WASHINGTON (CBSNewYork/AP) — A new twist has appeared in the controversy over a secret government program tracking the phone calls and Internet habits of millions of Americans.
As CBS 2’s Don Champion reported Sunday, the British newspaper the Guardian, which leaked details about the program originally, has identified its source as a defense contractor and former CIA technical assistant.
The newspaper said it has identified Edward Snowden at his own request.
He was quoted as saying, “I have no intention of hiding who I am because I know I have done nothing wrong.”
He talked about how the culture inside the intelligence community influenced his actions, CBS 2’s Cindy Hsu reported.
“You see things that may be disturbing,” Snowden said. “You recognize that some of these things are actually abuses, and when you talk to people about them in a place like this where this is the normal state of business, people tend not to take them seriously.”
Snowden said he fled there because of the territory’s tradition of free speech. He fears the consequences of the constant surveillance of average citizens — and how such information gathering can be misused.
“The public needs to decide whether these programs or policies are right or wrong,” he said. “This is the truth. This is what’s happening.”
Snowden is well aware that his actions will have consequences.
“You can’t come forward against the world’s most powerful intelligence agencies and be completely free from risk,” he said.
The Guardian said Snowden is now in Hong Kong and that he views his best hope for the future as the possibility of asylum, perhaps in Iceland.
Meanwhile, the surveillance program has drawn responses from outrage to support.
“If this was September 12, 2001, we might not be having the argument that we are today,” said U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.)
The main question being raised is whether the government overreached in the name of safety.
“The fact that every call I make to my friends, to my family is noted — where I am, the length of it, the date — that concerns me,” said U.S. Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.)
The debate came on the same day that the NSA called on the Department of Justice to launch a criminal investigation into the leak of the highly secretive program.
After word of the program came out, President Obama has tried calming fears.
“Nobody is listening to your telephone calls,” Obama said. “By sifting through this so called meta data they may identify potential leads with respect to those who might engage in terrorism.” -:41
Supporters claim the program has worked, saying it proved critical in breaking up the 2009 plot by Najibullah Zazi to bomb the New York subway system.
“This was a lawful program it was approved and reviewed by the FISA court,” said Rep. Mike McCaul (R-Texas), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.
The order for the surveillance was granted by the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court on April 25 and is good until July 19, the Guardian reported. It requires Verizon, one of the nation’s largest telecommunications companies, on an “ongoing, daily basis,” to give the NSA information on all landline and mobile telephone calls of Verizon Business in its systems, both within the U.S. and between the U.S. and other countries.
CBS News senior correspondent John Miller is a former Deputy director of National Intelligence. Miller said the key to the Verizon data collection is not content but numbers that might link terrorists to U.S. citizens.
“Everybody at the NSA knows if they are listening in on American citizens without a very special order or ruling from their lawyers then they are going to jail,” Miller said Thursday on “CBS This Morning.”
Miller also explained how the use of records works.
“When you rub data against data, you get more results. Metadata is data about data. So if you’re watching 1,000 suspected terrorist numbers in Pakistan and Afghanistan and you want to mix that against a particular threat, you see that this number is in contact with 50 other numbers, but three of them are in the United States. Does that mean that a terrorist there has a cousin in Chicago?”
The sweeping roundup of U.S. phone records has been going on for years and was a key part of the Bush administration’s warrantless surveillance program, according to a U.S. official.
Verizon Communications Inc. listed 121 million customers in its first-quarter earnings report this April – 98.9 million wireless customers, 11.7 million residential phone lines and about 10 million commercial lines. The court order didn’t specify which customers’ records were being tracked.
Separately, The Washington Post and The Guardian reported late Thursday the existence of another program used by the NSA and FBI that scours the nation’s main Internet companies, extracting audio, video, photographs, emails, documents and connection logs to help analysts track a person’s movements and contacts. It was not clear whether the program, called PRISM, targets known suspects or broadly collects data from other Americans.
The companies include Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube and Apple. The Post said PalTalk has had numerous posts about the Arab Spring and the Syrian civil war. It also said Dropbox would soon be included.
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