Following an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, “Citizenfour” director Laura Poitras joined her colleague Glenn Greenwald and source Edward Snowden for a Reddit AMA on Monday. However the session came with the disclaimer: Ask Us Almost Anything.
After the Snowden documents were released, Poitras and Greenwald, along with their colleague and fellow journalist Jeremy Scahill, co-founded the online news outlet The Intercept. The Intercept is funded by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar and has largely focused on sifting through the troves of information Snowden provided and other instances of government overreach. “Citizenfour” chronicles the meeting between Snowden and the journalists to whom he provided the government documents; the film debuted on HBO yesterday. The following are some highlights from the AMA.
Snowden says the only thing he would have done differently is to come forward sooner
Turning to a quote from fellow whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, Snowden said he wished that he hadn’t waited to release the documents he’d collected during his time at the NSA:
“Don’t do what I did. Don’t wait until a new war has started, don’t wait until thousands more have died, before you tell the truth with documents that reveal lies or crimes or internal projections of costs and dangers.” – Daniel Ellsberg
Ellsberg and his colleague Anthony Russo at the RAND Corporation were responsible for disclosing the Pentagon Papers to the press. The disclosure shed light on controversial information about the Vietnam War that was being withheld from the public and congress, the press reported at the time.
“Once you grant the government some new power or authority, it becomes exponentially more difficult to roll it back,” Snowden said.
Reddit moderators assume there’s a fake Snowden
At the outset of the AMA, Snowden faced issues logging into the system:
**Snowden:** Hey guys, sorry — the reddit mods are being a little weird. My account is /u/SuddenlySnowden. Mods: Can you pull back the ban? I can’t post from the primary account. Thanks.
**AMA Moderator:** Mod here – really sorry for the confusion. Your colleagues set up the OPs account for you and when you started replying on a different account we had to assume it was a fake. Your new account /u/SuddenlySnowden is good to go.
Edward Snowden admits he doesn’t know how to fix the government …
One Redditor asked Snowden to about what average citizens could do to curb the “scary stuff happening at the NSA.”
Snowden responded that addressing a political system that rewards bait and switch politicians is a difficult challenge.
“We can develop new tools and traditions to protect our rights, and we can do our best to elect new and better representatives, but if we cannot enforce consequences on powerful officials for abusive behavior, we end up in a system where the incentives reward bad behavior post-election,” Snowden said.
… But suggests giving it a try anyway
Snowden often waxed philosophical, offering up the following historical perspective when asked about how best to make NSA spying an issue in the 2016 presidential election:
“[W]hen we look back on history, the progress of Western civilization and human rights is actually founded on the violation of law. America was of course born out of a violent revolution that was an outrageous treason against the crown and established order of the day. History shows that the righting of historical wrongs is often born from acts of unrepentant criminality. Slavery. The protection of persecuted Jews.
“But even on less extremist topics, we can find similar examples. How about the prohibition of alcohol? Gay marriage? Marijuana?”
… Which in turn prompted the Internet to declare “Peak Reddit”:
“Edward Snowden just called for civil disobedience against the US government whilst also arguing for the legalization of marijuana during an AMA. This is quite possibly the most reddit thing ever.” – u/the_ak
“Okay folks. It was a nice ride but I think we’ve reached peak Reddit. It can only go downhill from here.” – u/climbandmaintain
People care about the revelations, but change is slow and sometimes hidden
Asked whether it was depressing that the public outcry seemed to quickly die off after the Snowden revelations, Greenwald and Snowden delivered hopeful remarks:
“There are now court cases possible challenging the legality of this surveillance – one federal court in the US and a British court just recently found this spying illegal. Social media companies like Facebook and Apple are being forced by their users to install encryption and other technological means to prevent surveillance, which is a significant barrier,” Greenwald wrote.
“The biggest change has been in awareness. Before 2013, if you said the NSA was making records of everybody’s phonecalls [sic] and the GCHQ was monitoring lawyers and journalists, people raised eyebrows and called you a conspiracy theorist.”
“Those days are over,” Snowden said.