spy games

Edward Snowden Is Not Petting a Phoenix in a Chinese Palace, and Other Revelations From His Online Chat

National Security Agency installation in Fort Meade, Maryland January 25, 2006.
Photo: Brooks Kraft/ Corbis

International man of mystery Edward Snowden, still on the lam somewhere, took time away from sitting around nervously to answer reader questions on the Guardian’s website this afternoon, doubling down on his troubling assertions about the NSA’s mostly unchecked power and pushing back against the possibility that he’s a Chinese spy. Asked if he “[has] or will provide classified US information to the Chinese or other governments in exchange for asylum,” Snowden wrote, “This is a predictable smear that I anticipated before going public, as the US media has a knee-jerk ‘RED CHINA!’ reaction to anything involving HK or the PRC, and is intended to distract from the issue of US government misconduct. Ask yourself: 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.”

He delivered many more colorful answers and a bit of new information.

Asked later for a more direct response on collaborating with the Chinese government, Snowden said, “No. I have had no contact with the Chinese government. Just like with the Guardian and the Washington Post, I only work with journalists.”

But then he slammed the media, in response to a question about the “public debate” he’s spurred so far:

Initially I was very encouraged. 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.

On the topic of analysts listening in on domestic calls without a warrant, Snowden claimed a reality in direct contradiction to what the administration has said publicly:

NSA likes to use “domestic” as a weasel word here for a number of reasons. The reality is that due to the FISA Amendments Act and its section 702 authorities, Americans’ communications are collected and viewed on a daily basis on the certification of an analyst rather than a warrant. They excuse this as “incidental” collection, but at the end of the day, someone at NSA still has the content of your communications. Even in the event of “warranted” intercept, it’s important to understand the intelligence community doesn’t always deal with what you would consider a “real” warrant like a Police department would have to, the “warrant” is more of a templated form they fill out and send to a reliable judge with a rubber stamp.

And he did not shy away from other grand pronouncements. Question: “How many sets of the documents you disclosed did you make, and how many different people have them? If anything happens to you, do they still exist?” Answer:

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.

Question: “What would you say to others who are in a position to leak classified information that could improve public understanding of the intelligence apparatus of the USA and its effect on civil liberties?” Answer:

This country is worth dying for.

Edward Snowden’s Best Guardian Q&A Responses