In about five minutes, starting roughly 45 minutes into a conversation with NYT reporter David Carr, Edward Snowden explains why President Obama — or for that matter any American president — is captive to the intelligence community and what it means for democratic values. Carr leads him into the explanation by remarking that the Obama administration is “the worst administration in terms of transparency that I’ve ever covered. What I wonder about is — you’re kind of a spook — did the spooks get to him? What happened?”
You can skip ahead on the video, but the entire conversation with remarks by Poitras and Greenwald is worth listening to right from the beginning. In any case, my staff of thousands transcribed what Snowden said in those five minutes:
The intelligence community dynamic is really complex. Really interesting. In general the people who make a career out of intelligence, they don’t care about the president. They say, Who is this guy? They say, He’s gonna be gone in eight years. We’re here for 30. Even if you get the most anti-intelligence president out there, somebody who really hates spies, really is pro-reform, wants to make sure we’re leading the world on the basis of our values rather than on the basis of our capabilities, they’ll just wait him out. But regardless of how good the president is, the next president when he comes
they comein they’re gonna give him thema briefing, as soon as he takes they takethe oath of office, that is designed to scare him themto death. They go, Here are all the streams of threat reporting we have, right now, that are threats against you, against your family, against the American people, against our allies, and oh, by the way, we’ll update these every day each day for a week and so on until you tell us, hopefully, stop. And unless you give us new authorities, we’re not certain we can counter these threats. […] This happens every day to a new president, and that’s kind of what happens. They subvert him themregardless of his theirintent. They kind of embrace him, they bring him on the inside, they say you’re one of us now. You have access to all this information. Don’t feel bad about your previous positions, because you just didn’t know. You didn’t have access to the information. But now you do. And now you know. […] It’s so easy for people to justify this. It doesn’t mean they’re bad people. It just means, look, these are people who are very good salesmen. They’ve been doing this 60 years or more as a community. They’ve got the pitch refined.
The problem is, when we look at a president who came into office as a reformer and made a lot of promises. He says he’s
They say they’regoing to close Guantanamo. He says They saysurveillance without a warrant is not a good thing, but then he extends they extendthese policies, for example, the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, the thing we’ve got now, that allows warrantless surveillance. […] When he has they havethese things, and he doesn’t they don’tdo anything about them, how do we explain that then? The most frustrating thing for me about this is the fact that the president has the power, because these are executive agencies, and these operations are not required by law, he could close Guantanamo tomorrow at a stroke of the pen he’s always talked about. He could end mass surveillance tomorrow by the stroke of a pen. We get comments out of him, Oh we’re hoping for a law. But we don’t need a law. And legality is distinct from morality. And if the president, of all people in the country, is not willing to stand up for our rights, what kind of message does this send to citizens, to children, to people around the world about what our values really mean to our government.
The encounter, part of a “TimesTalks” series, took place at The New School on Thursday night not long before Carr died, suddenly and inexplicably. He collapsed in the newsroom at The New York Times and was rushed to a hospital where he was pronounced dead. Carr was only 58. A cause has yet to be determined.
Postscript: Feb. 15 — NYT reports that Carr “had lung cancer and died of complications from the disease, according to the results of an autopsy.” Carr had been “a survivor of Hodgkin’s lymphoma.” According to the medical examiner, he had “metastatic small cell neuroendocrine carcinoma of the lung” when he collapsed, as well as “heart disease,” which was “a contributing factor” in his death.