a walkie talkie, making sure nobody breaks in at night, managing the electronic alarm system and things like that.
Edward Snowden: (53:49)
But once I had my foot in the door there, I could start climbing the ladder 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, “We’ve got tons of positions for somebody like you. Are you comfortable working nights?” And I was like, “Yeah, I wake up in the middle of the day anyway, that’s fine with me.”
Edward Snowden: (54:26)
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 formally an employee of the State of Maryland at the college and this is government man, 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? I’m 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 flags on the wall that are just gently billowing in the air conditioning like ghosts. The hallway lights up as you walk alongside it-
Joe Rogan: (55:12)
Edward Snowden: (55:13)
… because it’s a green building, and they disappear behind you. And there’s no one there. I can go down to the gym at like 2:00 in the morning at the CIA and not see a soul on the other side of the building and then go all the way back. And this kind of thing was my in because they were like, “Look, it’s the night shift. Nothing that bad is going to happen.” But it was on a very senior technical team that was basically handling systems administration for everybody in the Washington metropolitan area, right?
Edward Snowden: (55:47)
So every basically CIA server, this is a computer system that data is stored on, that reporting is stored, that traffic is moved on, all of this stuff. Suddenly me, this is 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 then never come back up.
Edward Snowden: (56:36)
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.” Who doesn’t want to go work overseas for the CIA? And there’s a lot of people listening to the podcast who are like, “Not me.”
Joe Rogan: (56:54)
I’m one of them.
Edward Snowden: (56:55)
Because they’re like, “Wait, the CIA’s the bad guys, right?” Yeah, exactly. They’re like, “What are you going to go overthrow a government somewhere?” But you have to understand that I’m still very much a true believer. The government is the living compressed embodiment of truth and goodness and light, the shining city on the hill. So I want to do my part to spread that to the world.
Edward Snowden: (57:16)
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 hear 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 in open source media, but I think this is one of the few book-length discussions of what happens there in permanent record.
Edward Snowden: (57:55)
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 my formal title for the embassy is something super bland like diplomatic attaché, and what I am is I’m a forward deployed tech guy. They send you through this school to make you into kind of a MacGyver, right?
Edward Snowden: (58:18)
Yes, you can handle all the computers, but you can also handle the connections for the embassy’s power systems, right? The actual electrical connections. You can handle the HVAC 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 an exciting time. I actually still enjoyed it, but this was where I first, working with intelligence, started to get doubts.
Edward Snowden: (59:01)
And the story has been told many times so I won’t go over it 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 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 or anything that’s a digital or analog signal that can be intercepted and then turned into information.
Edward Snowden: (59:44)
Human intelligence is all that fun stuff we’ve heard of the CIA doing 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 your 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, and we wanted records on the bank’s customers so we wanted a guy on the inside.
Edward Snowden: (01:00:15)
But anyway, 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 somebody’s life just on the off chance they would get some information that wouldn’t even be tremendously valuable. And so, ethically, that struck me as a bit off, but I let it pass because what I’ve learned over my life, short though it’s been, is that skepticism is something that needs to build 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, right?
Edward Snowden: (01:01:04)
Kind of like radiation poisoning, but in a positive way. It’s when you start to realize inconsistencies or hypocrisy or lies, and you notice them and 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.
Edward Snowden: (01:01:38)
Now, after the CIA, I went to the NSA in Japan where I was working there in Tokyo. And then from there, a couple 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 to the CIA. People in 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 information officer for the entire CIA.
Edward Snowden: (01:02:23)
And these guys are going, “Look, here’s our problems, here’s what we want to do,” and it’s my job to pitch them a system, right? And I’m paired up with this sales guy, and the whole thing is just to 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 why your Gmail account is available wherever you go. It’s why Facebook has this massive system of records for everyone everywhere.
Edward Snowden: (01:02:52)
The government wanted to have these kinds of capabilities too. Dell ended up getting beat out by Amazon. Some people aren’t familiar with this, many of them are, but Amazon runs a secret cloud system for the government. I forget what they’ve rebranded it now, but there’s this massive connection between industry and government in the classified space that just goes deeper and deeper and deeper and deeper.
Edward Snowden: (01:03:18)
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’ve got a job, they’ve got a family, they’ve got bills. 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 that they’re doing are actively wrong, but they know what happens to people who rock the boat.
Edward Snowden: (01:04:04)
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 Operation Center, NTOC.
Edward Snowden: (01:04:36)
But because of the way contracting works, and again, this is covered in the book, I ended 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 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 … or letting people forget that his office existed, because he was the only one in it. There’s a manager who’s over him, but it’s actually over a larger group and he just looks over him as sort of a favor.
Edward Snowden: (01:05:20)
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 had worked at both the CIA and the NSA, I knew the network well enough, both sides of it, sides that normal workers at the NSA would never have seen because you have to be in one or the other.
Edward Snowden: (01:06:04)
I could 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 ID. Basically your sort of ID 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 can provide them, and basically you could hit this site and it would be an update of what we used to call [inaudible 01:06:48] boards, which were manually created.
Edward Snowden: (01:06:52)
Then it would 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 a 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.
Edward Snowden: (01:07:47)
So 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-
Edward Snowden: (01:08:03)
Now dirty word searches are … Let me dial this back cause 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 in my office, it was classified. That was the policy. It’s dumb. This over classification 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 away way. This is why they can get away with breaking the law or violating our rights for so long, five years, 10 years, 1550 years before we see what they were doing. It’s because of this routine classification, right? Every system, computer system has a limit on what level of classified information is supposed to be stored on it. We’ve got all these complicated systems for code words and caveats that establish a system of what’s called compartmentation. 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 need to know. Right? Again, that thing from the movies. The reason they have this is they don’t want one person to be able to go and know everything and 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. They might develop ideological objection to that.
Edward Snowden: (01:09:59)
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 accesses called PRIVAC, which means privileged access. What this means is your kind of super user. Most people have all of these controls on the 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? He says, “I need to know everything about this.” Well, 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.
Edward Snowden: (01:10:42)
Dirty word searches were these automated queries that I would set up to go across the whole network and look at all of the different levels of classification and compartmentation and exceptionally controlled information. You can think of it as above top secret in these special compartments 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’re read into them.
Edward Snowden: (01:11:11)
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 little caveat for it, they’re called handling caveats, which is like you can think of like burn after reading or for your eyes only, but this one’s called STLW, which means Stellar Wind. Unless you know what Stellar Wind is, you don’t know how to handle it. All I knew was it wasn’t supposed to be on my system. I went, “This is a little bit unusual.”
Edward Snowden: (01:11:44)
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. This person was a lawyer, I believe. They had 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. It started under the Bush White House. Stellar Wind was no longer supposed to be really an operation. It had been unveiled and a big scandal in December 2005 in the New York Times by journalist, James Risen and I’m not going to name him, because I don’t want to get it wrong, another journalist, you can look at the byline now if you want to see their involvement. There’s a lot of history here too. 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.
Edward Snowden: (01:13:04)
Well, the Bush White House was really put in a difficult position by the 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 ready to go with it. At this specific request to 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 run this story a month before the election,’ that’s very tight margin if you recall, ‘you’ll have blood on your hands.'” It was so close in 2001, the New York Times just went, “You know what? Fine. Americans don’t need to know that the Constitution should 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. It’s a secret. You shouldn’t know about it, that’s fine.”
Edward Snowden: (01:14:15)
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. He was about to publish this book. 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 journalists. And so they finally did it, but it was too late. Bush had been reelected. Now it was sweeping up the broken glass of our lost rights.
Edward Snowden: (01:14:46)
Congress, the Bush White House, was very effective. As I said before, telling a very few select members of Congress that this program existed. They told them this program existed in ways that they wouldn’t object to, but made them culpable for hiding the existence of the program from the American people. This is why someone like Nancy Pelosi, who you wouldn’t exactly think would be buddy buddy with George Bush, was completely okay in defending this kind of program, in fact. 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, “Oh well, that was classified.” Right? This is not to 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.
Edward Snowden: (01:15:36)
The White House will implicate certain very powerful members of Congress in their own criminal activity. Then when the White House gets in trouble for it, the Congress has to run cover for the white house. 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 named a law something like that unless it’s something terrible. 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.”
Edward Snowden: (01:16:33)
These companies went, “Look, now that we’ve been uncovered, now that we’ve been shown that we’re breaking, or now that these journalists have shown that we’ve broken the law and violated the rights of Americans on a staggering scale that could bankrupt our companies, because we can be sued for this. We will no longer cooperate with you unless pass a law that says people can’t sue us for having done this.” And so we get the Protect America Act.
Joe Rogan: (01:17:00)
Edward Snowden: (01:17:00)
Which they say is as an emergency. This is all public history too. You can look this up on Wikipedia. Then they 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 kinds 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. People will die. Blood on your hands, blood on your hands, blending your hands. Think of the children.”
Edward Snowden: (01:17:43)
Protect America Act passes. The companies get off the hook. The Bush White House gets off the hook. The Congress that was then sharing in a 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. Rather than stopping all of the unlawful and 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.
Edward Snowden: (01:18:31)
Now, this is not as go say, you know, these things aren’t helpful at all. It’s not to say they’re not useful at all. 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 was 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. That’s what happened here.
Edward Snowden: (01:19:07)
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 complied with the law or 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. That was supposed to be the truth and reconciliation council.
Edward Snowden: (01:20:06)
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, that says David Addington, this is Nancy Pelosi that says 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 was 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. The president said, “Would you continue this program on my say so alone knowing that it’s risky, knowing that it’s unlawful?” He said, “Yes sir, I will if you think that’s what’s necessary to keep the country safe.”
Edward Snowden: (01:21:08)
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? This is something that people have lost. We hear this phrase over and over again, national security, national security, national security. We’re meant to interpret that to mean public safety. National security is a very different thing from public safety. National security is a thing that in previous generations we referred to as state security. National security was a term that came out of the Bush administration to run cover for the fact that we were elevating a new secret police across the country.
Edward Snowden: (01:21:54)
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. We’re not even allowed to know that it happened. Now in the book, I tell the fact that I had access to the unclassified version of this report back in Japan. 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 are the same thing. It’s just the unclassified version has things blacked out or redacted that they say, “Oh, you’re not allowed to know this sentence or this paragraph or this page or whatever.”
Edward Snowden: (01:22:51)
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. It was effective in doing that. 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, we’re going to get something out of this if we all work together.”
Edward Snowden: (01:23:52)
Civilization is the history of conspiracy, right? What is civilization, but a conspiracy for 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 to go to the Washington Post, because this document that I discovered that really changed me has been published courtesy of the Washington Post. It’s called the Inspector General’s report on Stellar Wind. You can look at the actual document that I saw that was unredacted, right? I had no blacked out pages on mine. 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.
Edward Snowden: (01:24:51)
Now in their defense, they said they were seeking these powers for good and just and noble cause, right?They say they were trying to keep us safe. 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. 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. Particularly, we all know the Patriot Act passed. One of the worst pieces of legislation in modern history passed. Why didn’t we get a vote? I think if you read the report, the answer we clear. I’m sorry Joe. I went on for very long.
Joe Rogan: (01:25:46)
No, it was amazing. Don’t apologize 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 …
Edward Snowden: (01:26:03)
It’s much more.
Joe Rogan: (01:26:03)
… much more, but literally, the president …
Edward Snowden: (01:26:06)
At the heart of it, yes. At the heart of it, in every expression of executive power, and by executive, we mean the White House here. The CIA, the NSA, the FBI, the DOJ, these guys exist as a part of the executive branch of government. 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. 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. It’s very easy for people who exist in these structures, particularly at the very top levels of these structures to go, “Look, we have a given set of lawful authorities. These are defined very broadly to give us leeway to do whatever it is we think is proper and appropriate and just.”
Edward Snowden: (01:27:14)
Now take that proper and appropriate and just from the perspective of any given individual, and any given president, now intersect that with what’s good for them politically. That’s where problems begin to arise. Now, the safety measure that’s supposed to protect us from this in the US system and in any democracy, broadly is 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, what they are doing, both in our name and what they’re doing against us. Because they are transparent to us, we the people, can then police their activities. We can go, “I disagree with this.” We can protest it. We can campaign against it, right? We can try to become the president, do whatever.
Edward Snowden: (01:28:11)
They are public officials and we are private citizens. They’re not supposed to know anything about us, right? 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. Yet the rise of the state secrets doctrine, this whole classification system that goes all the way back to last century about the middle of the last century, I believe, is when it really started getting tested in court. 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’s old dirty work in the the 20th century, is they abuse their powers repeatedly and continuously. They did active harm to domestic politics in the United States.
Edward Snowden: (01:29:08)
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 a, I have a dream speech, two days later, the FBI classified him as the greatest national or I think it was the greatest national security threat in the United States. This is the FBI. This is the group that everybody’s applauding today saying, “Oh, these wonderful patriots and heroes.” Now. I’m not saying everybody in the FBI is bad. I’m not saying everybody at the CIA and NSA is bad. I’m saying that you don’t become patriot based on where you work.
Edward Snowden: (01:29:51)
Patriotism is not about a loyalty to 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. We’ll get into loyalty later, because you know, I think one of the big criticisms against me that should be talked about is the go, “Look, this guy is a disloyal. He broke an oath. He did whatever.” 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. I think that’s overlooked.
Edward Snowden: (01:30:49)
Yeah, when you get back into this whole thing about where it came from, why it happened, how it could come out of just the small group and then they could slowly poison by implication, by complicity, by bringing them into the conspiracy and then having them not say anything about it, wider and wider body of people. Then once you’ve got enough people in on it, it’s much easier to convince other people that it’s legitimate. They can go, “Look, we’ve got 30 people who know about this. None of them have objected to it. Why are you going to object to this?”
Edward Snowden: (01:31:28)
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, a body of secret policy did us far what a legitimate government secrets could be. This is not say like government can have no secrecy at all. If the government wants to investigate someone without having them respond, we’re talking traditional law enforcement. Sure. You’re not going 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 terrorist suspect out in the world, but we do need to know, again, the powers and programs, the policies that the government is asserting, at least the broad outlines of it. Otherwise, how can we control it? How do we know if the government is applying its authorities that are supposed to be granted to it by us if we don’t know what it is that they’re doing. This is the main thing and really the story behind the title, Permanent Record is look, Joe, when you were a kid, when I was a kid, when you were a teenager, 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 the wokest of Twitterland you would get in trouble for.
Joe Rogan: (01:32:57)
I’m sure. That’s one of the horrible things about kids growing up today is that they do have all this stuff out there on social media forever. They can be judged horribly by something they did when they were 13.
Edward Snowden: (01:33:11)
It’s exactly that. Our worst mistakes, our deepest shames were forgotten, right? They were lost. They were ephemeral. Even the things we did get caught for it, 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. We know very little about them. 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.
Edward Snowden: (01:34:06)
Just carrying 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. AT&T keeps those records going back to 2008 under a program called Hemisphere. If you search for Hemisphere and AT&T, you’ll 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, born after me, or it might be 1987 excuse me, 1987. If they were born after 1987, and they’re an AT&T customer or their calls cross AT&T’s network, AT&T has every phone call they ever made, the record that it happened, not necessarily the content that’s on the phone call.
Edward Snowden: (01:34:52)
I mean the, let me turn this around for you Joe, cause I feel like I’ve just been giving a speech. When you look at this stuff, when you look at what’s happening with government, when you look and see 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 at what’s happening with Facebook, when you look at what’s happening with Google, when you look at the fact that you go to every restaurant today and you see people looking at phones. You get on a bus, you get on a subway, you see somebody sitting next to you in traffic, you see people looking at phones. These devices are connected all the time. Now people are getting Alexa, right? Now people have OK Google, they have Siri on their phones. They’re in their house. They’ve always got these connected microphones. Where do you think this leads? What is it that gives you trust in the system, faith in the system? Just so we can start a conversation here. What strikes you about this?
Joe Rogan: (01:35:55)
Well, it’s completely alien. 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. 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. We’re figuring out as we go along. 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 they don’t like, they can go back, find that and use it against you.
Joe Rogan: (01:36:52)
We don’t know who they are. We don’t know why they’re doing it. We didn’t know they could do it until you exposed it. The connection of human beings via technology 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, track your phone calls, track everything, and under the guise of protecting us from terrorists and protecting us from sleeper cells, protecting us from attacks. Look, if they really are protecting us from these attacks, that’s great. There’s no provision in the constitution that allows any of this. This is where it gets really squirrely because they’re making up the rules as they go along. They’re making up these rules, the way you’re describing it, is a step by step. This has happened to protect their ass and keep themselves from being implicated in what has been a violation of our rights and our privacies and the Fourth Amendment.
Edward Snowden: (01:37:55)
Yeah, I mean, I think one of the things that everybody needs to understand when you look at these things and the reason 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 gate keeping. They’ve got a big archive. They haven’t published everything from it. I told them not to publish everything.
Joe Rogan: (01:38:21)
Why did you do that?
Edward Snowden: (01:38:22)
They’re actually following my instructions.
Joe Rogan: (01:38:22)
Why did you do that?
Edward Snowden: (01:38:24)
Because, so again, it gets back to legitimate secrets and illegitimate secrets. Some spying from my perspective, “career spy” is okay, right?
Joe Rogan: (01:38:36)
Edward Snowden: (01:38:36)
If you have hacked a terrorist phone, and you’re getting some information about that, useful.
Joe Rogan: (01:38:41)
Edward Snowden: (01:38:42)
If you’re spying on a Russian general in charge of a rocket division useful, right? 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 a known, named person that is being monitored for specific reason that is related …
Joe Rogan: (01:39:06)
Hopefully, from a warrant.
Edward Snowden: (01:39:07)
… broadly to things that people … 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? There’s not a judge in the world who wouldn’t stamp a warrant saying, “Hey, spy on Abu Jihad over here.” Right? If you want to a spy on another guy Boris Badenoff of the rocket division, that that’s okay. They’re going to go with that.
Edward Snowden: (01:39:45)
Then you look at these edge cases in the archive that are provided to journalists that have been stories that have come down where they’ve spied on journalists, right? They’ve spied on human rights groups. These kinds of things, I think people miss. I’m going to throw up some slides here, so forgive me if this gets weird, and I put up the wrong ones. Since I came forward, this Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that the government says authorized these programs 15 different times was overruled by the first open courts to look at the program. These are federal courts here, that said, “No, actually these programs are unlawful. They’re likely unconstitutional.”
Edward Snowden: (01:40:29)
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 broke their own laws 2,776 times in a single year. Then you asked about that thing that motivates me, why I came forward. We had been trying as a country, before I came forward, to prove the existence of these programs legally. This is our means of last recourse in our system, right? We got the executive. We got the legislature. We got the judiciary. Right? Congress makes the laws. The executive’s supposed to carry them out. The courts are supposed to play referee. The executive had broken the laws. Congress was turning a blind eye to the law. The courts were in, this is just months before I came forward going, “Well, it does appear that the ACLU and Amnesty International,” all of these human rights groups in nongovernmental organizations had established that these programs are likely unlawful. They likely exist. They’re simply classified. The government responded with this argument that you just saw saying that, “Well, it’s a state secret if they do exist.” You the plaintiffs don’t …
Edward Snowden: (01:42:03)
It’s a state secret if they do exist. You the plaintiffs don’t have 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 the government as to whether or not these things exist because the government’s just going to give it’s standard, what they call glamor response, we can neither confirm nor deny that these things exist. Which leaves you out in the cold, which leaves the courts out in the cold.
Edward Snowden: (01:42:31)
The courts go, look, the government could be breaking the law here. Look, they could be violating the constitution here, but because you can’t prove it, and because the government doesn’t 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.
Edward Snowden: (01:42:59)
And so this leads to this fundamentally broken system where, okay, 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 the 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 kinds of cases since Daniel Ellsberg, really going back to that, under the same espionage act. It’s always the same law and there’s no distinction to government between whether you’ve sold information to a foreign government for private benefit or whether you provide an information only to journalists for the public interest. And 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 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 governance, and this is from a federal court, these are not exactly my biggest supporters. They are 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.
Edward Snowden: (01:44:53)
We had a 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 Wyden, was confronting the most senior spy in the United States, General James Clapper, who was then the director of national intelligence, right.
Edward Snowden: (01:45:26)
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, but more broadly, in front of the public, this is televised. And Ron Wyden asked 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.
Mr. Wyden: (01:45:58)
So, what I wanted to see is if you could give me a yes or no answer to the question, does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?
Mr. Wyden: (01:46:14)
It does not.
Not wittingly. There are cases where they could inadvertently perhaps collect but not wittingly.
Mr. Wyden: (01:46:26)
Edward Snowden: (01:46:29)
So, that was a lie. Widen knew it was a lie, Clapper knew it was a lie, he actually admitted it was a lie after I came forward 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.
Edward Snowden: (01:46:50)
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 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. Not even in the press conference, but just to say this was incorrect, whatever, so he could go through the legal process and show his fellow Congressman that there was a problem and that they needed to do it.
Edward Snowden: (01:47:20)
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’ve talked to about these programs. I’ve gone, look at this, and they’re laughing at it. I’m laughing at it. And it’s not that we go, Oh ha ha, he’s getting away with it. It’s like, what are you going to do? These guys, they’re bullshitters, that the system is built on lies. That even many people, many experts who have studied this, know are 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.
Joe Rogan: (01:48:05)
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 makes you take the leap?
Edward Snowden: (01:48:25)
So this is covered extensively in the book because it took a long time.
Joe Rogan: (01:48:33)
I would imagine.
Edward Snowden: (01:48:36)
Yeah, right, exactly. People like to think it’s like a cinematic moment where I find this golden document, like the stellar wind report, and that’s the closest thing to a smoking gun, right, that exists. But look, if you found that, you can read that later, look at that and imagine yourself being like, oh, I’m going to 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 working 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?
Edward Snowden: (01:49:10)
For a long time, too long, the answer was nothing, and 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 Wyden 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 there are a lot of people who are going to be in the YouTube comments or whatever and go, I knew this was happening, no you didn’t.
Joe Rogan: (01:49:52)
Well, Bill Bimini-
Edward Snowden: (01:49:53)
You had … Bill Binney.
Joe Rogan: (01:49:56)
Excuse me, Bill Binney, he initially was the one that came out and spoke about this issue and i-
Edward Snowden: (01:50:02)
So, yeah, Bill Binney is part of, shall we say the group of early NSA whistleblowers who came with Thomas Drake, Bill Binney, Kirk Weeby, I believe and Ed Loomis. And these guys all got their doors kicked in, they got harassed by the FBI. Tom Drake, who was a senior executive at the NSA, this is guy who had a lot to lose, was charged under the same law, it was the espionage act. And these guys who were doing it earlier, during the Bush administration, some of them were talking to the journalists, maybe it’s alleged, I don’t want to put them on the spot, maybe they deny, 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 warrant less wiretapping program. And eventually journalist put this out there. People knew these capabilities existed.
Edward Snowden: (01:50:55)
But yeah, then there’s the person in the YouTube comments who was like, we knew all about this, 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 a certainty that this stuff is capable or is is possible, the capability exists. You can know that the government has done this stuff in the past, you can know they are likely to do it again, you can have all these indications, you can have them like the Jewel versus NSA case that’s run by the EFF, which is about AT&T setting up secret rooms in there telecommunications facilities where they basically drag all the fibers for their domestic internet communications and phone communications into a room that’s purpose built for the NSA and then they bring it out.
Edward Snowden: (01:51:42)
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 let me put it either way, maybe you do know, right, maybe you are a an academic researcher, maybe you’re a 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.
Edward Snowden: (01:52:35)
And of course when we talk about the earlier stuff, right, like the 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 admitted to briefers. It is a codependent relationship. And so the only way to make sure people understand this broadly is if we all work together, 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 loyalties that all of these political factions in the country do. Where they go, 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 in HD on video, 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.
Edward Snowden: (01:54:02)
And the sad fact is the opportunities that we have to prove this, 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. [crosstalk 00:12: 29]. Go ahead.
Joe Rogan: (01:54:31)
I’m sorry. Did you take any comfort from knowing that Obama, when he was running for office and in his hope and change website, he had provisions to protect whistleblowers, and provisions to reward people, right? I mean do you remember all that? I mean it was eventually redacted or eventually deleted it from the website, but that’s [crosstalk 01:54:52].
Edward Snowden: (01:54:53)
Yeah, it disappeared from the website.
Joe Rogan: (01:54:54)
Yes. But that was a big part of his program. What he was running on was that, when people were exposing unlawful activity, he was going to protect those people. Did you take any comfort in that?
Edward Snowden: (01:55:06)
Well, Obama also, during his campaign said, he campaigned actively against the warrant less wiretapping, the Bush administration because remember bushes in the scandal in the height of this on 2007, the election is coming up right after and Obama is saying, that’s not who we are, that’s not what we do. And yet, within a hundred days of him becoming the president, now he’s sitting in that chair, rather than extinguishing these programs, he embraces them and expands them. [crosstalk 00:13:41].
Joe Rogan: (01:55:42)
Why do you think that is?
Edward Snowden: (01:55:43)
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 they get read in on stuff. But when they finally become 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 the intelligence community wants to assassinate somebody, they want to run this illegal program here, there or everywhere, and they can’t do it because they are executive agencies without that top level executive sign off. So they got to open the vest, right. They got to get these guys on side.
Edward Snowden: (01:56:27)
And basically every president since Kennedy, they had been successful in what they call fearing up. Where as soon as they come in, they 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 BS. Some of it is, right, where it’s inflated, it’s not that it’s completely false but they 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 electoral politics are so diseased.
Edward Snowden: (01:57:12)
And now, after you’ve crawled through fire, you’re already thinking four years ahead. 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 IC against you, right, they can stonewall you, they can put out the stories that are going to be problematic for you everyday of your presidency.
Edward Snowden: (01:57:48)
And it’s not that it’s necessarily going to cast 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, and 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.
Edward Snowden: (01:58:18)
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 this technology, you need to 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 programs, right, that are in fact wonderful things because they keep back the darkness.
Edward Snowden: (01:58:47)
And so here’s the real problem, every president hears that and every president, first off, they’ve got so many other things to do is they just kind of nod their head and they’ll go, I’ll deal with this later in my administration, and this is one of the ironies. When I came forward in 2013, right, this is now Barack Obama, 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, [crosstalk 01:59:18] nobody can have perfect privacy and also have perfect security so we got to divide a line here between the constitution and what the government wants to do.
Edward Snowden: (01:59:32)
But they said, we were going to get to it. We knew these programs were problematic, but if they just gave us more time, we would’ve fixed them. Maybe it’s true, right. Seems awful convenient in hindsight throughout the entirety of the first term [crosstalk 01:59:51].
Joe Rogan: (01:59:50)
Well, it seems like what you would say if you got caught.
Edward Snowden: (01:59:54)
Right. But look, 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.
Joe Rogan: (02:00:08)
Edward Snowden: (02:00:10)
And we can all imagine being there, right? Those, those of us who remember what the world was like post 911, 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. People talk about the deep state, right. They talk about it like some conspiracy of 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 presidencies, 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.
Edward Snowden: (02:00:53)
They know what they want, they know what this person is saying, where as the president, they don’t know who these people are. These people have been there before the president, they’re going to 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 trade off, and who you have to understand is a career politician is entirely used to the horse trading game, right. And go, I’ll deal with this later, or not now, or what is the cost benefit here.
Edward Snowden: (02:01:37)
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.
Joe Rogan: (02:02:08)
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 someone who’s the head of an intelligence agency for a long time, and is very persuasive, and has some 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 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.
Edward Snowden: (02:03:01)
Yeah. I mean, one of the things that I think is the underlying problem in everything that you just described, is the president has too much power.
Joe Rogan: (02:03:11)
Edward Snowden: (02:03:12)
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, if they haven’t 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 superstates and that may be by design perhaps, that’s why they’re super States. But when we look at complex advanced democracies that are more peaceful, they tend to have a more multi-lateral system that has more people involved in smaller portfolios. And a lot of this derives from just the size of the government.
Edward Snowden: (02:03:59)
Like you said, the president is responsible for basically everything in the executive branch, and the executive branch is basically every agency that actually does any work. And so, 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.
Edward Snowden: (02:04:22)
Back in 1776, the federal government 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 a terrifying forbidding thing. And then when you moved this idea that we have a president, that they have these extraordinary powers, it’s okay because the government is very small. The federal government especially is seen as the small and toothless and weak thing. [crosstalk 02:04:54].
Joe Rogan: (02:04:52)
Can you pause for one second? Pause for one second because my Air Pods are about to die and I’m going to swap over to another pair. 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 Jamie will take care of it.
Joe Rogan: (02:05:11)
I wanted to talk about you, like 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?
Edward Snowden: (02:05:21)
It’s been more than six years.
Joe Rogan: (02:05:24)
Edward Snowden: (02:05:24)
June of 2013, yeah. I mean, well actually I left May, so [crosstalk 02:05:29].
Joe Rogan: (02:05:29)
What is life like? Are you in constant hiding? I mean, what are the issues like?
Edward Snowden: (02:05:38)
In the beginning, my operational security level as we would call it, was very high. I was concerned about being recognized, I 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.
Edward Snowden: (02:06:02)
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 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 a 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 an internet connection, I was pretty happy.
Edward Snowden: (02:06:42)
But in the years past, my life has become more and more open. Now I speak openly, I live openly, I go out, I ride the Metro, I go to restaurants. I go [crosstalk 02:06:53] walks in the park.
Joe Rogan: (02:06:52)
How often do you get recognized?
Edward Snowden: (02:06:55)
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 forget about my face and I can go about my life. But it’s one of the weird things that I’m recognized a couple times a year, even when 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 are, you might’ve wrote a story about them, super recognizers the people who just have a great memory for faces because I can be wearing in hood and a jacket, it can have a scarf around my face like in the winter, and you can barely see my face and they’ll come up to me and they’re like, are you Snowden and I’m like, that’s pretty impressive.
Joe Rogan: (02:07:58)
What do you say?
Edward Snowden: (02:07:59)
I’d say, yeah, it’s nice to meet you. And yeah, I’ve never had a negative interaction from being recognized. But for me, because I’m a privacy advocate, I would much rather go unrecognized, 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 a mental association where people are like their brain when it’s cycling through faces that it recognizes, it’s going through the subset of nerdier people or something like that when you’re in a computer store because for whatever reason, I’m recognized much more frequently when there’s some technological locusts.
Joe Rogan: (02:08:45)
So you’re living freely, you had to learn Russian. Did you learn it-
Edward Snowden: (02:08:50)
Yeah. I mean my Russian is still pretty crappy to my great shame because all of my life, all of my work is primarily in English, right.
Joe Rogan: (02:08:59)
Now, you’ve talked about returning home if you could get a fair trial. Is that a feasible thing? A fair trial for someone like you. Is that even possible?
Edward Snowden: (02:09:15)
Yeah, it’s a good question. I mean, look, if we’re being Frank, I think all of 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 from, right? But my objection here is on a larger principle, right? What happens to me is less important, right? If I spend the rest of my life in jail, that’s less important than what I’m actually requiring the government to agree to, which is a single thing, right?
Edward Snowden: (02:09:54)
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 have been charged on her, 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, the government is violating human rights, that these programs are immoral, that they are 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.
Edward Snowden: (02:10:48)
And the government has responded 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, and he can’t talk about whether the public benefited from it or was harmed by it because it doesn’t matter.”
Edward Snowden: (02:11:14)
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 that the government uses against whistle blowers, meaning broadly here, the sources of journalism, is fairly unique in the 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 murdered somebody, if you just, I don’t know, 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 felt threatened, you were in danger for your life, even if you weren’t, right. Even though you obviously weren’t. Even if you are on tape, you could still argue that and the jury could go, you’re full of crap, right? And they could convict you.
Edward Snowden: (02:12:10)
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.
Edward Snowden: (02:12:45)
The espionage act in every case is a law the government exclusively uses against people who told the truth, right. That’s what it’s about in the context of journalism. They don’t bring the espionage act against people who lied, then they would use fraud or some other statute. They say, the government is arguing in the context of whistle blowing, that 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 in defensively wrong.
Edward Snowden: (02:13:24)
And so my whole argument with the United States government since the very beginning was, Ben, I’ll be back for a jury trial tomorrow, but you have to agree to permit whistleblowers a public interest defense. It doesn’t matter whether they are a 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.”
Joe Rogan: (02:13:57)
Wow. So you have had these conversations then, so this has been discussed?
Edward Snowden: (02:14:01)
No, this is from the Obama administration. There’s been no contact 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 in 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 making this argument.
Joe Rogan: (02:14:37)
So, you’re seemingly in a state of limbo then. They’re not actively pursuing you. It seems if you’re able to move around freely, they haven’t discovered where you are, you’re just free to live your life.
Edward Snowden: (02:14:53)
Well, yeah. I mean, it’s one of these things where whether they know where I am or whether they don’t know where I am, where I put my head on the pillow, it 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 what people are saying about Tulsa Gabbert and things like that. Any kind of a association, anytime your name appears in the same sentence, same paragraph, same story as the word Russia, it’s considered a negative thing now.
Edward Snowden: (02:15:27)
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. That saying, because I spoke favorably about a member of the Russian opposition Alexei Nevalny, 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.
Edward Snowden: (02:16:03)
… To express their opposition in a country, and they should be able to do that without fearing retaliation the future. Because the background here is this opposition figure has been a long time 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 simultaneously kicked in across the country and they’re being investigated for some kind of corruption or something, it doesn’t even matter.
Edward Snowden: (02:16:38)
I said I oppose that, just like I was tweeting footage of ballot stuffing in the Russian elections, just like I’ve criticized the Russian president by name. I’ve criticized Russian surveillance laws. There’s so 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 on route to Latin America when the US government canceled 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 a basically engaged in civil opposition to policies of the United States government at the same time as the Russian government. It’s a hard thing, it’s not a happy thing, but I feel like it’s a necessary thing.
Edward Snowden: (02:17:37)
The problem is nobody wants to talk about that. Nobody wants to engage in that kind of nuance. Nobody wants to consider those kinds 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, “This guy’s calling all the shots, he’s pulling all the strings. 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’re going to go, “Look how strong we are. The Americans are afraid of us. The Chinese are afraid of is that everybody’s afraid of us. The French are afraid of us. We are strong.”
Edward Snowden: (02:18:21)
There’s no question that Russia’s going to be interfering in elections. There’s no question that America’s going to be interfering in Russian elections, right? 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 this contested 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. This is 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 reality, because we aren’t wise enough to separate covert action from intelligence gathering.
Edward Snowden: (02:19:16)
But in that same study that they found 36 different cases by the Russians and the Soviets, they found 81 different cases by the US, and this was published by Scott Chain in the New York Times and both The Washington Post as well. But this is the thing. 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. Do you feel like you’re in charge of Donald Trump? Do you want to be … Have Donald Trump’s legacy around your neck?
Edward Snowden: (02:20:09)
Then people go, “Oh, well, you could overthrow Donald Trump, you could overthrow Putin.” Can you really? 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-
Joe Rogan: (02:20:28)
Is there any concern that they would deny you visa? I mean, how are you staying there?
Edward Snowden: (02:20:35)
It’s a good question. So I have permanent residence. People think I’m under asylum, but I’m no longer … It’s like a a green card now. It’s got 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 the Russian government should take some action against me or I shouldn’t be welcomed here, or I should go home. Because why is he criticizing the Russian government, when they’re the people who are keeping Americans away?
Joe Rogan: (02:21:00)
Is that like the Russian version of Fox News? Is that what they have over there.
Edward Snowden: (02:21:04)
I don’t know enough about Russian media to tell you. I think it’s supposed to be more like a Reuters or Associated Press, but hell by now. 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 will say, “Yeah.” They say, “You’ve done enough.” They say, “You’ve done your part.” 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. 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 it.
Edward Snowden: (02:22:06)
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, that’s because I was waiting for a hero. But there are no heroes. There’s only heroic decisions. You are never further than one decision away from making a difference. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a big difference, doesn’t 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 the other people can lay their brick on top of that or beside that. And together, step by step, day by day, year by year, we build the foundation of something better, but yeah, it’s not going to be safe.
Edward Snowden: (02:23:02)
But it doesn’t matter because individually it’s not me, whoever you are, that’s the iron man. I don’t care if you’re 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 together. 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 going to be forgotten someday, your cans of beans are going to rot someday. You can make things safer, you can be more careful, 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’re afraid. That’s what got us into this mess.
Joe Rogan: (02:24:11)
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?
Edward Snowden: (02:24:23)
Yeah. I mean, the big thing that’s changed since I was … In 2013 is now it’s mobile first everything. Mobile was still a big deal, 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 a laptop than use a desktop than use, God, any kind of wired phone than they are to use a smart phone. And both Apple and Android devices unfortunately are not especially good in protecting your privacy. Think right now. You’ve got a smart phone, right? You might be listening to this on a train somewhere and in traffic right now, or you Joe right now, you’ve got a phone somewhere in the room, right?
Edward Snowden: (02:25:21)
The phone is turned off, or at least the screen is turned off. It’s sitting there, it’s powered on. And if somebody sends you a message, the screen 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? 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, you 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 my IMEI. I think it’s individual manufacturers equipment identity, and IMEI, individual manufacturers, subscriber identity.” I could be wrong on the the breakout there, but the acronyms are the IMEI and the IMSI, and you can search for these things.
Edward Snowden: (02:26:27)
They’re two globally unique identifiers that only exist anywhere in the world in one place. This makes your phone different than all the other phones. The IMEI is burned into the handset of your phone. No matter what SIM card you change to, it’s always going to be the same and it’s always going to be telling the phone network. It’s this physical handset. Then the IMESI is in your SIM card, right, and this is what holds your phone number. It’s basically the key, the right to use that phone number. 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 ears is listening for these little cries for help and going, “Oh right, I see Joe Rogan’s phone. I see Jamie’s phone, I see all these phones that are here right now.”
Edward Snowden: (02:27:22)
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. 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 going to make a note, a permanent record saying, “This phone handset with this phone number at this time was connected to me.” And based on your phone handset and your phone number, they can get your identity, because you pay for this stuff with your credit card and everything like that. And even if you don’t, it’s still active at your house overnight. It’s still active on your nightstand when you’re sleeping, it’s still whatever.
Edward Snowden: (02:28:19)
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. And anyway. It’s constantly shouting this out and then it compares notes with the other parts of the network, and when somebody is trying to get to a phone, it compares notes of 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’re carrying a phone, whenever the phone is turned on, there’s a record of your presence at that place that is being made and created by companies.
Edward Snowden: (02:29:11)
It does not need to be kept forever. And in fact, there’s 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, where were you when you were eight years old? 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 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, it doesn’t matter whether you’re the most ordinary person on earth, because that’s how bulk collection, which is the government’s euphemism for mass surveillance works.
Edward Snowden: (02:29:57)
They simply collected all in advance in hopes that one day it will become useful. And that was just talking about how you connect to the phone network. That’s not talking about all those apps on your phone that are contacting the network even more frequently. How do you get a text message notification? How do you get an email notification? How is it the Facebook knows where you’re at? All of these things, these analytics, they are trying to keep track through location services on your phone, through GPS, through even just what wireless access points you’re connected to, because there’s a global constantly 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?
Edward Snowden: (02:30:44)
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 had 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 whose wifi is active on this block. And then they build it into a giant map.
Edward Snowden: (02:31:24)
So even if you have GPS turned off, as long as you’re connected to wifi, those apps can go “Well, I’m connected to Joe’s wifi, but I can also see his neighbor’s wifi 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 wifi access points from these points in physical space. The intersection in between the spreads, the domes of all those wireless access points, and it’s a proxy for location and it just goes on and on and on. We could talk about this for four more hours. We don’t have that kind of time.
Joe Rogan: (02:32:01)
Can I ask you this? Is there a way to mitigate any of this personally? I mean, shutting your phone off doesn’t even work, right?
Edward Snowden: (02:32:10)
Well, so it does in a way, it’s yes and no. The thing was shutting your phone off that as a risk is how do you know your phone’s actually turned off? It used to be … When I was in Geneva, for example, working for the CIA, we would all carry drug dealer phones, the old smart phones, the … Or sorry, old dumb phones. They’re not smart phones. And the reason why was just because they had the-
Joe Rogan: (02:32:38)
Edward Snowden: (02:32:38)
… Removable backs where you could take the battery out, right?
Joe Rogan: (02:32:41)
Edward Snowden: (02:32:41)
And the one beautiful thing about technology is if there’s no electricity in it, 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. 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’ve got to tell you guys, they’ve been chasing me all over the place. I don’t worry about that stuff. And it’s because if they’re 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 [inaudible 00:17:35], 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 the mitigation that you’re trying to do is, what would be the loss? What would be the damage done to you if this stuff was exploited? Much more realistic than worrying about these things that I call voodoo hacks, which are like next level stuff. And actually just a shout up for those of your readers who are interested in this stuff.
Edward Snowden: (02:34:24)
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 MIT PhD in, I think, electrical engineering called The Introspection Engine that was published in the Journal of Open Engineering. You can find it online and it’ll go as deep down in the weeds, I promise you, as you want. We take an iPhone six, this was back when it was fairly new and we modified it so we could actually not trust the device to report its own state, but physically monitor its state to see if it was spying on you. But for average people, this is academic, 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.
Edward Snowden: (02:35:19)
It’s doing all of these things because we leave our phones in a state that is constantly on. You’re constantly connected. Airplane mode doesn’t even turn off wifi 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. 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 iOS 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 checked my weather and now I’m done with it. So I don’t want that to be able to talk anymore.”
Edward Snowden: (02:36:14)
We need to be able to make these intelligent decisions on not just an app by app basis, but a connection by connection basis. You want … Let’s say you use Facebook, because for whatever judgment we have, a lot of people might do it. You want it to be able to connect to Facebook’s 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 it to talk to an analytics server that that’s monitoring your behavior, right? You don’t want to talk to all these third party things.
Edward Snowden: (02:36:47)
Because Facebook crams their garbage into almost every app that you download and you don’t even know it’s happening because you can’t see, and this is the problem with the data collection used 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 or whatever, more visible and understandable to the average person, and then give them control over it.
Edward Snowden: (02:37:16)
So 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 of your face, whatever, and then 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. Facebook’s not allowed. Facebook speaking privileges have been revoked, right? You would do that.
Edward Snowden: (02:37:52)
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. That button does not exist right now. And both Google and Apple, unfortunately Apple’s 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 actually aren’t wrong there, but it’s not enough to go, “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.”
Edward Snowden: (02:38:34)
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 a much more simple 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 data’s been breached here, this company is spying on you here, this company’s manipulating your purchases or your search results, or they’re hiding these things from your timeline, or they’re influencing you or manipulating it in all of these different ways.”
Edward Snowden: (02:39:20)
That happens as a result of a single problem, and that problem is an inequality 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, 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.
Joe Rogan: (02:40:01)
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 this situation, it’s very difficult to pull the reigns back. It’s very difficult to turn that horse around.
Edward Snowden: (02:40:28)
Precisely because the money then becomes power, right?
Joe Rogan: (02:40:30)
Edward Snowden: (02:40:30)
The information then becomes influence.
Joe Rogan: (02:40:32)
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.
Edward Snowden: (02:40:43)
Right. Yeah. No, you’re you’re exactly correct and this is the subject of the book. I mean, 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 through society. Remember, back in the day intelligence collection in the United States, even in [inaudible 00:25:24], used to mean sending an FBI agent to put alligator clips on an embassy building or sending in a, somebody disguised as a workman and they put a bug in a building, or they built a satellite listening site. We called these foreign sat or foreign satellite collection. Or out in the desert somewhere they built a big a parabolic collector and it’s just listening to satellite emissions. But 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.
Edward Snowden: (02:42:06)
What changed with technology is that surveillance could now become indiscriminate. It could become a drag net. It could become bulk collection, which should become one of the dirtiest phrases in the language if we have any kind of decency. But we were intentionally … This was intentionally concealed from us, right? The government did it. They used classification. Companies did it. They intentionally didn’t talk about it. They denied these things were going, they said, “You agreed to this.” And you didn’t agree to nothing like this. I’m sorry, right?
Joe Rogan: (02:42:41)
Edward Snowden: (02:42:42)
They go, “We put terms of service page up and you click that.” You clicked a 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 weren’t trying to agree to some 600 page legal form. That, 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 disagreement can be changed at any time unilaterally without your consent by the company.” They have built a legal paradigm that presumes records collected about us do not belong to us. This is 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 this stuff we talk about today, government says everything they do is legal right, and they go, “So, it’s fine.”
Edward Snowden: (02:43:37)
Our prospective as a public should be well, that’s actually the problem, because this isn’t okay. The scandal isn’t how they’re breaking the law. The scandal is 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. A third party doctrine is a legal principle derived from a case in, I believe, the 1970s called Smith versus 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, I don’t know, sit there, heavy breathing, whatever, like a classic creeper. It was terrifying this poor lady. So she calls the cops and says, “One day I got one of these phone calls and then I see this car creeping past my house on the street.” And she got a license plate number.
Edward Snowden: (02:44:32)
So she goes to 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 number’s registered to that house?” And they go to the phone company and they say, “Can you give us this record?” The phone company says, “Yeah, sure.” And it’s the guy. The cops got their man. 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.”
Edward Snowden: (02:45:10)
Sorry, that was the problem was they went to the phone company and they got the records without a warrant. They just asked for it or they subpoenaed it, some lower standard of legal review and the company gave it to them and got the guy, they march him off to jail and they could’ve gotten a warrant. Right. But it was just expedience. They just didn’t want to take the time, it was small town cops. You can understand how it happens. They know the guy’s a creeper, they just want to get them off to jail.
Edward Snowden: (02:45:36)
So they made a mistake, but the government doesn’t want to 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 the 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 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.
Edward Snowden: (02:46:29)
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 remember, this is back in the 1970s. The internet hardly exists in these kinds of contexts. 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 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.
Edward Snowden: (02:47:22)
They go, “Oh, well it’s data collection, right? They’re exploiting data.” This is data about human lives. It is data 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 that’s being manipulated, it’s you that’s being manipulated. And this is something that I think a lot of people are beginning to understand. Now the problem is the companies and the governments are still pretending they don’t understand, or disagreeing with this, and this reminds me of something that one of my old friends, John Perry Barlow, who served with me at the Freedom of The Press Foundation, I’m 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,
Joe Rogan: (02:48:19)
That’s a great expression. That’s a good way to …
Edward Snowden: (02:48:22)
Joe Rogan: (02:48:22)
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.
Edward Snowden: (02:48:32)
Sure. Yes it is. It’s on shelves everywhere, at least until the government finds some other way to ban it. It is called Permanent Record and I hope you will read it. Thank you so much.
Joe Rogan: (02:48:43)
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.
Edward Snowden: (02:49:10)
Oh, it was my pleasure. Thank you so much for having me on.
Joe Rogan: (02:49:12)
Take care of yourself, man. Stay safe.
Edward Snowden: (02:49:14)
[crosstalk 02:49:14]. No, no, no, no, no, no, no.
Joe Rogan: (02:49:16)
No. Don’t stay safe.
Edward Snowden: (02:49:17)
Don’t stay safe.
Joe Rogan: (02:49:18)
[crosstalk 02:49:18] Stay free. Open to possibilities. Take care.
Edward Snowden: (02:49:24)