Edward Snowden wants to come home.
"Returning to the US, I think, is the best resolution for the government, the public, and myself, but it’s unfortunately not possible in the face of current whistleblower protection laws, which through a failure in law did not cover national security contractors like myself," the former National Security Agency contractor said in an online chat Thursday afternoon. "The hundred-year old law under which I’ve been charged, which was never intended to be used against people working in the public interest, and forbids a public interest defense. This is especially frustrating, because it means there’s no chance to have a fair trial, and no way I can come home and make my case to a jury."
The online chat, in which Snowden responded to questions posed on Twitter with the hashtag #AskSnowden, was hosted by The Courage Foundation, which operates as Snowden's United Kingdom-based legal defense fund. Snowden is currently in temporary asylum in Russia, the US has charged him with espionage for facilitating the disclosure of classified documents. His leaking of a treasure trove of national security information to media outlets has provoked a series of stories examining the breadth and operations of the American intelligence community, which have provoked outrage internationally and calls for reform in Congress.
The NSA's telephone metadata program, which collects the time, duration, and numbers party to a call of nearly every call made in the U.S., has come under particular scrutiny. Early Thursday the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board issued a report stating that the metadata program, which operates under Section 215 of the Patriot Act, was mostly useless and likely illegal.
Snowden cited the board's report in his responses Thursday. "When even the federal government says the NSA violated the constitution at least 120 million times under a single program, but failed to discover even a single 'plot,' it’s time to end 'bulk collection,' which is a euphemism for mass surveillance," Snowden said. "There is simply no justification for continuing an unconstitutional policy with a 0% success rate."
Yet in his online chat, Snowden said that there were legitimate forms of spying--but that the NSA's information gathering didn't meet that standard.
"Not all spying is bad. The biggest problem we face right now is the new technique of indiscriminate mass surveillance, where governments are seizing billions and billions and billions of innocents’ communication every single day," Snowden said. "This is done not because it’s necessary—after all, these programs are unprecedented in US history, and were begun in response to a threat that kills fewer Americans every year than bathtub falls and police officers—but because new technologies make it easy and cheap."
"I think a person should be able to dial a number, make a purchase, send an SMS, write an email, or visit a website without having to think about what it’s going to look like on their permanent record," Snowden said.
As Snowden was hosting his live chat, msnbc's Ari Melber interviewed Attorney General Eric Holder, who said he preferred to call Snowden a "defendant" rather than a "whistleblower." Holder dismissed calls for clemency for Snowden but said the Justice Department would be willing to "engage in conversation" with Snowden if he agreed to negotiate a plea.
You can read the full chat here.