Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman, this is The World. There've been so many revelations based on Edward Snowden's leaks and so many stories about the NSA snooping, it's hard to keep them all straight. How do we write that first draft of history when the history is still unfolding? This week the National Security Agency added a new wrinkle. In a letter to Congress, the Agency revealed the resignation of an NSA civilian employee who admitted giving Snowden access to data he shouldn't have.
Snowden had previously said he didn't steal any passwords or trick his coworkers, so you can see the difficulties author Luke Harding must've had gathering information for his new book, "The Snowden Files." Harding is a journalist with The Guardian in Britain and he says it's still not possible to paint a complete picture of this saga.
Luke Harding: We still don't entirely know how this extraordinary thing happened, but we know what happened. We know that Snowden swiped a huge number of documents from the NSA servers in Fort Meade while sitting in Hawaii and fled to Hong Kong. But really, I think the Agency's been on the back foot trying to figure out how he did it, whether it was passwords as you suggested, whether it was the fact that he was just extremely clever, extremely good at what he did and whether the NSA itself was sleeping on the job.
Werman: Your book, "The Snowden Files" is really kind of the first pass, the first accounting of what happened last year with Edward Snowden and the NSA. What was your goal with trying to consolidate the whole saga?
Harding: The Guardian's editor, Alan Rusbridger, called me to one side and asked me to put it all together days after Snowden outed himself in that incredible video which I'm sure practically everyone has seen by now, in Hong Kong. I think he felt, as well as I, that this was a historical moment. Obviously there will be other books about Edward Snowden but it seems to me that it's something very special, something apocal, and Snowden was the guy, whether you see him as a hero or a traitor, who pulled back the curtain and revealed the true nature of things, how things really are in this digital age, that actually all of our private communications are not really private, they're all being collected and stored and sifted.
Werman: Some of the details in your book, like Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras meeting a hotel next to a plastic alligator on the lookout for a man with a rubix cube - it almost seems made up. What details, for you, still don't make sense or which you still feel need clarifying.
Harding: There are a few gaps in the timeline that we didn't get to the bottom of. We don't know a huge amount about his time in Japan before he moved to Hawaii. The thing that most puzzles everybody is how he ended up in Russia. He was in Hong Kong, he met with Glenn, with Laura, with Ewan, my colleague. He went underground for a couple of weeks and then he boards a flight to Moscow. Where he was staying in hiding, why precisely he went for that routing, it's not entirely clear. I asked Snowden's lawyer, I met with him and I said, "What happened?" and he just said, "It's complicated." I'm sure we will find out but at the moment there's no proper answer on that.
Werman: By the way, do you speak with him regularly?
Harding: It's a little bit sensitive, but can I just say that we, as in The Guardian, are in touch with him, yes.
Werman: What about your own ability to process this story? The Guardian is part of this story. How then do you approach this story and is that a hard act to pull off, to be the rigorous reporter on the story when you are part of it?
Harding: It was a Guardian story from the beginning. The Guardian broke the first NSA story on June 5th last year when we published the first Snowden document. We showed that American's phone records were all being secretly collected which no one knew a year ago. This absolutely is Snowden's story and I wrote it rather like a thriller because that felt like the most appropriate genre. But it's also the story of the journalists who interacted with him under tough conditions because we were coming under pressure from some very power agencies from the White House and in the UK, particularly from the British government, which were very, very angry about this leak and more or less threatened to throw us all in jail.
Werman: Where does this whole narrative of Edward Snowden sit now and where does it go from here?
Harding: Snowden's situation is tricky. When he says he hasn't cooperated with Russia's security services or given them his material, I believe him. Not because I'm naive but because for Snowden it was "mission accomplished" in Hong Kong. He shared this material with some senior journalists whom he trusted but his options are no options. The Europeans are furious but neither the Germans nor the French nor even the Scandinavians have offered Snowden asylum, so he can't go there. Meanwhile, if he goes back to the US it's pretty clear that he will face espionage charges. By default, he's stuck.
Werman: Do you think there will be more whistleblowers? We've got Snowden, who's kind of painted himself into a corner in Russia, Julia Assange painted into a corner in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. What happens now with these types of people who want to say something about what's going on?
Harding: There will be more because of the era we live in. We live in this world of big data, of massive volumes of electronic information. If you think about leaking material in our grandparent's generation, you might be able to stuff a few secret documents into a battered brown leather satchel and sneak out, but Snowden took tens of thousands of documents. He swiped huge amounts of information and so it's a different world. I worked on the Wikileaks story and looked at the documents which Chelsea Manning had got, these US State Department cables in 2010 and there were a lot of them. A quarter of a million secret cables.
At the time, we British, American and German journalists thought, "This is the story to end all stories. This will never happen again in our lifetime." Then we fast forward two and a half to three years and not only do you have an even bigger data dump, you have top secret and above top secret [data involved]. So I think the spy agencies are still reeling. They'll be looking at ways of shutting this down so that it never happens again. My feeling is that sooner or later it will happen again.
Werman: Guardian reporter Luke Harding's new book is "The Snowden Files." Luke, thanks very much for your time.
Harding: Thank you.
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