Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor turned whistle blower, interview published on Sunday “incredibly weak” oversight of U.S. surveillance programs enabled military personnel to obtain sexually explicit photos of people under surveillance. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the personal frequently shared these explicit photos with their colleagues.
The interview was conducted by two reporters from the British newspaper, one of several publications that broke the revelations about the National Security Agency that Snowden has provided to a select few journalists. They had to conduct the interview in Moscow, where Snowden has been stuck for a little more than a year. He fled there from Hong Kong after he gave journalists hundreds of thousands of classified documents he downloaded from the NSA, which specializes in electronic surveillance.
In the interview, Snowden said that some of the U.S. military personnel working on agency programs were between the ages of 18 and 22 and did not always respect the privacy of those whose communications were intercepted.
“In the course of their daily work they stumble across something that is completely unrelated to their work, for example an intimate nude photo of someone in a sexually compromising situation but they’re extremely attractive,” he said. “So what do they do? They turn around in their chair and they show a co-worker. And their co-worker says: ‘Oh, hey, that’s great. Send that to Bill down the way.’”
Snowden claimed that this type of sharing occurred once every couple of months and was “seen as the fringe benefits of surveillance positions.” He claimed that this was “never reported” and that the system for auditing surveillance programs “is incredibly weak.”
“Now while people may say that it’s an innocent harm – this person doesn’t even know that their image was viewed – it represents a fundamental principle, which is that we don’t have to see individual instances of abuse,” he said.
When asked for a comment, an NSA spokeswoman, Vaneé Vines, said that the agency had zero tolerance for willful violations of authority or professional standards, and would respond as appropriate to any credible allegations of misconduct.
Snowden had particularly stark criticism for the British government’s surveillance programs, because in Britain the respect for individual privacy, he said, “is not strongly encoded in law or policy.” Because it has fewer restrictions, British citizens and intelligence platforms “are used as a testing ground” for programs of all five intelligence partners, a group referred to as “Five Eyes,” which includes Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United States. Read more about the story here.