Former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden spoke with HBO’s John Oliver in Moscow recently, and one exchange stood out amid the discussion of Hot Pockets and nude photos.
“How many of those documents have you actually read?” Oliver asked, referring to the estimated 200,000 NSA documents Snowden stole and turned over to journalists in Hong Kong.
“I have evaluated all of the documents in the archive,” Snowden replied.
“You’ve read every single one?”
“Well, I do understand what I turned over.”
“There’s a difference between understanding what’s in the documents and reading what’s in the documents,” Oliver countered.
“I understand the concern,” Snowden said.
Oliver was right to press Snowden, especially considering what Snowden told The Guardian in June 2013.
“I carefully evaluated every single document I disclosed to ensure that each was legitimately in the public interest,” Snowden said. “There are all sorts of documents that would have made a big impact that I didn’t turn over, because harming people isn’t my goal. Transparency is.”
Based on the HBO interview, that claim is not true.
One thing that is clear from @iamjohnoliver interview with #Snowden: Ed did not read all the documents he handed over. That’s a clear lie.
— Tom Nichols (@RadioFreeTom) April 6, 2015
What about the rest?
And then there are the documents Snowden stole but didn’t give to journalists.
While working at two consecutive jobs in Hawaii from March 2012 to May 2013, the 31-year-old allegedly stole about 200,000 “tier 1 and 2” documents that mostly detailed the NSA’s global surveillance apparatus and were given to American journalists Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras in June 2013.
The US government believes Snowden also took up to 1.5 million “tier 3” documents potentially detailing US capabilities and NSA offensive cyber operations. The whereabouts of those documents remains unknown.
Snowden doesn’t talk about the second cache of documents anymore.
In October 2013, James Risen of The New York Times reported the former CIA technician said over encrypted chat that “he gave all of the classified documents he had obtained to journalists he met in Hong Kong.” (ACLU lawyer and Snowden legal adviser Ben Wizner later told Business Insider the report was inaccurate.)
In May 2014, Snowden then told NBC’s Brian Williams in Moscow that he “destroyed” all documents in his possession while in Hong Kong.
The only reporting on this second cache of documents came when Snowden provided information revealing “operational details of specific attacks on computers, including internet protocol (IP) addresses, dates of attacks and whether a computer was still being monitored remotely” to Lana Lam of South China Morning Post.
“I did not release them earlier because I don’t want to simply dump huge amounts of documents without regard to their content,” Snowden told the Hong Kong paper in a June 12 interview. “I have to screen everything before releasing it to journalists.”
He added: “If I have time to go through this information, I would like to make it available to journalists in each country to make their own assessment.”
Eleven days later, on June 23, Snowden flew from Hong Kong to Moscow.
Here’s the video. The exchange starts at 19:43:
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