Three NSA veterans discuss Snowden disclosures

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For the first time since Edward Snowden exposed details of NSA surveillance, three former NSA officials–Thomas Drake, William Binney and J. Kirk Wiebe–appeared together for a USA Today interview.

They say the documents leaked by Edward Snowden, the 29-year-old former NSA contractor who worked as a systems administrator, proves their claims of sweeping government surveillance of millions of Americans not suspected of any wrongdoing. They say those revelations only hint at the programs’ reach.

Jessely Radack, of the Government Accountability Project, appearing with them, responded to the question: Is Snowden a hero or traitor?

I don’t like these labels, and they are putting people into categories of two extremes, villain or saint. … By law, he fits the legal definition of a whistle-blower. He is someone who exposed broad waste, abuse and in his case illegality. … And he also said he was making the disclosures for the public good and because he wanted to have a debate.

The NSA veterans addressed several misperceptions about Snowden’s disclosures that have been propagated in the news media. Regarding Snowden’s claim that he could tap the President’s phone, Binney said, “As a super-user and manager of data in the data system, yes, they could go in and change anything.” All four described the FISA court order Snowden disclosed as “criminal.”