A US editor has alleged he overheard security officials saying that the NSA leaker and the Guardian columnist who broke his story should be “disappeared.” Leaker Edward Snowden said that American spies often prefer silencing targets over due process.
“In Dulles UAL lounge listening to 4 US intel officials saying loudly leaker & reporter on #NSA stuff should be disappeared recorded a bit,” the Atlantic's Washington-based editor-at-large Steve Clemons tweeted on Sunday.
According to Clemons, four men sitting next to him at the airport “were loud. Almost bragging” while discussing an intelligence conference they had just attended hosted by the Intelligence and National Security Alliance.
Clemens said he was unsure of the men's identities or which agency they worked for, and told the Huffington Post that one of them was wearing “a white knit national counter-terrorism center shirt.” Clemons also recorded part of their conversation and snapped some photos, hoping that “people in that bz will know them.”
“But bad quality,” he noted about the quality of the photos. “Was a shock to me and wasn't prepared,” he wrote on Twitter.
Clemons’ post immediately went viral, and his Twitter account was flooded with responses.
While some users were anxious to learn more details and hear the conversation, others lashed out at the blogger, saying he should have verified the information before posting it.
Clemons said his view on the “disappear” part was that the statement was one of “bravado” and a “joke” – but a very “disturbing” one. He said he felt obligated to make it public because he thought the speakers were senior intelligence officers.
It was a “disconcerting set of comments offered in public,” Clemons explained.
The blogger judged the speakers’ profession from the “context” of their conversation, as well as from the shirt one of them was wearing.
Clemons is now working on an article detailing the conversation, but he said he will not publish it or the recording until he identifies the speakers and offers them a “fair chance to clarify” their remarks.
Clemons has claimed that another person present at the time of the alleged conversation emailed him with the “same interpretation and concern” of the conversation.
Snowden on tweet: ‘I am a spy and that is how they talk’
The source behind the revelation of the top-secret NSA surveillance program, dubbed one of the most significant intelligence leaks in US history, was uncovered late last week. Snowden, a former CIA technical contractor and NSA consultant, had asked the Guardian to reveal his identity. He has fled to Hong Kong in a bid to escape retaliation by the US.
"The NSA has built an infrastructure that allows it to intercept almost everything. With this capability, the vast majority of human communications are automatically ingested without targeting. If I wanted to see your emails or your wife's phone, all I have to do is use intercepts. I can get your emails, passwords, phone records, credit cards,” Snowden told the Guardian.
When asked for his reaction to the alleged comments that reporter Glenn Greenwald and the 29-year-old leaker himself should be "disappeared," Snowden told the newspaper: "Someone responding to the story said 'real spies do not speak like that.' Well, I am a spy and that is how they talk. Whenever we had a debate in the office on how to handle crimes, they do not defend due process – they defend decisive action. They say it is better to kick someone out of a plane than let these people have a day in court. It is an authoritarian mindset in general."
Snowden earlier explained that he had sacrificed his life and $200,000-a-year career out of his desire to protect "basic liberties" in order to “send a message to government that people will not be intimidated.”
The whistleblower leaked top-secret documents that revealed the existence of the US National Security Agency’s extensive Internet spying program PRISM, which records digital communications and allows for real-time online surveillance of US citizens. PRISM apparently gives US intelligence agencies direct access to files stored on the servers of major Internet companies – including Google and Facebook – in order to identify and target potential terror suspects.