30-year-old American Edward Snowden, a contract employee at the National Security Agency, is the whistleblower behind significant revelations that surfaced in June 2013 about the US government's top secret, extensive domestic surveillance programmes. Snowden flew to Hong Kong from Hawaii in May 2013, and supplied confidential US government documents to media outlets including the Guardian.
Snowden blames broken Obama promises for NSA leak
NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden cited US President Barack Obama's failure to live up to campaign promises as motivation for him to leak thousands of classified documents.
In a live-chat with the public on The Guardian's website on Monday, Snowden singled out the US detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, which Obama had vowed to close, as an example of a broken promise.
“Obama’s campaign promises and election gave me faith that he would lead us toward fixing the problems he outlined in his quest for votes. Many Americans felt similarly," he said in reponse to reader questions.
"Unfortunately, shortly after assuming power, he closed the door on investigating systemic violations of law, deepened and expanded several abusive programmes, and refused to spend the political capital to end the kind of human rights violations like we see in Guantanamo, where men still sit without charge.”
Snowden was bullish about the prospect of the US administration taking action against him.
“If the Obama administration responds with an even harsher hand against me, they can be assured that they'll soon find themselves facing an equally harsh public response,” he said.
This comes despite the results of a new Pew Research poll showing that a majority of respondents think the US government should pursue a criminal case against Snowden for his disclosures.
Despite the harsh words Snowden had for the Obama administration, he did suggest that it might not be too late for Obama to change course and redeem himself in his eyes:
“[Obama] still has plenty of time to go down in history as the president who looked into the abyss and stepped back, rather than leaping forward into it.”
In an interview that is to air on Monday evening in the US - hours after Snowden's Q&A - Obama offered a robust defence of the surveillance programmes, saying they were “transparent”.
“If you’re a US person, then NSA is not listening to your phone calls and it’s not targeting your e-mails unless it’s getting an individualised court order. That’s the existing rule,” Obama said.
Obama also maintained that the surveillance programmes “have disrupted [terrorist] plots, not just here in the United States but overseas as well”.
Responding to interviewer Charlie Rose's assertion that he seemed to be saying that he had no problem with the NSA surveillance programme, Obama responded: “I don't.”
Obama asserted that if US intelligence or law-enforcement agencies wanted to access “content”, they had to go to a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance court (Fisa) and get a warrant.