Based on your experience, talk to me about Snowden’s decision to turn himself in. Would it have been possible for Snowden to hide out?
He exposed himself, which is one of the unique things here. Once you are flagged though, even if he hadn’t turned himself in…the system is so vast in terms of your digital footprint it wouldn’t have taken long to find him…Could he totally go off the grid and disappear? The system itself would have been alerted. He would have had less time to hide out if he had not gone overseas even if he had not exposed himself. He clearly made a preemptive decision…if he went overseas as a U.S. citizen they can’t grab you off the street the next day though he has indicated in interviews he is concerned about rendition. Leaving creating another barrier. It buys him time to make other arrangements in terms of seeking asylum.
Could cyber hackers have obtained the information that these programs existed through data-mining efforts?
Probably not. Those systems are extraordinarily well-protected. It’s very difficult to hack in, especially to the top secret ones. That’s why you have never seen a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court order in public. This is the first one to my knowledge. The classification system is so high it has special protections. It takes someone with access and knowledge to make that fateful decision that it’s in the best interests of the public to have access to that type of information and free it.
From your experience, how do you think the NSA will come after Snowden?
With everything they’ve got.
So do you think they will use the same playbook they used with you—charging Snowden under the Espionage Act?
Yes. It will probably be very similar, there’s no question. I was never actually charged with leaking or disclosing. I was actually charged for retention of unauthorized documents.
What could someone like Snowden do—for a career—after this kind of security breach?
He will have to have an attorney shield him and protect him as best as he can. The government always has a choice in the matter; they can open a case and never prosecute. I suspect they will throw everything they had after him. He will have a heck of a time as I did…I found part-time work but I made far less than before; you are blacklisted. Your clearance is no longer valid so you can’t work in government and people think you can’t be trusted. It will probably be a whole different line of work for him at least in the near or mid-term as it certainly was for me. For a long time I had no income. He knew that there would serious consequences when he made the fateful decision to turn this information over to the press.
If I may ask, what do you do now?
I work full-time at an Apple retail store.
In an environment where Wikileaks is currently in the headlines, and now this, do you think this will change the way Americans approach security questions?
Just since my criminal case ended with one year of probation and community service, this is the most media attention I’ve had by far. I can’t even get to all my emails right now; it’s extraordinarily overwhelming. That tells me that for now this story has legs and people are discussing what are civil liberties versus surveillance and questioning how far they can erode our liberties for the sake of surveillance. The question is do Americans care enough and it looks like we’re having that debate now and I hope that it sustains itself, that’s certainly my wish.