A fortnight or so ago, in an interview with the Guardian newspaper, the former NSA Contractor and whistleblower, Edward Snowden, set out the legal basis for a possible Presidential pardon. Although most of those who have only become familiar with Snowden’s case through widely circulated publications, such as the Guardian, will be unaware of this, Snowden’s attempts to use Human Rights legislation in particular as grounds for a possible reprieve appear to have begun as early as September 2014. In an earlier interview with Lawrence Lessig of the Harvard Law School, which took place on 23 Oct 2014, exactly one month after the publication of a report by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, on 23 September 2014, Snowden had raised the issue of mass surveillance programs, which violate Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; in the specific context of what he himself had done.
‘It was not that I saw a particular program and I had an axe to grind,’ he said, ‘it was that broadly I was witness to massive violations of our Constitution, they were happening in secret, and that they were happening as a result of a broad breakdown throughout the branches of government.’ Elsewhere, in another interview, which had made its appearance in the landmark documentary ‘Chasing Edward Snowden’, the whistleblower had described the agencies he had previously been working for as being involved in the systematic ‘violation of the rights of an entire nation without even a law to lean on’.
Paragraph 9 of Section IIIa of the UN Special Rapporteur’s report sums up Edward Snowden’s reservations about what he was doing whilst working as a contractor for the NSA as follows:
‘States with high levels of Internet penetration can thus gain access to the telephone and e-mail content of an effectively unlimited number of users and maintain an overview of Internet activity associated with particular websites. All of this is possible without any prior suspicion related to a specific individual or organization. The communications of literally every Internet user are potentially open for inspection by intelligence and law enforcement agencies in the States concerned. This amounts to a systematic interference with the right to respect for the privacy of communications, and requires a correspondingly compelling justification.’
The particular mass surveillance program that Snowden had exposed, in the specific context of what he saw as the violation of US Constitutional Rights on an industrial scale, was that of ‘Stellar Wind’, which had, some twelve years earlier, stimulated a similar gut reaction from former NSA senior executive and whistleblower Thomas Drake. ‘I blew the whistle on the secret surveillance program called Stellar Wind,’ Drake told the makers of another seminal Hacktivist documentary, ‘Hacker Wars’, in the wake of the release of hacker and internet troll Andrew Auernheimer from prison in April 2014. In the same interview Drake described Stellar Wind as the ‘foundational surveillance program(s)’ that ‘ultimately Edward Snowden twelve years later’ was at that time disclosing ‘through reporters and journalists.’
Like Snowden, Drake was to fall foul of the US Legal System. ‘The government went ahead and prosecuted me under the Espionage Act. It was a ten felony count indictment I faced thirty-five years in prison.’ In June 2011 however, following the broadcast of a tv documentary presented by Scott Pelley on May 22nd, the government dropped the case. In spite of the fact that the government had failed to obtain a conviction, and in spite of the fact that there are many similarities between Drake’s own personal stand on Stellar Wind and that of Edmund Snowden, many in the upper echelons of the US Intelligence Community still want Snowden prosecuted.
Amongst the most vociferous of those who want to see Snowden behind bars is retired United States Air Force four-star general Michael Hayden, whose many high level posts, within the very strata of the power structure against which Snowden has specifically spoken out, have included former Director of the National Security Agency, Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence, and Director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Hayden is on record as saying unequivocally, in relation to Snowden, that ‘So many people like me would not contemplate amnesty or plea bargaining or anything else to bring Snowden back…..’ The reasons for this, according to Hayden, revolve around the fact that ‘There are a hundred thousand people in the American intelligence community who didn’t violate their oath of office.’
In view of this then, it would perhaps be wise for Snowden to use last October’s report by David Kaye, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, as the basis for any personal representation to the United States Government in relation his own specific case. Assuming that is that he and his partner still actually want to return to the United States in the present political climate. Although Oliver Stone’s newly released biopic of the NSA Whistleblower, and the Guardian publicity campaign that is accompanying it, is likely to generate huge amounts of interest in Edward Snowden among the population at large, those whose machinations have been exposed as a direct result of his activities seem determined to exact their revenge.
Having begun his career as a junior researcher at Thames Television in London, he has written for a wide range of publications including 'The Brighton Reporter', 'Durham Town and Country', 'The Brighton and Hove People' and 'The New Celtic Review'. As an exhibited film maker he has been a regular contributor and award nominee at the Portobello Film Festival in London; and has seen his work shown at the annual London Film Makers' Convention at the prestigious Round House Theatre.
As well as receiving enthusiastic reviews from BBC Radio 4 and others for his book on Sir Walter Scott, his pioneering work as an Underground Film Maker on the fledgeling Goa Trance Scene has set him in a field of his own amongst many of his contemporaries; both in the UK, where he presently resides, and elsewhere. Current projects presently in hand include a book centred on his 'Legendary London' series of documentary films, which have stimulated an enthusiastic response from the likes of Glenda Jackson and others; and a novel set in France and Edinburgh during the eighteenth century Scottish Enlightenment.
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