Ten years after Snowden leaks, dangers of US spying continue

Ten years after Snowden leaks, dangers of US spying continue


Ten years after Snowden leaks, dangers of US spying continue


Bradley Blankenship

This May marks the 10th anniversary of US National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden’s leaks, which showed the world Washington’s global bulk data collection program and sparked an international manhunt, leading the former intelligence worker to flee to Russia. Snowden is a divisive figure in the West, considered by many a hero but by others a traitor. 

During his NSA work, Snowden became disillusioned with the programs he worked on, trying in vain to raise ethical concerns to his superiors through internal mechanisms that were ignored. Eventually, he took a holiday from an NSA facility in Hawaii in May 2013, telling his bosses that he needed to seek treatment for epilepsy, but actually flew to Hong Kong and revealed a trove of documents in early June to journalists Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras, Barton Gellman and Ewen MacAskill. 

These leaks spurred headlines in mainstream US and international media that drew attention to the NSA’s global surveillance program, which included programs like PRISM, which allows for the direct monitoring of Americans’ Google and Yahoo accounts, or XKeyscore, which is an analytical tool that collects “almost anything done on the internet,” according to The Guardian’s reporting. 

One of the breaking points for Snowden was when former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper lied under oath to Congress on March 15, 2013, saying that the NSA does not collect data on millions of Americans. Clapper was never held accountable for this blatant lie. However, the US Department of Justice unsealed charges against Snowden for two counts of violating the 1917 Espionage Act and theft of government property on June 21, 2013, in addition to his passport having been revoked. 

Despite the accusations against Snowden, he remains a hero to many, particularly younger Americans, and people outside the US. That’s because he exposed Washington’s global espionage campaign that can target any single individual in the world. But, as history shows, this is far from an isolated incident and more of a common activity in Washington.

For example, I recently interviewed former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s chief of staff Lawrence Wilkerson, a retired army colonel, and he told me that another trove of intelligence leaks circulating this spring, called the biggest leaks since Snowden, were “nothing new.” According to him, not only did US intelligence agencies spy on foreign leaders – but they also wiretapped his boss during some conversations, including one with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. And he also said that he was present for espionage on conversations among European officials and at the United Nations. 

The leaks we spoke about showed that the US spied on Canada, Israel and the Republic of Korea, going as far as wiretapping Seoul’s National Security Office (NSO), the highest defense organ in the ROK, in order to gauge whether Korean officials support Washington’s proxy conflict in Ukraine. And indeed, we know this is not unique since news broke in 2021 that the US spied on European leaders, including former German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Washington had been wiretapping German officials all along through Danish channels. 

For its part, China’s National Computer Virus Emergency Response Center and Chinese cybersecurity company 360 recently unveiled a detailed report that shows how the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has plotted regime change around the world. Particularly, it describes how the technological revolution of the 21st century has given the CIA new tools to undermine foreign governments. The report also gives a detailed analysis of the CIA’s bureaucratic structure, which one former CIA officer told me looks legitimate but that these operations are handled at station headquarters in Washington. 

Despite 10 years of the public receiving hard evidence that Washington has the capability to spy on virtually anyone and that no one’s basic privacy is safe from the nefarious activities of US spying, Washington’s global espionage campaign continues. US allies are – either wittingly or unwittingly – accusing other governments, like China’s, of having “back doors” or other nefarious means to access private data while Washington is already proven to conduct these exact activities. 

It’s high time that the international community rejects such double standards, stands up for sovereignty and says no to Washington’s unending global surveillance that undermines the legitimacy of states and erodes global security. The age of unilateral regime change operations must come to a hard end as we enter a decade past the heroic efforts of Edward Snowden.