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NSA Leaker Snowden Defends Actions In Live Web Chat


This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

The man who admits he leaked top secret information about the government's surveillance program has been taking questions from the public today. Edward Snowden joined a live webcast hosted by The Guardian newspaper. The session lasted a couple of hours, and in that time, Snowden offered up his answers to some of the basic questions about the controversy.

NPR's Dina Temple-Raston has been reading the back and forth and joins us now. And, Dina, I gather Edward Snowden is still in Hong Kong - that answers one question. Did he say why he went to Hong Kong?

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON, BYLINE: Well, he said that NSA employees have to declare their foreign travel 30 days in advance and they're closely monitored. And he said he was worried he'd be stopped en route, so he had to travel with no advance booking. Now, there's been a lot of speculation that the reason he went to Hong Kong was because Snowden was working out some deal with the Chinese.

He said unequivocally in his Web chat that he hasn't spoken to any Chinese government officials. And then he added that if he had had a deal with the Chinese, he'd be in Beijing right now and in his words, living in a palace petting a Phoenix.

SIEGEL: Petting a Phoenix.


SIEGEL: Well, one of the claims Snowden has made in the past is that he could have hacked into President Obama's email if he had the address. And U.S. officials have disputed that. What did he say about that today?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, I think he and U.S. officials are talking past each other a little bit. When U.S. officials said he couldn't, for example, hack into private emails, I think they were discussing that in terms of his not being allowed to do that. From a policy perspective, he said an analyst is not allowed to do that. But from a technology perspective, an analyst could get just about anything he or she wanted - emails, cell phone numbers, user IDs - and that's quite a bit of information.

And Snowden said audits, which are supposed to make sure no one is looking at something they shouldn't be looking at, were, in his words, cursory and incomplete. And he said analysts could just use fake justifications to say why they were looking at some particular file they weren't supposed to be looking at.

You know, when I was reporting on this story and talked to people who are trying to figure out what Snowden may have taken from the classified network, they say he had access to much more than a regular analyst because he was an IT guy. And they say that there aren't physical safeguards, like needing two people or two passwords, to get into various databases and there probably should be. So that means that Snowden may have had access to a great deal of classified information.

SIEGEL: So, is he still releasing more documents? And did he give any hints about what might become public next?

TEMPLE-RASTON: He said specifically that there would be more detail on how the NSA accesses personal information. What's been interesting so far is how closely linked to news events some of these releases have been. The Chinese president comes to the U.S. and just before a meeting with President Obama, The Guardian released details about U.S. cyber policy. And then, as President Obama goes to Europe for a Group of Eight Summit, there's this new leak of classified documents that indicates that the U.S. and Britain stole secrets from foreign diplomats during the G20 summit in London, a couple years ago in 2009.

So that adds a different twist to this. He clearly has enough documents that releases can be pegged to news events. And that's a little different than what we've seen from these leaks in the past.

SIEGEL: OK. Thank you. Dina.

TEMPLE-RASTON: You're welcome.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Dina Temple-Raston. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Dina Temple-Raston is a correspondent on NPR's Investigations team focusing on breaking news stories and national security, technology and social justice.
Robert Siegel
Prior to his retirement, Robert Siegel was the senior host of NPR's award-winning evening newsmagazine All Things Considered. With 40 years of experience working in radio news, Siegel hosted the country's most-listened-to, afternoon-drive-time news radio program and reported on stories and happenings all over the globe, and reported from a variety of locations across Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, and Asia. He signed off in his final broadcast of All Things Considered on January 5, 2018.