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Debate: Was Snowden Justified? Former NSA Counsel Stewart Baker vs. Whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg

Former National Security Agency lawyer Stewart Baker and Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg join us for

a debate on Edward Snowden’s disclosure of the NSA’s massive spying apparatus in the United States and across the globe. Snowden’s leaks to The Guardian and other media outlets have generated a series of exposés on NSA surveillance activities — from its collection of American’s phone records, text messages and email, to its monitoring of the internal communications of individual heads of state. Partly as a consequence of the government’s response to Snowden’s leaks, the United States plunged 13 spots in an annual survey of press freedom by the independent organization, Reporters Without Borders. Snowden now lives in Russia and faces possible espionage charges if he returns to the United States. Baker, a former NSA general counsel and assistant secretary for policy at the Department of Homeland Security, is a partner at the law firm Steptoe & Johnson and author of "Skating on Stilts: Why We Aren’t Stopping Tomorrow’s Terrorism." Ellsberg is a former Pentagon and RAND Corporation analyst and perhaps the country’s most famous whistleblower. Ellsberg leaked the Pentagon Papers in 1971, exposing the secret history of the U.S. involvement in Vietnam, prompting Henry Kissinger to call him "the most dangerous man in America."

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Today, we host a debate on former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden and his disclosure of the massive spying apparatus the NSA operates in the United States and across the globe. Snowden’s leaks to The Guardian and other media outlets have generated a series of exposés on NSA surveillance activities, from its collection of Americans’ phone records, text messages and email, to its monitoring of the internal communications of individual heads of state. The latest revelations based on the leaks were reported by journalists Jeremy Scahill and Glenn Greenwald with First Look Media. They show how the NSA has secretly assisted in U.S. military and CIA assassinations overseas by using metadata analysis and cellphone-tracking technologies—the unreliable tactic that has resulted in the deaths of innocent or unidentified people.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, the NSA has defended its activities as essential in the fight against terrorism. In January, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper attacked Snowden while speaking before the Senate Intelligence Committee, and called for him to return all stolen documents to the NSA after causing what he called major harm to U.S. security. Clapper also suggested the journalists who have published Snowden’s leaks are his accomplices.

JAMES CLAPPER: Snowden claims that he’s won and that his mission is accomplished. If that is so, I call on him and his accomplices to facilitate the return of the remaining stolen documents that have not yet been exposed, to prevent even more damage to U.S. security. But what I do want to speak to, as the nation’s senior intelligence officer, is the profound damage that his disclosures have caused and continue to cause. As a consequence, the nation is less safe, and its people less secure. What Snowden has stolen and exposed has gone way, way beyond his professed concerns with so-called domestic surveillance programs.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Meanwhile, Snowden has repeatedly maintained he’s no longer in possession of any of the documents he took from the NSA—

AMY GOODMAN: —having passed them on to journalists to report at their discretion. The editors of The New York Times recently urged clemency for Snowden, writing, quote, "Considering the enormous value of the information he has revealed, and the abuses he has exposed, Mr. Snowden deserves better than a life of permanent exile, fear and flight. He may have committed a crime to do so, but he has done his country a great service," the Times wrote.

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