Edward Snowden Testimony at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe

I managed to listen to all of this session with Edward Snowden (hat tip Deontos) before turning in. It’s long and the pacing may be a bit too leisurely for some due to the formalities of an international gathering, plus the need to speak at a measured pace to facilitate translation.

Snowden’s formal remarks start just after the 7:00 minute mark. There’s then a section where various officials make remarks. That part might seem a bit stilted, but I was struck by the directness and the sense of urgency of some of these remarks. Snowden does a fine job at the end of fielding questions that are often scattered. Snowden’s big messages were familiar: the lack of effective supervision of the US surveillance state, the scope and methods of surveillance, and the ability of citizens to protect themselves if they use strong enough encryption of their data and their communications. I wonder what he would have said about the Heartbleed bug. Note that some sites that used the flawed OpenSSL were able to maintain secure communication by virtue of having additional defenses.

From the PACE website:

Speaking via Google Hangout from Moscow, Mr Snowden told PACE’s Legal Affairs Committee that such mass surveillance “results in societies that are not only less liberal, but less safe”. He stressed again that his motivation for revealing NSA secrets was to “improve government, not to bring it down”.

Rapporteur Pieter Omtzigt (Netherlands, EPP/CD) said: “Mr Snowden revealed that there is a dedicated programme that specifically targets human rights organisations. He also made it clear that there is a total lack of judicial and political oversight of the NSA. Lastly he said that the countries that co-operate extensively with the NSA – he mentioned the UK, Germany and the Netherlands in particular – have no binding assurances from the US that the exchanged data is not used for illegal operations.”

Other participants included a former head of Germany’s Federal Intelligence Service Hansjorg Geiger, who proposed a “codex” to regulate intelligence activities between friendly states. He also hailed whisteblowing as an effective means of enforcing such a code.

“This is the first clear statement from the (former) head of an intelligence service in support of procedures for whistleblowing in secret services,” said Mr Omtzigt.

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    1. NotTimothyGeithner

      But what about the Malaysian government’s response to the plane?

      At least the blackout is a sign the anti-Snowden, pro NSA message isn’t working. Americans didn’t even bite on chemical weapon use in Syria.

  1. TedWa

    A true American hero without a country. I really wish some country would stand up to the US and offer him the ancient and long-honored right of persons to seek asylum. How are we better than any totalitarian, world bullying regime in this respect? No one has been proven harmed by his leaks. The ones that should be banished are the ones that have lied to the Congress including Alexander and Clapper.

    1. digi_owl

      Problem is, either you are at the mercy of USA or you are at the mercy of Russia (at least in Europe, China comes into the game in Asia).

      And most nations have a long standing relationship with USA thanks to the cold war.

      there are no black hats and white hats here, only a bunch of gray suits playing mind chess with the life of the masses…

      1. different clue

        At least the RussiaGov has no incentive to guantanamize or assassinate Snowden. If any US intelligence ally offers Snowden “asylum”, it is a trick to lure Snowden within reach of kidnappers and/or assassins. If any much weaker country offers Snowden real asylum, its intelligence service will be unable to protect Snowden from bigger stronger intelligence services and special military formations.

    2. hunkerdown

      Evo Morales just joked about it, and the US and its allies treated the situation about as you’d expect the TSA to treat a wise guy in the grope line. That settles the world-bullying, anyway.

      And American Exceptionalism is a totalitarian ideology, but most are; all it really means is “whatever is not forbidden is mandatory”.

  2. Banger

    I think Geiger was telling some kind of joke. No intel service tolerates a whistleblower. Also, they don’t operate on the basis of “codes.”

    Euro officials may appear to be “listening” to Snowden but that’s for public consumption. When Europe shows me they have something resembling an independent foreign and security policy then I’ll pay attention. One step they might take is to offer Snowden safe passage and/or asylum.

  3. Starfleet Cadets to the bridge

    Omtzigt is right that human rights advocates are targeted. NSA’s problem is, we’ve already got a ‘codex.’ It’s right there in black and white. It’s binding law. But NSA doesn’t want to hear it from human rights advocates.


    They also don’t want to hear the Human Rights Committee implementing binding US law in their conclusion & recommendations for the US

    “The State party should:

    (a) take all necessary measures to ensure that its surveillance activities, both within and outside the United States, conform to its obligations under the Covenant, including article 17; in particular, measures should be taken to ensure that any interference with the right to privacy complies with the principles of legality, proportionality and necessity regardless of the nationality or location of individuals whose communications are under direct surveillance;

    (b) ensure that any interference with the right to privacy, family, home or correspondence be authorized by laws that (i) are publicly accessible; (ii) contain provisions that ensure that collection of, access to and use of communications data are tailored to specific legitimate aims; (iii) are sufficiently precise specifying in detail the precise circumstances in which any such interference may be permitted; the procedures for authorizing; the categories of persons who may be placed under surveillance; limits on the duration of surveillance; procedures for the use and storage of the data collected; and (iv) provide for effective safeguards against abuse;

    (c) reform the current system of oversight over surveillance activities to ensure its effectiveness, including by providing for judicial involvement in authorization or monitoring of surveillance measures, and considering to establish strong and independent oversight mandates with a view to prevent abuses;

    (d) refrain from imposing mandatory retention of data by third parties;

    (e) ensure that affected persons have access to effective remedies in cases of abuse.

    NSA wants to hide behind jargon and technical minutia so they can shred your rights in secret.

  4. g kaiser

    Why do they take him seriously? Only because they found out that their leaders personally were spied upon! Until that dawned on them, they were pretty relaxed. Then suddenly consternation, disbelief and anger. The US had actually spied on Merkel, and others. One can only ask, with friends like that, who needs enemies?
    I think Snowdon will be seen as a milestone in the lack of trust between the rulers and the ruled, and I hope it will provide a wake up call to the sleepy, drowsy and lame citizens.
    And how seriously do they take him. Not serious enough to provide him with asylum. That will be an eternal spot on the EU! But then again, the EU does not know democracy, if it hit it straight on. Most officials are appointed, not elected, and the tax payers are only asked if there is no other way, by hook or by crook. And then, if the election is not going the way the elite wants, there will be another, and another, until they get their way.
    That people, so far, have accepted leadership like this in the US and EU is a clear illustration of conditioning, but it will not continue, and absent an electoral process that works, we will see a revolution that will do the job.

  5. Hugh

    So if the Council of Europe is really serious about all this, how come they or the French since the meeting took place apparently in Strasbourg could not accord Snowden travel papers and immunity to attend?

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      The French delegates to the council are not the same as the government of France. And “taking seriously” in politics is still a long way from action.

      1. NotTimothyGeithner

        Snowden and the NSA are being discussed in polite society which is at least a sign of widespread dissatisfaction or fear at the top or there are groups willing to make noise.

        1. Nathanael

          It’s important for the people near the top to get upset. Very important. Even the Russian Revolution required the support of people near the top.

  6. Lyle

    GCHQ (the UK NSA) is as implicated as the NSA and also appears to be able to bully the political leadership in the UK into submission. Just like the NSA does here, there must be some very bad tales in the secret briefings both give to their leadership. It appears that the KGB was also as unrestrained, thus it partly may be the nature of spy organizations to bully their leadership into submission.

  7. allcoppedout

    I’m never comfortable with our surveillance debate. Essentially, if surveillance let’s us catch the bad guys and/or deter the creeps, I have little problem with it. We need to remember this throughout the necessary argument. Frankly, we aren’t skilled in keeping enough balls in the air.

    The problem with whistle-blowing is us. We don’t stand up for them and, in fact, hide like rats when the authorities bark. Snowden and Manning have no place in jail or exile. But we are hardly here for them. The way we treat victims and witnesses even in ordinary crime situations is disgusting and whistle-blowers get worse.

    We are often the problem too in terms of what information is recorded about others. All sorts of sly gossip goes on and we are cowardly in respect of the truth almost everywhere.

    We don’t relate information well. A guy making a flippant comment on burning down an airport on Twitter, obviously meant as a joke about his desperation to get to his girlfriend, is convicted of a serious offence and needs two appeals for sense to prevail. Some turd smashes a girl’s face with a brick and gets fined £200. Law doesn’t apply to financiers and most can’t even see the bank clerk who sold you PPI committed a crime as surely as a burglar.

    Our debate is sterile because we can’t relate good and bad surveillance or even work out where and on what good surveillance should operate. What should public scrutiny be about? It’s actually a bit like the regulation-deregulation stuff. And our democracy has evaporated through a lack of public scrutiny, not secret service spying.

    And I have to say getting cops and other bureaucrats to fill in permission forms (called RIPA here) is nonsense. I manipulated the acts in force in my time as a cop, or ignored them entirely. I’m told this is still the norm. You can usually lie that you were using a CHIS (covert human intelligence source) to cover-up an illegal ‘wire-tap’.

    I admire Snowden and Manning and could not convict either on jury duty. A jury in the UK refused to convict Clive Ponting for telling us the Belgrano was sailing away from the exclusion zone, though another did convict Sarah Tisdall for leaking harmless documents to the Guardian. She got 6 months for telling us the government was about to lie to us. A turd who bricks a girl’s face gets a £200 fine – if you follow my drift in keeping enough balls in the air.

    I’m pretty sure the answers to a lot of this concern having a much more modern and public form of law. How with all today’s electronic possibilities are they keeping ‘we the people’ out of the legal process except as victims or villains? I think this may be more the question than direct thinking on surveillance. In a very direct sense there is an example in the UK. We have an inquest taking place in Warrington with no cameras. This concerns 25 years of police, newspaper and politicians lying about the tragedy of 96 deaths. Yet from South Africa we get almost constant coverage of the trial of some druggie who obviously shot his girl while mad, a matter of sod all interest to anyone other than an enfeebled gossip.

    Surveillance – I don’t care. Lack of public scrutiny is the real problem and letting lawyers, judges and politicians (let alone MSM gatekeepers) get in front of our decisions as a public. Registered in Delaware? – take a free never be taken to court card.

    1. OpenThePodBayDoorsHAL

      You can stop at your second sentence: “if surveillance let’s us catch the bad guys”. According to the creeps in charge of these programs, it doesn’t:
      “Leahy got James Clapper and Keith Alexander to admit that, at best, the program had really only been involved in stopping one “terrorist event” in the US, and that “event” wasn’t a plot, but rather a cab driver in San Diego sending some money to a terrorist group in Somalia.”


      There are 85,000 people with the same security clearance as Snowden, and only he stepped forward. That’s the REAL crisis: that the other 84,999 did not have either the moral compass or the sense of civic duty to expose this threat to the very idea of America.

  8. Fíréan

    in reply to:
    “I’m never comfortable with our surveillance debate. Essentially, if surveillance let’s us catch the bad guys and/or deter the creeps, I have little problem with it. We need to remember this throughout the necessary argument.”

    You may well be deemed the bad guy or the creep one day by which ever government, open or shadow, of the day has access to and power over the surveillance system and all it’s records of your previous communications and activities be they legal or nor when you were the good guy.
    Can you assure yourself that the present regime’s definitions of “bad guys” and “creeps” complies with that of your own. And even if you be of the present powers or an affiliate with them now, can you rest assured that at some time in the future the alliance might not turn , as has been the case with others in the past, to deem you as a “bad guy” or a “creep” ?

    1. allcoppedout

      You don’t quite get my tilt here Fir. Pretty much every bureaucracy – certainly all I’ve been forced to work in – is riddled with rimmers and jobsworths I wouldn’t trust with my laundry list(not that there is one). I’ve been a whistle-blowing cop and a union rep. I’ve seen what the shits will do – and this extends even to people making justified complaints to try and get our cops to protect them. They have already been for me.

      I’d guess we’re on the same side. I can freely assert our current establishment struggles to tell its arse from its elbow. If you take a look – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twitter_Joke_Trial – at a British case I pointed to because it is inane, you can identify one sad bureaucrat after another with no sense of humour or their own pathetic fascism. And that’s just over a joke. This is before we look at ‘real’ terrorist cases, most of which I can confirm are not very real. But what you say misses that there have been people like me actually protecting people and catching the odd real villain through information. ‘The Wire’ is not too far from reality.

      My tilt is to shift focus from ‘information gathering bad’ to what our problems are when the establishment starts to victimise people. We the public are a large part of that problem. I can barely begin to tell you how indifferent ‘we’ the public’ is or how farcical idiot bureaucrats can get. I’d recommend the film ‘Four Lions’, watched in the context of an ex-cop telling you it’s actually worse and more farcical than the farce. And remembering, at the same time, we are not out and about throwing effluent at every politician and judge demanding freedom for Snowden.

  9. vidimi

    i read somewhere, i wish i could remember where, that the CIA doesn’t have to inform congress of any liaison operations it conducts with other countries’ agencies, such as MI6, for example. it’s reasonable to assume that the same exemptions apply to the NSA and other top secret agencies.

    given that the NSA collaborates on nearly everything with other five eyes agencies, congress is ignorant of just about everything they do. this is consistent with their reactions to the snowden leaks as they kept coming in: congress seemed to be completely unaware of what was going on. this is testament enough to the necessity of consciencious whistleblowers and the service ed snowden has provided in bringing it all to light.

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