[NEW YORK, NY] At 12:00pm EST activists, journalists and concerned New Yorkers assembled at New York’s Union Square for a rally in solidarity with National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower, Edward Snowden. Snowden, a contractor at Booz Allen Hamilton and the source behind The Guardian‘s near-weeklong stretch of blockbuster scoops highlighting PRISM and similar pervasive surveillance programs under the authority of the NSA, has become a household name overnight. Similarly, this revelation has created a groundswell of concern for Snowden’s welfare, who is currently seeking refuge in Hong Kong and may in the near future require political asylum from a criminal investigation opened yesterday, 6/9/2013, by the US Department of Justice (DOJ). The call to “Stand With Edward Snowden”, which was issued online shortly after journalists Laura Poitras and Glenn Greenwald published Snowden’s video testimonial, is the first of what is expected to be many events spanning multiple cities, in support of the NSA whistleblower.
“You have to make a determination about what is important to you…” said Snowden in his prerecorded interview published yesterday, “if living un-freely, but comfortably is something that you are willing to accept —and I think that many of us are, its the human nature …you can get up every day, you can go to work, you can collect your large paycheck for relatively little work against the public interest and go to sleep at night after watching your shows— but if you realize that’s the world that you helped create, and it’s gonna get worse with the next generation, and the next generation who extend the capabilities of this sort of architecture of oppression, you realize that you might be willing to accept any risk, and it does not matter what the outcome is so long as the public gets to make their own decisions about how that is applied.”
Organizers of today’s rally hope the assembly (which drew a few dozen despite torrential rain) will do more than lionize Snowden, they hope to use the event to continue the conversation Snowden started regarding the preservation of 4th Ammendment protections of personal privacy in an age of new media. “As young people in the digital era, it is imperitive that we have an understanding of what happens to the data we create and post, with or without our consent,” said rally organizer Yoni Miller. Moreover, the activists want to make sure that these grievances are not co-opted by partisan narratives, “It’s good these revelations are happening under President Obama,” said NYC activist Astra Taylor, “so we can see that this is structural, instead of blaming a Republican villain & praying for Democratic rescue.”
Taylor’s concerns are mirrored in-part by Snowden, who indicated to The Guardian that he was hopeful these surveillance systems would have been “reined in” when President Obama was elected, but was later heartbroken when he saw them expand further under the Obama administration. “The greatest fear that I have regarding the outcome for America of these disclosures is that nothing will change.” said Snowden, “People will see, in the media, all of these disclosures, they know the lengths that the government is going to grant themselves, unilaterally, to create greater control over American society, and global society, but they wont be willing to take the risks nessicarily to stand up and fight to change things, to force their representatives to actually take a stand in their interests.”
“Edward Snowden chose to willfully free dark side national security information as a brave and courageous act of selfless civil disobedience,” said former NSA executive director, Thomas Drake. Snowden’s actions and the resulting threat of prosecution he faces are familiar to Drake, who in 2010 was arrested under the U.S. Espionage Act for publicly challenging a similar data-vacuuming project called Trailblaizer. While the Trailblazer project was eventually cancelled due to budget bloat and missed goals, it was later linked to a warrantless wiretapping program under the Bush Administration code named “Stellar Wind”. This program continues today under the code names RAGTIME and RAGTIME-P, the later acronym applies specifically to domestic data collection, the “P” suffix stands for “Patriot” a reference to the USA Patriot Act. Under RAGTIME-P the NSA appears to be using an interpretation of §215 of the Patriot Act to grant themselves the legal authority to conduct domestic intelligence gathering. On June 6, 2013 Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI), author of the USA Patriot Act, expressed deep concern over this interpretation of §215 in a press release and letter to Attorney General Eric Holder.
Chris Hedges, who served for decades as a foreign corespondent for The New York Times, has witnessed several foreign democratic governments ebb towards a creeping surveillance state. In recent years, Hedges has warned that similar transitions could happen here in the United States if left unchecked. When asked about Snowden he remarked, ”Edward Snowden, like Bradley Manning and Julian Assange, has joined the ranks of the hunted and the persecuted because he named and documented the crimes of the state. His defiance of the control and monitoring of our lives by the security and surveillance makes him an American hero.”
The organizers of today’s rally underscore that Snowden’s leak was selective and not reckless in nature. The activists also have expressed concern over the possibility of future attempts to demonize the whistleblower, and encouraged others to act preemptively to assure that does not happen. Lee Camp, a celebrated comedian and organizer with Occupy Wall Street echoed these sentiments, “Let’s get ahead of this story and let the world know Edward Snowden is a hero before the media and government get to work maligning him.”
Today’s rally is just one example of individuals taking proactive action in support of Snowden. Others, like Icelandic Parlementarian Birgitta Jonsdottir, are going one step further by beginning the legal process of obtaining political asylum for Snowden should he chose to seek it. “I stand with Edward Snowden because what he did is of tremendous importance to everybody on this planet, especially those in the USA.” said Jonsdottir, “I will do everything in my power to find ways to shelter him from the wrath of governments who want to carry on with their culture of secrecy even when it becomes obvious it is impossible and unjustifiable to invade the privacy of their civilian populace. I challenge other lawmakers of conscious to do the same.”
It is unforeseen what will become of Edward Snowden. His $200k/year job at Booz Allen Hamilton became available just days after first contacting journalists, and in leaving his home in Hawaii he has left both financial security and his loved ones behind. Today’s rally provided New Yorkers an opportunity to continue the conversation surrounding domestic spying on US citizens to which Snowden provided a catalyst for, and gave those attending an opportunity to thank him for this courageous and selfless act.
“There are more important things than money. If I were motivated by money, I could have sold these documents to any number of countries and gotten very rich.” — Edward Snowden
» Full disclosure: While The Sparrow Project did not accept any compensation for this release, and does not represent Edward Snowden in any capacity, The Sparrow Project has provided media relations services to MP Birgitta Jonsdottir in the past, and upon request will continue to field future requests for MP Jonsdottir, including those pertaining to political asylum for Edward Snowden as they relate to MP Jonsdottir.