The intelligence community has used the threat of terrorism to its advantage, especially regarding mass surveillance, according to Edward Snowden.
He believes terrorism would still be a lower threat than many other issues, even if 9/11 happened every year.
In an exclusive interview with the German media outlet Der Spiegel, the NSA whistleblower noted that although terrorism is a “real problem,” it has claimed much fewer lives outside of war zones than car accidents and heart attacks.
“Even if September 11 were to happen every single year in the US, terrorism would be a much lower threat than so many other things,” he said.
Snowden said terrorism is “an ideal example of a growing culture of fear,” noting that “the intelligence community has used it to approach it with a new dynamic of mass surveillance.”
However, Snowden says, the “most tragic part” is that “eventually it is the process itself that is doing the terrorizing. It has become systemic” and this leads us to where we are today.
“How else does one explain a President Donald Trump other than a systematic failure of rationality?”
Snowden asked, noting that “we see things happening in places like Hungary and Poland with more authoritarian leaders.
“I think it is this new atmosphere of fear and that it won’t change until we, as a public, learn to perform a new kind of alchemy and recognize fear when it is being presented. We need to learn to eat fear, to convert it into an energy that can be used to better a society rather than to terrorize and weaken it. But not even [former president Barack] Obama could do that,” Snowden said.
The whistleblower also pointed out that “we don’t have any proof that these mass surveillance programs are stopping terrorist attacks.
“But if you can’t show us that cells have been uncovered thanks to these measures, and yet you say these are absolutely necessary, why is that? Because they are super interesting for other areas of spying. Like tapping a phone call between Kofi Annan and Hillary Clinton,” he said, referring to a phone call intercepted by Germany’s BND intelligence agency in 2012.
When asked if he was “surprised” to learn that the BND was surveilling “friends” like Israel’s prime minister or had 4,000 “selectors” directed as US targets, Snowden said he was “disappointed, not surprised.”
“… All the governments just want to have more power when it comes to economic espionage, diplomatic manipulation, and political influence,” he said.
Snowden has been living in Russia since 2013, after leaking thousands of classified documents related to the NSA’s mass surveillance practices. He is unable to leave the country over fears of extradition to the United States which has issued an arrest warrant for him.
However, when asked if all of it was worth it, Snowden told Der Spiegel it was. The whistleblower added that he would like to return to the US one day, but said he is “not going to judge the likelihood of it.”
“But you mentioned before allegations against me – you hear them less and less with each passing year. And I think that means there is still hope for the future, even for me,” he said.