HOPEX: Chatting Live with Edward Snowden

Disclaimer: un-cleaned-up copypaste from a shared piratepad for livenotes of this talk. Originals here: http://piratepad.net/hopex

Trevor Timm, Founder of Freedom of the Press foundation is also in the room. He’ll be selecting questions from Twitter. For people in the Press: our questions come from our attendees.

Welcome, Edward Snowden!
[loud applause. Snowden is smiling]

Snowden: “Hi there. [Unintelligible behind applause.] Can you hear me now? [Applause continues.]…hope that we can pad out the indictment tonight. [Applause softens.] So I’m having a little bit of trouble hearing the stage, but I think I can hear Dan’s microphone. I want to start out by saying to Dan Ellsberg: Thank you for everything you’ve done, for all that you’ve done, for all of your service, both in the Government and outside of the Government. Everything you did for us as a nation, as a society. You have given us, you have given so many so much and told us the truth about what our Government was doing at a time when the truth was very hard to get. And I have to say, I actually, I uh, I watched a documentary about your life as I was grappling with these issues myself. I dud, uh, it had a deep impact, it really shaped my thinking, so thank you for everything you’ve done for me.”


Ellsberg: “Ed, uh, I see you’ve shaved since I last saw you. [Audience laughter]. I have to tell you, you didn’t have to do that for this audience. [More laughter].”

Snowden: “Well, luckily I have plenty of black t-shirts. [Laughter.] But I do not have Keith Alexander-brand dad jeans. [More laughter]. I’ll save those for Defcon.”

Moderator (Trevor Timm) begins: “So, uh. I’m going to try and stay largely out of the way and let these guys talk but I think there’s a few topics that we’d like to cover. And to start with I was hoping Dan could describe what it felt like the first time he heard about Edward Snowden. He feelings, on hearing his name and seeing what he had given the world. And if his feelings have changed since and how he’s grown to feel about Edward Snowden.”

Ellsberg: “I can tell you exactly what I felt: Hope. Actually, which had not been in great supply for me recently. When I saw the name of this conference, I had mixed feelings about it. My feelings of hope go up and down a little… haven’t been too high… and no question, I felt [hope] when Chelsea Manning was revealed. I used to, you know, you ask in a way how often do you need a Pentagon Papers? Which is a massive disclosure, that is unequivocal, of documents, that really shows… one document doesn’t do it, as Ed knows. They can say, “Well, we changed that.” the next day and “That was just some particular little department, some low level person.” So what you really need is a massive stuff, as in the Pentagon Papers that shows ‘No: this is what they said the next day, and the day after that, and here’s the official policy.’ and so forth. I waited 40 years to hear that, and I was pretty much losing hope that there would be anybody inside that would be willing to risk their life and freedom to put out this stuff. You have to be something of a specialist to put out a lot of this stuff and not be identified. Then just three years after Manning comes Snowden, so I thought it is possible! Ed, you once told me, you hoped to show that one could do this and be successful. There’s no question in my mind that you’ve been successful, but what you had in mind when you wanted to show that people could do this?”

Snowden: You talked about how people are specialized. [..]You touched on technology, and that you need specialist skills. But Technology empowers dissent. We’re able to get stuff out, and have it circultae around the world, before it can be stopped. People talk about technology a lot, they talk about me, and manning, but they forgot that technology enabled you even [Daniel], in a garage with a Xerox machine. A xerox machine may not seem like a killer app, but it enabled you, and it enabled in the Soviety Union [? another example] What that tells me and what I think is important for our society is to recognie that technology empowers one man, or one woman. voices, democracy, in a way that empowers individuals that has changed how our government relates to us, when they have to fear *people*.

Even when we have whistleblowers, who at great personal risk: Bill Binney, Thomas Drake, [Ed Loomis(?)]. They’re pulled out of the shower at gunpoint, their lives are attacked and destroyed. They didn’t have hard evidence, they reported up through the system and the system destroyed them

We’re collectin info not just on people everywhere, but precisely on Americans, who the USG says they’re not targeting. This should be explosive, it should be page one, but there’s no clear evidence that can bring the president to the table.

This is the kind of thing that frustrated me […] there’s not clear irrefutable evidence that brings the president to a podium, congress to the press…

As a society, we have to decide where the lines are drawn, not a few decisionmakers sitting behind closed doors.
Tech gives us a new power. If we pair that with a responsibility to police ourselves, the way technology grows, and not sleepwalk into new technologies.

Trevor Timm: “Ed, you mentioned two whistleblowers, Thomas Drake and Bill Binney, and here sits Daniel Ellsberg — were you aware of their stories prior to what you did, how familiar were you with them, did you learn any lessons?”

These guys used official channels and people like Thomas Drake, they unded being indicted.
People like our founding fathers didn’t fight a revolution for internal checks and balances. Some internal checks and balances aren’t democracy, that’s beaurocracy.

Snowden: “Absolutely. [..] When you look at how the USG pursued their case, especially against Thomas Drake which collapsed.. they’re trying to hold these people up as examples of what will happen to you if you leak. [..] If we’re going to give consent to be governed, we have to know what’s going on, and we can’t have the government shut us out. We don’t need detail of every operation, but we have a right to know the broad outlines of all the government policies that have a significant impact on our lives, and so Thomas Drake here showed me how to do the right thing.”

Trevor Timm: “Daniel Ellsberg, people say that Snowden should have been ‘more like you’, how does that make you feel? […] Secretary of State, John Kerry, said that you were a hero but Ed was not.”

Ellsberg: “Well, this bullshit started with Barack Obama [loud laughter].. when someone asked Obama about Manning, and said didn’t Manning do what Ellsberg did? Obama said “ellsberg’s material was classified in a “different manner”. That’s true, but in the wrong direction — everything I did was top secret or higher, vs. secret or less!” The person asking the question didn’t pursue that. Earlier I would have siad it doesn’t dserve to be put out, until you see what it says: it’s evidence of criminality!

Starting in 2010, Thanks to Mannning and now to you [Snowden], I’m getting the best publicity in 40 years, suddenly people who were all for putting me in prison for life before realize that apparently now I’m the *good* whistleblower. [laughter] I don’t like being that foil to two people I admire and identify with. There hve been lots of leakers, whistelblowers, and I appreciate them all. The difference with Manning and you, is each showed clearly, as I had 40 years ago, a willingness to put out enough material to put us in jailfor life.

Manning said to Lamo that she was willing to go to prison for life.

In Manning’s case, we had different backgrounds, with comparable clearance and access, and I couldn’t bear to hear getting good press. “Ellsberg only put out documents three years old, they were historical”.. that’s because I didn’t have the most recent! If I had had the current documents, I wouldn’t have put out history! that’s all I had! I hoped that my documents would show a pattern that extended in to the present, and I failed. Hardly anybody was willing to extrapolate and say “Ellsberg has shown that four subsequent presidents lied,” and would figure out that maybe the current president is too.” But no, It took the documents. People know that, but aren’t willing always to take risks It’s like Moechai Vanu in Israel, who brought out documents that showed Israeli had a nuclear
I saw right away without having met Manning that this is someone who I identify with, I have a new hero.

Snowden: There’s a really important point there that hasn’t been well addressed in the media. You said you acted not to reveal data, but to end a war; to correct failures of policies that were costing lives and the future of the country at a critical moment where we could step back from the brink and enjoy a better society. People need to remember that these stories now being published by journalists — that’s what they’re looking at, not publishing anything without a significant impact to the public domain.

Since these stories were real, we learned not only the truth about our world, that all of our communications are being intercepted and stored automatically, who we talk to, love, hate, all is subordinated to the policies of a few people behind closed doors. They don’t answer to us.

There are only eight people briefed on these programs in congress, and The intelligence committees who are supposed to oversee these programs get funded by the top 20 intelligence companies. Dutch [ruppersberger] received $350k from just these top companies.

When we think about the fact that we’ve learned what’s going in, and we have the ability to protest these activites that never should have begun. But we also see how our government works. We see that James Clapper for example is willing to lie under oath.

Using warrentless surveillance in order to apply for warrants, solicitor general then lied to the Supreme Court, twice, in writing, and it was on the Front page of the NYT. I tcame out on June 7th.

They didn’t report this to the courts or to defendents, and later told the Supreme Court that they had.

If we didn’t have whistleblowers like you, like T Drake, we would have a less free society.

The scandal isn’t what’s illegal, the scandel’s what is legal and happening every day. For example, when we talk about how to fix this, we talk about the least controversial program is Section 215 of the Patriot Act. It says that we can collect metadata recrods from everyone in the country, regardless of wrongdoing.. Why? this is metadata: who you talked to, when, for how long. It doesn’t get content. It’s not about surveilling you, or surveilling me; it’s about watching everybody. It’s a big data program that collects, and can then be analyzed. Everything you do is being analyzed, graded, measured, regardless of whether you did anything wrong. People say “why should I care?” When you think in terms of the 4th and 5th amendment, violates unreasonable search and seizure and due process. The government is saying we’re going to do warrantless surveillance, to get informatio that will let us get a warrant.

Or thr first amendment, that says congress shall make no law abridging freedom of speech. We lost these rights, if you left them go for a moment you’ll lose them for a lifetime, and it happened and we didn’t know about it. [..] Fundamentally an un-American thing.

Stellar Wind was a massive dataset that allows us to analyze the connections of everybody, in every place, all the time. And I think that’s wrong.

People in the room have a responsibility to help, by encoding our rights into the programs we use every day. I hope you’ll join me and Freedo of the Press Foundation and other organizations to make that real.


Trevor Timm: Both Ellsberg and Snowden are on the board of the FPF.

First twitter question, for Ed: “What specifically can designers and developers and others working in technology start to do to make things better, are the specific examples out there that you’d like to see people follow?”

When I talk about this it’s always difficult, because it depends on the threat model. Someone in the home has different priorities htan someone working to report on the malfeasance of a government in an authoritarian regime. Generally I say “Encryption, encryption, encryption,” because it is an important first step.

But when we talk about how to fix this stuff for the future, we have to realize that association is often the problem, it starts with encryption but doesn’t end there. If you don’t think about the signals that are send when I email you, although they don’t read the content, they say, “Why is someone at the govnerment who works at the CIA contacting someone at NYT, Freedom of the Press Foundation?” When I email you, they can’t read the contents, but they can see who was at work on Friday and contacting freedomofthepress or the New York Times.

So we get tools like SecureDrop, tools like Tor. These are great, but it doesn’t solve everything, because they can still see you’re connecting to tor. A good example is a recent American spy who was discovered in Germany. He wasn’t satisfied with what was going on. So he said “hey, I’m gonna shop myself to what I think is the Russians.” He got an email – a G-Mail – do you want to sell some documents? He sent them several classified documents. The key is, that the adversary German counterintelligence, who’s not interested in the public interest, he’s interested in money. He was the only one who was out of the office that day. Not the most sophisticated method. This is the kind of thing you have to worry about, in terms of How do governments discover spies?

And the same techniques, they use to discover journalists.Risen and Rosen cases, they were subpoeaning an AP reporter to get metadata from all of their phones. ” who from the government called the associated press?” We need protocols resistance to traffic analysis, and they need to be padded. So you can’t look at Skype and see what word was spoken based on packet size. You also need some sort of mixed routing that divorces the individual connection from origin point. Tor does a really good job, but it only does TCP. We need to do UDP. Also user experience issue, GPG is robust and reliable but damn near unusable. It is only usable if you are comfortable with the command line and key management. We need encryption, mixed routing, non-attributable communications, that’s available to people, that’s easy, that’s transparent, that’s reliable, that we can use around the world because this is a global problem.

Ellsberg: If you’re successful at inspiring people here at developing software they can really use – and I’m not even on twitter – when they can find the sources and shut them off, that gives them control of the press. Supposing it’s possible for that handful of whistleblowers to continue to get this information, then they will want to go after the journalists. How are the worst people on earth going to break your systems? What can you do? What can you think up to shield us from that?

So far they have not done it. They go after people who have signed a non-disclosure agreement.
Supposing now that gets harder to do and they can’t shut up all the sources.

They haven’t yet started directly prosecuting journalists.

They went after Assange by saying he wasn’t really a journalist, although Assange did not do anything that could be prosecuted that was not done by the NYT or the Guardian. I think that’s next. a supposed journalist called Michael Kinsley accused Glenn Greenwald of aiding and abetting a crime Is it constitutional to regard us as criminals? The logic that people who are helping them get the information to the public are aiding and abetting. Publishing is also criminal. They will go after that as well. Is that something that you have thought about?

Snowden: In terms of my political policy I would say I’m stallmanesque. We need to think about software as a means of expressing our freedom, but also defending our freedom. Governments rely on the same technologies we do. They adopt the same standards, they use the same protocols. And this happens worldwide. So the solution to that, when you ask me, is whether or not the United States [lost stream]

you can’t pitch a zero-day at every mobile out there, it is going to get caught and there is going to be a post-mortem. Only using those zero-days when it is least intrusive. We need to focus more and more on how we do this. Like Michael Kinsley: it is not for the journalists to decide what the public should know, it’s up to the government (laughter).

These people should not be able to publish these stories. This is making institutions less accountable. How do we fix this, how do we patch these holes?

Anyone out there who posts on stackexchange, you guys are part of the technical elite. If you have ever heard of Tor or […] OpenVPN […] you are an advocate and you are going to help us move forward. [We need to] teach the next generations […] they don’t know the inner workings, they dont know the dangers. We all who know the slightest bit have a civic duty to teach people in our society.

We don’t want a high priesthood of technology, because no matter how good that is for us, it is bad for the world. (applause)

Ellsberg: I was very struck by something that you said from Vanity Fair. Everyone of us has known things, seen things that were wrong and we have turned our eyes away because we were intimidated. I believe that that is true of every human on earth. They bite their toungues because to reveal it would lose a relationship or a job, or a career. But then you said, there comes a time when the level of inhumanity or the wrongness is so great, that you have to cross over that line. You said I crossed over that line. It is Edward Snowden who did that and Manning. Most people never do reach that line […] lowering the risks is essential. But in the end there will always be a risk. “Most people never do reach that point. Most never cross that line, where they sacrifice to do what is right.”

… continuation of a wrongful war, in the case of tobacco X lives lost every year. GM … lives being lost. How many at GM knew and did not speak up. One thing that I hope from your example, Ed, is that more people will be inspired to take significant risks. In the end there will always be a risk. The willingness for civilians to take that risk is very low.

Bismark of all people said: Courage on the battlefield is very common, but civil courage (Zivilcourage) is very rare.

When I read the Pentagon Papers for the first time and realized that we were supporting a French colony I saw every death in Vietnam as homicide, mass murder. There were 58.000 Americans in the process of dying there. We have to have a different standard. This is wrong, this should not be happening, but I have a morgatge, I have a marriage, I’m going to college….. It shouldn’t only have to be you. If you were in a room with your former colleagues now I would expect them to leave that room. If a former colleague from NSA has communicated with you had contacted you in any way, I would expect that number to be zero.

If I’m in chains in Guantanamo, that didn’t surprise me. That’s a pretty unusual statement. Let’s make it not so unusual.

People ask, is he a patriot or traitor, that drives me nuts. The ignorance of the media and the congresspeople who raise that question. Thinking that it can be traitorous to tell the truth, to defend your country. Snowdon was the one person in the fucking NSA who did what you should have did. Chelsea Manning – we all took the same oath to uphold and defend the constitution. But when it comes to upholding that oath, no one up until the Commander in Chief has fufilled that oath as she has. Thank you.

Snowdon: I’m still politically very moderate. The first time that I met Glenn Greenwald, the first journalist I spoke with in Hong Kong. He called me a radical and that surprised me. I think there are so many people in government who are trying to do the right thing, but who feel the intertia. There were people who were disturbed by this, who agreed that this was wrong.

But we all have lives, we all have families. I loved Hawaii. You put yourself at risk. the highest possibliilty, when I walked out of the office in Hawaii on the last day, was that I would never make it out of the airport. But I accepted that, because as you said earlier, we all have a limit. A level of inhumanity that we can’t allow. When you cross that line […] you can’t judge people too harshly for human nature. When people hav ea different analysis, at least for me, is not to condemn them but to enable them.

What is important is to enable people. I don’t want to judge people and say ‘you didn’t do what you were supposed to do.’ From an Engineering perspective, I want to say: How can we fix it? How can we reduce the costs of action?:

get the truth of what our government is doing?

When they do something wrong, we will know about it. It’s not about anarchy, about wiping out the government. When they do something entirely legal, but comprehensively immoral, we will find out about it. That will change the world. It will change the way we live.

The system we have today is secret agencies operating unter secret rules with 30 years of secret courts and congresspeople who have their pockets lined by the defense contractors. We have a rubber stamp court that has said no only 13 times out of 35,000.

The fact that it takes 10 years to get this heard in an open court, instead of a secret court .. any one of these things is terrible, but when we look at them together, we see that tHe government has developed an exploit chain, they have the root password to our constitution. They have escaped the sandbox of our democracy. They tell us the Bill of RIghts is still there, we can see it, but it is not there.

The only way to stop it from being a retrospective action, where we have to go back and investigate what happened, is that we have to make sure that we stop it before it happened. Accountability for the people who fucked up in the first place.

(Loud Applause)

Ellsberg: First of all, I understand what you’re saying, Don’t condem these people, that’s not the important thing. You and I are having a discussion, we do somewhat different things, but I think both approaches are important. During the 40 years between 1973 and when you came out, I came to feel that I was asking too much. You keep saying: everyone has a limit. But No, only a few people have a limit. There are people inside of the system who are criticizing this, as you did before you went all the way and talked to other people. They may criticize internally, and may even lose their jobs, but the line out to the public is not getting crossed. As long as they don’t go publlc, they can get another job. I’ve come to feel the price of the government achieving total control: the vietnam war, the iraq war, the approach to climate, the nuclear weapons policy, which are totally reckless. You and Manning have shown me there are more out there. There are some who have the capability.

Your approach is to make it less risky. The people in this room are working on that. As we were speaking last time, I was less optimistic about technology. I’m not a technologist, and I’m more than twice the age you are. The future of Titanics is on my mind, although that was before me. The Challenger, for example. It’s hard for me to believe that all these people together will make the process of telling embarassing things about the government, which is what is needed to have an impact on policy, will remain totallly riskless. There will remain a risk of some kind.

Snowdon: There will never be a fully risk-free situation, but we can mitigate it, we can try to make it little bit more available, a bit less painful.

Ellsberg: It’s crucial, and what they’re doing here is crucial. But Let me put in a word here. Like you, and Drake, people can be inspired, and there can be more whistleblowing, even given the risk. There was a thing from ExposeFacts which is a poster that is appearing in Washington right now with a picture of me on it saying “Don’t do what I did. Don’t wait until a new war has started. Don’t wait until thousands have died.”

You couldn’t come back and have a fair trial. In other countries there’s a public interest defense, they don’t allow that in this country.

First of all, you’re not prison. If you came back here, as you know and I know, you would not be able to make your case to the public.

Hillary clinton actually said ‘make your case to the public.’ Bullshit! You would be in an isolation cell like Chelsea Manning for the rest of your life. So you would not be able to make your case the way you can to the whole world right now. So It is essential for you to stay out of the country.

People say ‘Ellsberg stayed,’ and so forth, even when the FBI was looking for me I was on Walter Cronkite from an undisclosed location in Cambridge.

It is essential that the people hear from you. I’m so glad your father was able to go to Russia to see you. Chelsea Manning has never been interviewed since her arrest.
You did the right thing.

I don’t know one who regretted the 2-3 years they spent in prison.

So yes, Lower the risk, but also get the message out.It’s worth taking the risk. A war’s worth of lives may be at stake, our democracy is at stake.

Snowden: There are a couple things I could say on that.

[We got an extra 20 minutes, you can keep on talking]

There’s a lot there. You touched on patriotism. Most of the people who attend hacker conferences. Being a patriot doesn’t mean obedience to authority.Putting aside your obligations to your people in favor of obligations to your government is the opposite of patriotism.

What we require, what we should encourage is oaths to values like our constitution. If they didn’t want us to stand up for our values, and say “this is the most ridiculous shit I’ve ever seen… you are not even bothering to get a court order.” If they expect us to do that, if they expect us to stay silent in the face of massive, widespread violations to the constitution, they they should not ask us to take that oath in the first place, because they’re not serious about it.

Sorry, I have a really short working memory; a lifetime of memes and lolcats will do that to you. I’m a child of the Internet.

How do we come together, how do we fix the problem?

You talked about the way things are, the system we have today, the proclivities of people to protect their own interests, to the determinet of those around them and themselves, for the sake of comfort.

We love funny cat pictures, but when we talk about the government, attacking the hypervisor of our democracy, changing our rights without telling us about it. If they can do this to the 4th or 5th Amendments, what can’t they do? You may say ‘I don’t care about politics, I don’t care about them spying on you.’ When you see not just the privledges but the rights that are inherent to you. These are not rights that are inherent to the human conditions, they are granted to me by the government. It’s going to get worse. The Founding Fathers said “people get the government they deserve.” And if people aren’t willing to stand up, to take risks, to reveal wrongdoing, even if it means they have to burn their own life down to do it, their families, children, and descendents will have to do this. The values we believe in will dissappear. We all have the ability to push back against this, and contribute.

The Open Source movement is a great example of this. And it is not just about programming, it’s politics, the way we talk to our friends, to our families. We have the ability to build a more equitable, fair and just society.

People have tremendous student debt that we never can get out of, not even by declaring bancruptcy. Thanks for that. We have a new class that are indentured servants, which is very corrosive to the egalitarian ideals that we aspire to.

If we don’t take chances, and say “If you guys, the government, are not going to represent our interestes but your own, the interests of the elite, we are going to build a new society around you. Thanks to the same technology (that screwed us in many ways), we are now empowered in many ways.

Give me 6 lines written by the most honest man and I’ll find something in that to hang him.
This is not just the old inquisitors; this is Keith Alexander.

It’s up to us to change that. We can revoke that permission.

If we are going to play games like in the UK …. just last week as an emergency law where the emergency has been happenting since the past year. We have not just the ability, but the obligation to push back and create the society that we want.

[We only have 2 minutes left, each one minute]

Ellsberg: We really do agree fundamentally here. I just want to say that ….
there is risk, even if you don’t get prosecuted. Even here it will take risk. Tom Drake, you and I talk a lot about the constitution and rights. THat is not the beginning or the end of it. The fugitive slave act was passed by congress, and people who violated that at great risk were doing the right thing. When Rosa Parks refused to get up out of her seat it was civil disobedience. If the Supreme COurt upholds for the first time the Espionage Act with out any of the changes that are necessary, then we will have lost most of the first and the fourth amendment. There will have to be civil disobedience.

Without indepdent journalism,

We will have lost the independent branches. The effect will be more unnessceaary, wrongful wars. People who are less courageous but willing to take some risks, they will quickly find that there are limits, will discover what I discovered in 1969, the government has gone beyond that limits and that must be exposed.

Snowden: Real quickly – look around everybody in this room and recognize that we ahve a broad crosssection of people. There are people from the NSA in this room, they go to different tracks to make sure that they see all the talks. It’s okay if you hate me. We have to decide how we feel. We have to quit believing that what is on the news is the gospel truth. I could be totally full of shit, you have to figure out what you believe in and stand for it. None of that matters. Critize me, hate me, think about the world you live in, and ….

Thank you Dan Ellsberg. [applause] I can hear the whistles really well. I can hear that even better.