Arresting former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden wouldn’t stop the release of information on classified programs to collect phone records and e-mail communications, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said.
“There is no stopping the publishing process at this stage,” Assange said yesterday on ABC’s “This Week” program. “Great care has been taken to make sure that Mr. Snowden can’t be pressured by any state to stop the publication process.”
European officials are demanding more information on the latest revelation stemming from the releases, a report in the German magazine Der Spiegel that the NSA has been wiretapping European Union diplomatic missions in Washington and the United Nations building in New York. The report cited classified documents in Snowden’s possession.
“I am deeply worried and shocked,” European Parliament President Martin Schulz said in an e-mailed statement. “If the allegations prove to be true, it would be an extremely serious matter which will have a severe impact on EU-U.S. relations.”
Two U.S. officials familiar with American electronic espionage programs declined to comment on the allegations in Spiegel. However, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters, both said that all multinational institutions are routine targets for both technological and human intelligence by virtually all member nations.
Both said that any such U.S. efforts are far from unique, though they allowed that in many instances U.S. programs are more extensive and ambitious than those of most other countries except China, France, Israel, the U.K. and Iran.
Snowden, a former employee of contractor Booz Allen Hamilton Holding Corp., has been accused by the U.S. of theft and espionage. He faces as many as 10 years in prison on the theft count and 10 years on each of two espionage allegations if he returns to the U.S. and is convicted.
“He is a hero,” Assange said. “He has told the people of the world and the United States that there is mass unlawful interception of their communications.”
U.S. officials have revoked the passport of Snowden, who is believed to be in a transit lounge of a Moscow airport and seeking asylum in Ecuador. Assange, who himself is holed up in Ecuador’s embassy in London to avoid extradition to Sweden on allegations of sexual assault that he contends were politically motivated, said the government’s actions have left Snowden “marooned.”
“Under UN conventions, Mr. Snowden has the right to appeal to nearly every country for asylum,” Assange said. “No one is alleging that any of his acts are anything other than political, that he has acted in a manner to draw attention to a very serious problem in the United States.”
German Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger likened the activities reported in Spiegel to those of communist governments during the Cold War and called them “utterly inappropriate.”
Former NSA and CIA director Michael Hayden, speaking on CBS’s “Face the Nation” yesterday, urged the U.S. to reveal more about its intelligence-gathering methods to the public in order to build support for the programs.
“I’m convinced that the more the American people know exactly what it is we’re doing in this balance between privacy and security, the more comfortable they’ll feel,” he said. “Any European who wants to go out and rend their garments with regard to international espionage should look first and find out what their own governments are doing.”
In seeking Snowden’s return to the U.S., the government is in talks with Russian law enforcement officials, said outgoing White House national security adviser Tom Donilon.
“We have had a history of law enforcement issues being resolved effectively, including cooperation on the Boston Marathon bombing with the Russians,” Donilon said in an interview on CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria GPS” that aired yesterday. “These discussions are taking place through law enforcement channels, which I think is the place for them to take place.”
Vice President Joe Biden asked Ecuador President Rafael Correa to reject Snowden’s asylum request, Correa said in a radio address. Correa, who called the conversation “courteous and cordial,” said he told Biden the U.S. hasn’t honored Ecuadorean extradition requests.
The Embassy of Ecuador, in a June 28 statement, said the South American nation has suspended its support for the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act, a pact enacted in 2002. The embassy said the U.S. has exerted pressure and threatened the trade preference program as Ecuador considers the asylum request.
White House officials traveling with President Barack Obama in Africa referred all inquiries about the matter to the office of the Director of National Intelligence, which didn’t immediately reply to a request for comment.
Army General Keith Alexander, who heads the NSA, has said the program has disrupted dozens of terror plots around the world.
Assange rejected statements by U.S. officials including Secretary of State John Kerry that Snowden’s revelations could lead to people dying. He said the same allegations have been levied against WikiLeaks.
“Not a single U.S. government official, no one from the Pentagon, no one from any government says that any of our revelations in the past six years has caused anyone to come to physical harm,” Assange said.