Edward Snowden: The NSA whistleblower unmasks

The whistleblower who leaked Top Secret documents to the <em>Guardian</em> about NSA domestic spying practices has revealed himself to be 29-year-old Edward Snowden, a former CIA employee.

In an absolutely stunning Guardian profile, Edward Snowden describes how he leaked the documents to the Guardian's Glenn Greenwald from a Hong Kong hotel room, padding the door and keeping a hood over his head, and covering his computer's webcam, to protect himself while he made the first leak of a "Top Secret" classified document since the Pentagon Papers in 1971, in what represents one of the most serious leaks in US history and what may come to be one of the defining moments of Obama's Presidency. 

"I'm willing to sacrifice all of that because I can't in good conscience allow the US government to destroy privacy, internet freedom and basic liberties for people around the world with this massive surveillance machine they're secretly building," he told the Guardian.

Snowden says that he chose Hong Kong, a semi-autonomously governed region of China, because “they have a spirited commitment to free speech and the right of political dissent”, but also, the Guardian reports, because he believed it both could and would resist the dictates of the US government.

This story comes just hours after the former director of the NSA under George W. Bush told the Guardian that surveillance has “expanded” under Obama's administration.

Obama, is en route – ironically – back to Washington from meeting the new Chinese President Xi Jinping in California, where he was scheduled to complain about Chinese cyber-hacking of American secrets. It is not known whether they mentioned the NSA surveillance scandal in their conversation – nor even whether the White House or the US security forces had any idea where the Guardian's leaks were coming from.

At time of press, the President has not yet responded to the identification of Snowden, though he did say yesterday that he “welcomes a debate” on national security – a statement it can only be imagined was given through gritted teeth, especially as Rand Paul, the libertarian Senator, said yesterday that he was considering leading a class action law suit against the government. This, it is fair to say, is not going to be a debate that the President relishes.

Before Snowden revealed his identity, the Department of Justice had said that it will seek to prosecute the perpetrators of leaks of American secrets, though Attorney General Eric Holder also said that no journalist would be prosecuted “for doing his or her job”.

Update: this piece was corrected at 9:39 PM to read "it is not known whether they mentioned the NSA surveillance" instead of the earlier, incorrect spelling of "NRA".

Edward Snowden. Photograph: The Guardian via Getty Images

Nicky Woolf is a writer for the Guardian based in the US. He tweets @NickyWoolf.

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Labour’s best general election bet is Keir Starmer

The shadow secretary for Brexit has the heart of a Remainer - but head of a pragmatic politician in Brexit Britain. 

In a different election, the shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer might have been written off as too quiet a man. Instead - as he set out his plans to scrap the Brexit white paper and offer EU citizens reassurance on “Day One” in the grand hall of the Institute of Civil Engineers - the audience burst into spontaneous applause. 

For voters now torn between their loyalty to Labour and Remain, Starmer is a reassuring figure. Although he says he respects the Brexit vote, the former director of public prosecutions is instinctively in favour of collaborating with Europe. He even wedges phrases like “regulatory alignment” into his speeches. When a journalist asked about the practicality of giving EU citizens right to remain before UK citizens abroad have received similar promises, he retorted: “The way you just described it is to use people as bargaining chips… We would not do that.”

He is also clear about the need for Parliament to vote on a Brexit deal in the autumn of 2018, for a transitional agreement to replace the cliff edge, and for membership of the single market and customs union to be back on the table. When pressed on the option of a second referendum, he said: “The whole point of trying to involve Parliament in the process is that when we get to the final vote, Parliament has had its say.” His main argument against a second referendum idea is that it doesn’t compare like with like, if a transitional deal is already in place. For Remainers, that doesn't sound like a blanket veto of #EUref2. 

Could Leave voters in the provinces warm to the London MP for Holborn and St Pancras? The answer seems to be no – The Daily Express, voice of the blue passport brigade, branded his speech “a plot”. But Starmer is at least respectful of the Brexit vote, as it stands. His speech was introduced by Jenny Chapman, MP for Darlington, who berated Westminster for their attitude to Leave voters, and declared: “I would not be standing here if the Labour Party were in anyway attempting to block Brexit.” Yes, Labour supporters who voted Leave may prefer a Brexiteer like Kate Hoey to Starmer,  but he's in the shadow Cabinet and she's on a boat with Nigel Farage. 

Then there’s the fact Starmer has done his homework. His argument is coherent. His speech was peppered with references to “businesses I spoke to”. He has travelled around the country. He accepts that Brexit means changing freedom of movement rules. Unlike Clive Lewis, often talked about as another leadership contender, he did not resign but voted for the Article 50 Bill. He is one of the rare shadow cabinet members before June 2016 who rejoined the front bench. This also matters as far as Labour members are concerned – a March poll found they disapproved of the way Labour has handled Brexit, but remain loyal to Jeremy Corbyn. 

Finally, for those voters who, like Brenda, reacted to news of a general election by complaining "Not ANOTHER one", Starmer has some of the same appeal as Theresa May - he seems competent and grown-up. While EU regulation may be intensely fascinating to Brexiteers and Brussels correspondents, I suspect that by 2019 most of the British public's overwhelming reaction to Brexit will be boredom. Starmer's willingness to step up to the job matters. 

Starmer may not have the grassroots touch of the Labour leader, nor the charisma of backbench dissidents like Chuka Umunna, but the party should make him the de facto face of the campaign.  In the hysterics of a Brexit election, a quiet man may be just what Labour needs.

What did Keir Starmer say? The key points of his speech

  • An immediate guarantee that all EU nationals currently living in the UK will see no change in their legal status as a result of Brexit, while seeking reciprocal measures for UK citizens in the EU. 
  • Replacing the Tories’ Great Repeal Bill with an EU Rights and Protections Bill which fully protects consumer, worker and environmental rights.
  • A replacement White Paper with a strong emphasis on retaining the benefits of the single market and the customs union. 
  • The devolution of any new powers that are transferred back from Brussels should go straight to the relevant devolved body, whether regional government in England or the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
  • Parliament should be fully involved in the Brexit deal, and MPs should be able to vote on the deal in autumn 2018.
  • A commitment to seek to negotiate strong transitional arrangements when leaving the EU and to ensure there is no cliff-edge for the UK economy. 
  • An acceptance that freedom of movement will end with leaving the EU, but a commitment to prioritise jobs and economy in the negotiations.

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

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