Edward Joseph Snowden (born June 21, 1983) is an American former technical contractor for the United States National Security Agency (NSA) and a former employee of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) who leaked details of several top-secret U.S. and British government mass surveillance programs to the press. His disclosures revealed numerous global surveillance programs, many run by the NSA and the Five Eyes Intelligence Alliance with the cooperation of telecommunication companies and European governments. Snowden came to international attention after stories based on the material appeared in The Guardian and The Washington Post. Further disclosures were made by other publications including Der Spiegel and The New York Times.
In September 2022, Snowden was granted Russian citizenship by President Vladimir Putin.
- My greatest fear was that no one would listen to my warning. Never have I been so glad to have been so wrong. The reaction in certain countries has been particularly inspiring to me... At the NSA, I witnessed with growing alarm the surveillance of whole populations without any suspicion of wrongdoing, and it threatens to become the greatest human rights challenge of our time. The NSA and other spying agencies... have revoked our right to privacy and broken into our lives. And they did it without asking the public in any country, even their own. Today, if you carry a cell phone in Sao Paolo, the NSA can and does keep track of your location... When someone in Florianopolis visits a website, the NSA keeps a record of when it happened and what you did there... They even keep track of who is having an affair or looking at pornography, in case they need to damage their target's reputation. There is a huge difference between legal programs, legitimate spying, legitimate law enforcement — where individuals are targeted based on a reasonable, individualized suspicion — and these programs of dragnet mass surveillance that put entire populations under an all-seeing eye... These programs were never about terrorism: they're about economic spying, social control, and diplomatic manipulation. They're about power.
- "Edward Snowden's 'open letter to the Brazilian people'" The Guardian (December 17, 2013)
- My act of conscience began with a statement: "I don't want to live in a world where everything that I say, everything I do, everyone I talk to, every expression of creativity or love or friendship is recorded. That's not something I'm willing to support, it's not something I'm willing to build, and it's not something I'm willing to live under." Days later, I was told my government had made me stateless and wanted to imprison me. The price for my speech was my passport, but I would pay it again: I will not be the one to ignore criminality for the sake of political comfort. I would rather be without a state than without a voice... when all of us band together against injustices and in defense of privacy and basic human rights, we can defend ourselves from even the most powerful systems."
- "Edward Snowden's 'open letter to the Brazilian people'" The Guardian (December 17, 2013)
- When we've got these people who have practically limitless powers within a society, if they get a pass without so much as a slap on the wrist, what example does that set for the next group of officials that come into power? To push the lines a little bit further, a little bit further, a little bit further, and we'll realize that we're no longer citizens - we're subjects.
- "When you are in the position privileged access, like a system administrator, you are exposed to a lot more information on a broader scale then the average employee...
- Praxis films (2013)
- The NSA has built an infrastructure that allows it to intercept almost everything. With this capability, the vast majority of human communications are automatically ingested without targeting. If I wanted to see your emails or your wife's phone, all I have to do is use intercepts. I can get your emails, passwords, phone records, credit cards.
I don't want to live in a society that does these sort of things... I do not want to live in a world where everything I do and say is recorded. That is not something I am willing to support or live under.
- "Edward Snowden, NSA files source: 'If they want to get you, in time they will'" The Guardian (June 10, 2013).
- You can't come up against the world's most powerful intelligence agencies and not accept the risk. If they want to get you, over time they will.
- Edward Snowden, NSA files source: 'If they want to get you, in time they will', The Guardian (June 10, 2013).
2013 Christmas Message (December 26, 2013)
- Hi and Merry Christmas. I’m honored to have a chance to speak with you and your family this year. Recently we learned that our governments, working in concert, have created a system of worldwide system of mass surveillance watching everything we do. Great Britain’s George Orwell warned us of the danger of this kind of information.
- The types of collection in the book -– microphones and video cameras, TVs that watch us –- are nothing compared to what we have available today. We have sensors in our pockets that track us everywhere we go. Think about what this means for the privacy of the average person.
- A child born today will grow up with no conception of privacy at all. They’ll never know what it means to have a private moment to themselves an unrecorded, unanalyzed thought. And that’s a problem because privacy matters; privacy is what allows us to determine who we are and who we want to be.
- The conversation occurring today will determine the amount of trust we can place both in the technology that surrounds us and the government that regulates it. Together we can find a better balance, end mass surveillance, and remind the government that if it really wants to know how we feel, asking is always cheaper than spying.
Interview with Glenn Greenwald (June 6, 2013)
Edward Snowden Q and A: NSA whistleblower answers your questions (video), published by The Guardian (June 17, 2013).
- I did not reveal any US operations against legitimate military targets. I pointed out where the NSA has hacked civilian infrastructure such as universities, hospitals, and private businesses because it is dangerous.
- All I can say right now is the US Government is not going to be able to cover this up by jailing or murdering me. Truth is coming, and it cannot be stopped.
- If I were a Chinese spy, why wouldn't I have flown directly into Beijing? I could be living in a palace petting a phoenix by now.
- Being called a traitor by Dick Cheney is the highest honor you can give an American
- This country is worth dying for.
- Seeing someone in the position of James Clapper - the Director of National Intelligence - baldly lying to the public without repercussion is the evidence of a subverted democracy. The consent of the governed is not consent if it is not informed.
- Unfortunately, the mainstream media now seems far more interested in what I said when I was 17 or what my girlfriend looks like rather than, say, the largest program of suspicionless surveillance in human history.
- Bathtub falls and police officers kill more Americans than terrorism, yet we've been asked to sacrifice our most sacred rights for fear of falling victim to it.
- I don't want to live in a world where everything that I say, everything I do, everyone I talk to, every expression of creativity or love or friendship is recorded.
- Edward Snowden: 'The US government will say I aided our enemies' – video interview, published by The Guardian on 8 July 2013.
- The government and intelligence services of the United States of America have attempted to make an example of me, a warning to all others who might speak out as I have. I have been made stateless and hounded for my act of political expression.
- Edward Snowden accuses US of illegal, aggressive campaign in his first appearance in the airport, published by The Guardian 12 July 2013.
- No system of mass surveillance has existed in any society that we know of to this point that has not been abused.
- Interview by Alan Rusbridger and Ewen MacAskill Transcript The Guardian (July 18, 2014)
- There have been times throughout American history where what is right is not the same as what is legal. Sometimes to do the right thing you have to break the law.
- Snowden's first U.S. television interview, to NBC's Brian Williams; Snowden: "Sometimes To Do The Right Thing You Have to Break a Law", Gawker (May 29, 2014)]
No Place to Hide (2014)
- The true measurement of a person's worth isn't what they say they believe in, but what they do in defense of those beliefs. If you're not acting on your beliefs, then they probably aren't real.
- Penguin Books 2015 edition ISBN 978-0-241-97289-2, p. 45.
- It is we who infuse life with meaning through our actions and the stories we create with them.
- Penguin Books 2015 edition, p. 45.
- And history also shows that seemingly ordinary people who are sufficiently resolute about justice can triumph over the most formidable adversaries.
- Penguin Books 2015 edition, p. 46.
- Arguing that you don't care about the right to privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don't care about free speech because you have nothing to say.
- Reddit (May 21, 2015)
- The NSA has the greatest surveillance capabilities that we've ever seen in history. Now, what they will argue, is that they don't use this for nefarious purposes against American citizens. In some ways, that's true but the real problem is that they're using these capabilities to make us vulnerable to them and then saying, 'well I have a gun pointed at your head. I'm not going to pull the trigger. Trust me.'
- Abandoning open society for fear of terrorism is the only way to be defeated by it.
- Twitter (February 9, 2016)
- Privacy is the right to a free mind.
- Saying that you don’t care about the right to privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don’t care about freedom of speech because you have nothing to say. It’s a deeply anti social principle because rights are not just individual, they’re collective, and what may not have value to you today may have value to an entire population, an entire people, an entire way of life tomorrow. And if you don’t stand up for it, then who will?
- Politics: the art of convincing decent people to forget the lesser of two evils is also evil.
- Twitter (June 11, 2016)
- There are no heroes, just heroic decisions
- Joe Rogan Experience #1368 (October 23, 2019)
Snowden Reveals How He Secretly Exposed NSA Criminal Wrongdoing Without Getting Arrested, DemocracyNow!, (September 30, 2019)
- What does the Office of Information Sharing do? Well...Think about someone who’s supposed to know all the secrets to everything... When they say, “I need to know what’s going on with this,” or, “Show me this program,” somebody has to get that, right? They don’t know how to get it themselves. And that means somebody has all the access as these directors have all of these other things... I was sitting, for the first time in my career, really, with absolute awareness, not of the little picture, but the big picture, how all the pieces fit together. And I created a system called the HEARTBEAT... new technological platform... that pulls from all of these different newspapers and says, “Here’s what’s interesting for you, based on who you are,”... a kind of crude proof of concept system to do this... this meant that I now was sitting on top of a mountain of secrets. And it turned out that a lot of those secrets were criminal. So now I had to find a way to collect the evidence of wrongdoing, get it out of one of the most highly secured buildings on the planet...and somehow get it to journalists without getting caught.
- I think some of the reporting that WikiLeaks has done is tremendously important, both for the historic record and also for contemporary politics... what had happened in the wake of the 2009 Manning disclosures — this is where WikiLeaks published the “Collateral Murder” video of U.S. helicopter pilots killing not just a journalist, but also the first responders that came to their aid, and the classified histories of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the State Department’s diplomatic cables, that in some ways are argued to have sort of helped spark or at least catalyze the Arab Spring movement. What had happened is, in the early parts of WikiLeaks’ reporting, they worked in concert with newspapers, with sort of The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Guardian, Der Spiegel — major newspapers. angered the troops” — which has never borne out, by the way. We’re now more than 10 years on from those activities, and the government, even at Chelsea Manning’s trial, after they’ve convicted her, the government was invited by the judge to show evidence of harm, and they couldn’t show anyone was harmed as a result of the disclosures.
- The end of it, the finish line, was you’ve delivered the secret to journalists, that the government has violated the rights of Americans and the Constitution of the United States. They can then publish that information, and that was the end of the process... And so, then, when the story comes out — and my biggest fear was this was going to be a two-day story that everybody stopped talking about, it just blew over, the government sort of suppressed it — it became the biggest story on the planet that year. Suddenly, everybody was interested... The government made me public enemy number one. I was the most wanted man in the world. It was a question of: “All right, what now?” And I didn’t really have an idea... I talked with lawyers that were introduced to me by the journalists — human rights lawyers — and tried to plan my next stage....I talked to the United Nations. And ultimately, the United Nations came back and went..."...the U.S. has enormous sway in our organization. They pay an enormous amount of our budget. And the U.S. gets what the U.S. wants. We probably can’t help you...”
- It turns out "Hey Alexa" is short for "Hey Keith Alexander." Yes, the Keith Alexander personally responsible for the unlawful mass surveillance programs that caused a global scandal. And Amazon Web Services (AWS) host ~6% of all websites.
- Twitter (September 9, 2020)·
- There's good cops out there. I had a lot of interactions with cops as a young man that were nothing but positive. It's not that the police as an idea are the enemy. It is the system is that is rotten... i think even honest cops recognize that the system is fundamentally broken.... There are a lot of cops who've given their lives to stop very bad people... we should honor them... we should provide for their families... but the way that we do that is by providing a better society that's more fair to police by being more fair to everyone...
As long as we have an occupation that is invested with extreme authority, they must be invested with an extraordinary standard of accountability. It's that simple from my perspective.... Today in the world of business.. government... policing... anywhere you look it's a common issue. What we have is a disproportionate allocation of influence... of economic resources... a disproportionate allocation of authority without an equal allocation of responsibility. (~2:09:10)
- Joe Rogan Experience #1536 (September 15, 2020)
- I grew up in the shadow of government. Both my parents worked for the government, and I expected that I would, as well. September 11th happened when I was 18 years old... And when everybody else was protesting the Iraq War, I was volunteering to join it. And that’s because I believed the things that the government was saying — not all of them, of course, but I believed that the government was mostly honest, because it seemed to me unreasonable that the government would be willing to risk sort of our long-term faith in the institution of government for short-term political advantage. As I said, I was a very young man. And I ended up going to work for the CIA undercover overseas out in the diplomatic platforms. Then I moved into contracting... because most people go into contracting still working for the government in these classified spaces because you make basically twice as much for the same work....
- When you first enter on duty at the CIA, they take you in a dark room. It’s a very solemn ceremony. You raise your hand and say, you know, "I," — state your name, whatever — "do solemnly swear to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic." They talk about the oath of secrecy. There is no oath of secrecy. There is a Standard Form 312, classified nondisclosure agreement... that you sign, which is what they’re actually referring to, but it's not an oath.... you do take this oath of service, as they describe it... What happens when you have conflicting obligations? On one hand, you’re supposed to keep these secrets of government... The fact that the government is breaking the law is itself a secret. But when the government's lawbreaking is a violation of the Constitution that you entered into duty to uphold, what then do you do? ...I talked to my colleagues. I talked to my bosses.... Many of them agreed that it was wrong, but they said, "You know, it’s not my job to fix it. It’s not your job, either." ...Everybody knew the government was going to be extremely unhappy... But, for me, I felt that I had an obligation to do this. And so I gathered information that I believed was evidence of unlawful or unconstitutional activities.
- When I came forward in 2013, I said the reason that I came forward was that we have a right to know that which is done to us and that which is done in our name by our governments. That was already under threat. And when you look at the world since, it seems that that trend is accelerating. Do we still have that right? Do we have any rights if we don’t defend them? Well, today we see someone who has stood up to defend that right, who has aggressively championed that right, at an extreme cost. And it’s time for us to defend his rights.
- As quoted in Free Julian Assange: Snowden, Varoufakis, Corbyn & Tariq Ali Speak Out Ahead of Extradition Hearing, Democracy Now!, (October 25, 2021)
- If you love the truth, as I think everyone here does — you wouldn’t be listening to this, you wouldn’t be watching this, you wouldn’t be participating in this, you wouldn’t care about this, unless something in you told you that something important was happening here... We are unindicted co-conspirators in his quest to raise a lantern in the halls of power.
- As quoted in Free Julian Assange: Snowden, Varoufakis, Corbyn & Tariq Ali Speak Out Ahead of Extradition Hearing, Democracy Now!, (October 25, 2021)
Quotes about Snowden
- In alphabetical order according to author or source.
- [Snowden] betrayed the trust and confidence we had in him. This was an individual with top secret clearance whose duty it was to administer these networks. He betrayed that confidence and stole some of our secrets.
- Keith B. Alexander, NSA General Keith Alexander: 'Snowden betrayed us', BBC News (June 23, 2013).
- I think I have just read about the man for which I have waited. Earmarks of a real hero.
- He's obviously violated the laws of America, for which he's responsible, but I think the invasion of human rights and American privacy has gone too far ... I think that the secrecy that has been surrounding this invasion of privacy has been excessive, so I think that the bringing of it to the public notice has probably been, in the long term, beneficial.
- Jimmy Carter, "Father proposes deal for Snowden's voluntary return", CNN (June 30, 2013).
- Snowden did what he did because he recognised the NSA's surveillance programs for what they are: dangerous, unconstitutional activity. This wholesale invasion of Americans' and foreign citizens' privacy does not contribute to our security; it puts in danger the very liberties we're trying to protect.
- Daniel Ellsberg, "Edward Snowden: saving us from the United Stasi of America", The Guardian (June 10, 2013).
- He's a fugitive, not as Secretary Kerry says from justice — he's a fugitive from injustice. He has no chance of a fair, just trial in this country.
- Daniel Ellsberg, "Pentagon Papers Whistleblower: Snowden Won't Get a Fair Trial" NBC News (May 30, 2014)
- While we can see Snowden’s experience as an instructional primer on both the value of whistleblowers and the costs of vilifying them, there are elements of his story—fed by the character assassination reprisal tactics of the government—that perpetuate many of the misperceptions about whistleblowers and contribute to the view that whistleblowers are problems to be addressed, rather than potential solutions. Snowden’s case also typifies the most egregious manifestations of the institutional belief that whistleblowers are problems to be addressed rather than sources of risk management and mechanisms for promoting compliance—the focus on the “messenger” rather than the “message.”
- Dana Gold "Snowden, Institutional Corruption & the 'Vilified Whistleblower'" Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, Harvard (October 17, 2014)
- The corporate press' "myths" include “that Edward Snowden is a Russian spy,” Greenwald noted. "While he was in Hong Kong . . . what was being said with the same authoritative tone: 'It’s very obvious: Edward Snowden is a Chinese spy.' When he ended up being trapped in Moscow, the very same people who’d said that, their accusations instantly morphed into, 'Of course, he’s a Russian spy,' without any acknowledgement they’d been saying something profoundly different just weeks earlier."
...This character assassination includes the allegation that Snowden’s motive for leaking NSA classified information is due to his being “a narcissist”—although after initially coming forward Snowden turned down numerous interview requests from top media outlets, which, Greenwald quipped, is a strange way for someone craving attention to behave...He also defended Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning, whom he said had been smeared in the press for blowing the whistle....Maligning dissidents as deviant or mentally ill is a technique repressive regimes use to marginalize dissenters, Greenwald said, the rationale being that only crazy people would resist the status quo, while normal, well-adjusted people support it. He added that those reporters who are professional flatterers of the powers-that-be can’t understand someone acting and taking risks due to “conscience” because they are cowards minus consciences.
- "Glenn Greenwald Speaks Out" PR Watch (June 20, 2014)
- [Snowden] has joined the ranks of the hunted and the persecuted because he named and documented the crimes of the state. His defiance of the control and monitoring of our lives by the security and surveillance makes him an American hero.
- Chris Hedges, "New Yorkers Declare 'I Stand With Edward Snowden': Dozens Rally & Draw Positive Media Attention for NSA Whistleblower", The Sparrow Project (June 10, 2013).
- Our democracy, as Snowden I think has revealed, has become a fiction. The state, through elaborate forms of political theater, seeks to maintain this fiction to keep us passive. And if we wake up, the state will not shy away from draconian measures. The goal is complete subjugation, the iron rule of our corporations and our power elite.
- Moral courage ... is always defined by the state as treason. ... It is the courage to act and speak the truth. Thompson had it. Daniel Ellsberg had it. Malcolm X had it. Martin Luther King had it. What those in authority once said about them they say today about Snowden.
- Our governments feel threatened by Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden, and Julian Assange, because they are whistleblowers, journalists, and human rights activists who have provided solid evidence for the abuse, corruption, and war crimes of the powerful, for which they are now being systematically defamed and persecuted. They are the political dissidents of the West, and their persecution is today’s witch-hunt, because they threaten the privileges of unsupervised state power that has gone out of control. The cases of Manning, Snowden, Assange and others are the most important test of our time for the credibility of Western rule of law and democracy and our commitment to human rights.... It is about the integrity of the rule of law, the credibility of our democracies and, ultimately, about our own human dignity and the future of our children.
- As head of state and government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela I have decided to offer humanitarian asylum to the young US citizen Edward Snowden so he can come to the fatherland of Bolivar and Chavez to live away from the imperial North American persecution.
- Nicolás Maduro, "Bolivia, Venezuela and Nicaragua offer Snowden asylum", BBC News (July 6, 2013).
- I'm not going to be scrambling jets to get a 29-year-old hacker.
- We are open, respectful of the right to asylum, and it is clear that if circumstances permit it, we would receive Snowden with pleasure and give him asylum here in Nicaragua.
- Daniel Ortega, "Bolivia, Venezuela and Nicaragua offer Snowden asylum", BBC News (July 6, 2013).
- [Snowden]'s done a great service, because he's telling the truth and this is what we are starved for. The American people are starved for the truth. And when you have a dictatorship or an authoritarian government, truth becomes treasonous. For somebody to tell the American people the truth is a heroic effort.
- Ron Paul, "For somebody to tell the American people the truth is a heroic effort...he knows it's risky", Piers Morgan - CNN, 10 June 2013.
- WikiLeaks has achieved far more than what The New York Times and The Washington Post in their celebrated incarnations did. No newspaper has come close to matching the secrets and lies of power that Assange and Snowden have disclosed. That both men are fugitives is indicative of the retreat of liberal democracies from principles of freedom and justice. Why is WikiLeaks a landmark in journalism? Because its revelations have told us, with 100 per cent accuracy, how and why much of the world is divided and run.
- I suggest... we look beyond this virus and ask how our current state of fear and its mass obedience will be exploited in future. Will the workers 'stood down' ever see their jobs again? Will artificial intelligence consume freedoms that have been suspended? As Edward Snowden says, the disease of mass surveillance will outlast this pandemic.
- John Pilger quoted in Ed Peters "John Pilger on 50 years spent shining a light into humanity’s darkest corners" South China Morning Post (May 9, 2020)
- In a call with reporters hosted by the Freedom of the Press Foundation on Tuesday, board member John Cusack expressed his umbrage with the media’s “character assassination” of Edward Snowden and neglect of The Real Issues. “Why are the red and blue elites in the establishment press so afraid of an informed public?” he asked rhetorically. “Why do they keep changing the subject?” “Have the establishment media been so co-opted by government access that they’ve lost all sense of proportionality?”
- Emma Roller "John Cusack Has Had It up to Here With the Establishment Media" Slate (July 2, 2013)
- To me Snowden is a hero because he revealed secrets that we should all know, that the United States has repeatedly violated the fourth amendment. He should be welcomed and offered asylum. But he has no place to hide because every country is intimidated by the United States.
- Oliver Stone, "Oliver Stone defends Edward Snowden over NSA revelations", The Guardian (July 5, 2013).
- I think Snowden has done a service ... I wouldn’t have had the courage, and maybe not even the intellectual capacity, to do it the way he did it ... There’s a logic to what he has done that is impressive ... He really has refrained from anything that was truly dangerous, with regard to our security — regardless of what people say. He has been circumspect about what he's released, how he's released it, who he's released it to. It’s clear to me from listening to his personal statements — I think those are important — that he did have a genuinely altruistic motive for doing it.
- Lawrence Wilkerson cited by Ben Norton in "'Snowden has done a service': Former Bush official Lawrence Wilkerson applauds the Whistleblower", Salon (March 24, 2016)