Here is the full transcript of British journalist Luke Harding’s TEDx Talk on The Snowden Files: The Inside Story of the World’s Most Wanted Man at TEDxAthens conference.
(Video) Edward Snowden: The NSA specifically targets the communications of everyone. It ingests them by default.
Barack Obama: The U.S. is not spying on ordinary people, who don’t threaten our national security.
Edward Snowden: I’m just another guy, who sits there day to day in the office watching what’s happening, and goes, this is something that’s not our place to decide, the public needs to decide whether these programs and policies are right or wrong. It’s entirely appropriate for a program to exist, to look at foreign data.
Alan Rusbridger: What Snowden is trying to draw attention to is the degree to which we are on a road to total surveillance.
Andrew Parker: The work we do is addressing directly threats to this country, to our way of life, to this country and to people who live here.
Edward Snowden: You can’t come forward against the world’s most powerful intelligence agencies and be completely free from risk, because they are such powerful adversaries that no one can meaningfully oppose them. If they want to get you, they’ll get you in time.
News anchor: ….that it was the Prime Minister who instructed Britain’s most senior civil servant to tell The Guardian newspaper to destroy a computer, which held files from the whistleblower Edward Snowden.
Alan Rusbridger: We were faced effectively with an ultimatum from the British Government that if we didn’t hand back the material or destroy it, they would move to law. I didn’t think that we had Snowden’s consent to hand the material back and I didn’t want to help the UK authorities know what he’d given us.
Female reporter: The paper which had other copies of the Snowden files overseas, agreed to take an angle grinder to the computer, while the intelligence agents watched. I think the plain fact is that what has happened, has damaged national security and in many ways, The Guardian themselves admitted that when they agreed, when asked politely by my national security adviser and cabinet secretary, to destroy the files they had, they went ahead and destroyed those files.
Reporter: In America, the White House spokesman was asked, “Would Obama ever do such a thing?”
Josh Earnest: It’s very difficult to imagine a scenario in which that would be appropriate.
Man: I love this country, do you love this country? How do you answer that question?
Alan Rusbridger: We live in a democracy and most of the people working on this story are British people who have families in this country, who love this country. I am slightly surprised to be asked the question. But yes, we are patriots and one of the things we are patriotic about is the nature of the democracy, the nature of free press and the fact that one can in this country discuss and report these things.
Edward Snowden: I think that the public is owed an explanation of the motivations behind the people who made these disclosures that are outside of the democratic model. When you are subverting the power of government that’s a fundamentally dangerous thing to democracy.
Barack Obama: In this directive, I have taken the unprecedented step of extending certain protections that we have to the American people to people overseas, which will limit the duration that we can hold personal information while also restricting the use of this information.
Edward Snowden: 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. – Video concludes]
Luke Harding – British Journalist
Hello, it’s terrific to be here in Athens. I can’t believe that Theo stole my T-shirt, but, anyway… It’s great to be here, my name is Luke Harding. I’m a journalist from The Guardian and I’m one of the reporters who worked on the incredible Edward Snowden story.
And I think if I were standing here in front of you two years ago, or I’d sort of try to sell this as book idea to my literary agent and I’d said, “There’s a 29 year-old American, he lives in Hawaii, he works for the National Security Agency, the world’s most secret spying organization. Oh, his girlfriend is a pole dancer, he’s stolen hundreds of thousands of top secret documents and fled to Hong Kong where he’s given them to journalists.”
I think my literary agent would have said, “Luke, that is just so ridiculous. That would never ever happen.” But actually that’s precisely what did happen.
In 2012, Edward Snowden then completely obscure, now of course world famous, decided he was going to blow the whistle. He was becoming increasingly disillusioned with American spying, and he felt that in the years after 9/11, the enormously powerful American security state had stopped spying on the bad guys, on terrorists, on Al-Qaeda, and has started spying on everybody, on you, on American citizens, on Europeans and so on. And so he came up with this incredible plan basically to share secret information. He decided he’d leak it to journalists. The problem was, he was in Hawaii; he didn’t know any journalists. But he liked Glenn Greenwald, who blogs on civil liberties and was a columnist in The Guardian.
In autumn of 2012, he sent a very cryptic email to Glenn Greenwald saying, “I’m a senior member of the intelligence community, I may have something of interest.” And I interviewed Glenn for my book in Rio de Janeiro and Glenn is one of these people who is perennially busy. He lives in the tropical rain forest, he and his partner have got about 12 stray dogs. You talk to him, he’s on the phone, he’s got four chat windows open, he’s got a kind of mutts jumping on his head. And he saw the email.
He didn’t really do anything about it. And then Snowden tried again a couple of weeks later. He made an encryption video, a kind of tutorial for dummies for Glenn Greenwald to try to reach through to him. Showed him how to download encryption software, said that you need a very good password whenever you are doing anything digital. And Snowden came up with a suggestion, which was and I kid you not, “Margaret Thatcher is 100% sexy.” I don’t know if Greece can remember Margaret Thatcher, but I assure you that it’s not true. But, anyway, Margaret Thatcher is 100% sexy.
And incredibly Glenn didn’t do it. So Snowden, who was basically trying to leak more intelligence material than anyone in history, must have been deeply frustrated and he tried a different track, which was to reach out Laura Poitras, who was a documentary filmmaker based in Berlin, whom he trusted and they had a very ginger correspondence, because Laura was worried she was being entrapped. Showden called himself Citizenfour and they swapped information.
He basically explained that he felt American spying was unconstitutional that it was illegal and wanted to meet and to do something about it. Basically events of the beginning of last year went into fast forward by the spring of last year, Snowden was ready to do this leak and told Laura he would meet her. And Laura flew to the US with Glenn and a third member, a wonderful colleague of mine, called Ewen MacAskill. He’s a Scottish reporter on The Guardian. I don’t know if you watch Star Trek in Greece, but he sounds like Scotty, the original Scotsman from Star Trek. He says kind of “aye” rather than “yes.” But he is also a brilliant reporter.