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NSA Whistleblower: More Details on NSA Surveillance Programs Coming

NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden remained defiant in an online question and answer session hosted today by the Guardian newspaper.

"More detail on how direct NSA's accesses are is coming, but in general, the reality is this: if an NSA, FBI, CIA, DIA, etc analyst has access to query raw SIGINT databases, they can enter and get results for anything they want," Snowden wrote. "Phone number, email, user id, cell phone handset id (IMEI), and so on - it's all the same. The restrictions against this are policy based, not technically based, and can change at any time. Additionally, audits are cursory, incomplete, and easily fooled by fake justifications. For at least GCHQ, the number of audited queries is only 5 percent of those performed."

Snowden has been at the center of a battleground between privacy rights and the intelligence community's secret data gathering efforts for the past month. Snowden leaked details of a NSA electronic surveillance program known as PRISM, as well as an initiative called 'Boundless Informant' and a court order requesting a business division of Verizon Communications give up metadata about its customers' phone calls on an ongoing basis.

Snowden left his job working at Booz Allen Hamilton as a NSA contractor and fled to Hong Kong, where he began leaking information about NSA surveillance programs in what he described as a crisis of conscious caused by the growing surveillance capabilities of the U.S. government.

"It was seeing a continuing litany of lies from senior officials to Congress - and therefore the American people - and the realization that that Congress, specifically the Gang of Eight, wholly supported the lies that compelled me to act," he wrote.

The Gang of Eight is a colloquial term for a group of members of Congress who are briefed on intelligence matters.

"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."

His disclosures triggered a wave of denials by technology giants such as Facebook and Google. The companies denied giving the NSA direct access to its servers, and stated they only responded to legal government requests to share information. In the days since then, a handful of companies, including Microsoft and Apple, have released limited information about government requests for user data.  

"Their denials went through several revisions as it become more and more clear they were misleading and included identical, specific language across companies," Snowden wrote. "As a result of these disclosures and the clout of these companies, we're finally beginning to see more transparency and better details about these programs for the first time since their inception."

In response to a reader's question about his fleeing to Hong Kong, Snowden accused the U.S. government of destroying any chance for him to get a fair trial in the United States. He added that he did not reveal any U.S. operations against "legitimate military targets," only pointing out where the NSA had hacked civil infrastructure such as universities and hospitals.

"These nakedly, aggressively criminal acts are wrong no matter the target," he wrote.

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