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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

NSA Leaker Revealed; NSA Leaker Revealed

Aired June 10, 2013 - 08:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Christine Romans. It's Monday, June 10. Welcome to STARTING POINT.

Let's begin with the NSA surveillance leak and its self proclaimed source, Edward Snowden. In a riveting interview, the former CIA employee who worked for a defense contractor said he couldn't, he can't in good conscious allow the U.S. -- the U.S. government to destroy privacy, internet freedom and basic liberties. So, he decided to come forward.

Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr joins us now -- Barbara.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Christine.

Who is Edward Snowden? Leaker, idealist?

Meet the man who turned the U.S. intelligence community upside down.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

EDWARD SNOWDEN, NSA LEAKER: When you are in positions of privileged access --

STARR (voice-over): This is 29-year-old Edward Snowden, the high school dropout who worked his way into the most secretive computers of the U.S. intelligence community as a defense contractor and then blew open those secrets by leaking unprecedented details of top secret government surveillance programs.

He now risks never living in America again as a free man.

SNOWDEN: I had access to, you know, full rosters of everyone working at the NSA, the entire intelligence community, and undercover assets all over the world -- the locations of every station we have.

STARR: Snowden didn't leak that, but in an interview with the British newspaper "The Guardian", Snowden reveals himself as the source of several documents leaked to journalist Glenn Greenwald, outlining a massive effort by the National Security Agency to track cell phone calls and monitor e-mail and Internet traffic of virtually everyone.

SNOWDEN: I, sitting at my desk, certainly had the authorities to wiretap anyone from you or your accountant, to a federal judge, to even the president, if I had a personal e-mail.

STARR: Snowden says he just wanted Americans to know what the government was doing.

SNOWDEN: Even if you're not doing anything wrong, you are being watched and recorded.

STARR: And he wanted to be up front that he was behind the leaks.

SNOWDEN: I'm just another guy who sits there day-to-day in the office watches what's happening and goes: this is something that's not our place to decide. The public needs to decide whether these programs or policies are right or wrong.

STARR: "The Guardian" says during the interview, Snowden watched CNN's Wolf Blitzer asked a panel who the leaker was.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Do you have any idea who is leaking this information?

STARR: Snowden, watching, did not react.

Snowden fled to Hong Kong three weeks ago after copying a last set of documents and telling his boss he needed to go away for medical care. Before all this, Snowden says he had a comfortable life, working for the NSA in Hawaii with a $200,000 job and a girlfriend.

He told "The Guardian" never got a high school diploma, attended community college, but didn't complete his computer studies. He joined the Army in 2003 but was discharged after breaking both legs in an accident.

He says he worked as a security guard for the NSA and then moved to the CIA in a computer security job. In 2009, he left the CIA, eventually joining the contractor Booz Allen in Hawaii. He began to see top secret documents on the extent of NSA surveillance, including details that the government also had data on Americans.

President Obama insists his administration is not spying on U.S. citizens, only looking for information on terrorists.

For now, Snowden believes Hong Kong's climate of free speech will protect him, but there's no guarantee he won't be arrested, taken to mainland China, or sent back to the U.S.

It appears to be a risk he's willing to take.

SNOWDEN: You are living in Hawaii, in paradise, and making a ton of money. What would it take to make you leave everything behind?

The greatest fear I have regarding the outcome for America of these disclosures is that nothing will change.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STARR: Now, Snowden only had this job for three months. He started, by all accounts, downloading documents three weeks ago. So, one of the big questions is, how did this happen with nobody noticing -- Christine. ROMANS: And how much of our national security is handled by contractors and subcontractors. That's also an interesting part of the story as it goes forward.

Barbara Starr -- thank you, Barbara.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: The Obama administration has not commented on the revelation, but the Justice Department launched an investigation into the leaks. Top lawmakers in the House and Senate say Snowden should be prosecuted. They and the NSA former chief also insists the leaks did not give an accurate picture of the work that the NSA does.

Brianna Keilar following the political angle on all of this from the White House this morning.

Good morning, Brianna.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John.

The White House is not commenting on the revealed identity of Edward Snowden as it reviews or the administration reviews its options for prosecuting and extraditing him. This comes on the heels of three other controversies knocking President Obama off message in these key early months of his second term.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KEILAR (voice-over): As Edward Snowden stunned the world with his admission, the administration intensified calls to hunt down the leaker of an NSA surveillance program.

Sunday night, the Justice Department formally announced they were launching an investigation into the unauthorized disclosure of classified information. President Obama returning from California after a two-day mini-summit with the Chinese president had no comment. But he recently made clear he's upset by the state of high profile leaks.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't welcome leaks, because there's a reason why these programs are classified.

KEILAR: Making the Sunday talk show rounds, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee said the leaks don't give a full picture of the NSA program.

REP. MIKE ROGERS (R), MICHIGAN: I know the reporter that you interviewed, Greenwald says that he's got it all and now is an expert on the program. He doesn't have a clue how this thing works. Neither did the person who released just enough information to literally be dangerous.

KEILAR: Something the former NSA chief agreed with.

GEN. MICHAEL HAYDEN, FORMER NSA/CIA DIRECTOR: There are no records of abuse under President Bush, under President Obama. KEILAR: But how the NSA gathers its information and what it does with the data remains a point of contention.

SEN. MARK UDALL (D), COLORADO: I'm not convinced the collection of this vast trove of data has led to disruption of plots.

KEILAR: And on Capitol Hill, the fight is just beginning.

SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: Don't troll through a billion phone records every day. That is unconstitutional. It invades our privacy. And I'm going to be seeing if I can challenge this at the Supreme Court level.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KEILAR: This also steals the focus here in Washington. It's actually a big week for immigration reform, a key test vote in the Senate tomorrow. So, perhaps not as much scrutiny on Congress, John. But it's certainly a problem for President Obama because this story really comes smack up against the narrative that his administration tried so hard to construct and perceive -- one of transparency.

BERMAN: And every day it stays in focus, it pulls him off the agenda he wants to be promoting which is vastly different than this one.

Brianna Keilar, thank you so much.

ROMANS: Our next guests know something about shedding light on government secrets. Coleen Rowley wrote a memo and testified in front of Congress, describing intelligence failures that led up to the attacks on 9/11. For her efforts, she was named one of "TIME's" persons of the year and she now writes about issues of national security.

BERMAN: She joins us now from Minneapolis, along with CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin who is here in New York.

Good morning, Coleen. Let me start with you.

You know a little bit about what this man, Edward Snowden, is going through right now. Why don't you just make a sense of what it must be like to put this information out there and all of a sudden have everyone talking about it?

COLEEN ROWLEY, RET. FBI SPECIAL AGENT: Well, I think Edward Snowden was just quoted as saying his worst fear is that people do not take account of this enormous gravity of his disclosures, which he actually said this threat, this poses an existential threat to democracy.

So, obviously, he's more concerned that now the United States takes action, that Congress takes action, that really we have a serious investigation of these billions of total information awareness storage of calls and Internet e-mails that target Americans.

BERMAN: Were you scared? Do you think he's scared right now? ROWLEY: I'm sure that he has a healthy awareness of the bumpy road that lies ahead for him and, obviously, that is why -- unfortunately, it's a sad -- isn't it sad that we have to have an American person of conscious truth teller flee to a foreign country to reveal unconstitutional actions on the part of their government? That's an incredible statement itself.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Wait a second --

BERMAN: Jeffrey Toobin is here with us.

TOOBIN: Yes, didn't Coleen Rowley -- and she can correct me if I'm wrong. She did it the right way. She went through channels. She protested. She was a hero.

But she didn't just decide what was unclassified information on her own, break the law and then flee the country. I mean, I think Coleen Rowley was a hero. I don't think this Snowden character is a hero at all.

ROMANS: You think he's in a world of trouble.

TOOBIN: I think he is in a world of trouble and I think he should be in the world of trouble. I mean, isn't that right, Coleen? Didn't you play by the rules? You didn't leak stuff, illegally, did you?

ROWLEY: Well, I was fortunate. There was joint intelligence committee inquiry, even though the Bush administration had fought tooth and nail not to tell the truth about what had happened before 9/11. The Congress actually pushed that. There has not been.

If you look at this history of this total massive information awareness that everyone believed was quashed. People believed that there was a debate that Congress actually said no to this and then there was this additional moment after the Bush administration was caught illegally monitoring and they -- they kind of scared Congress. They said a terrorist attack will occur unless you reauthorize this.

There really has not been any debate where someone could tell the truth. This is exactly where national security experts now need to be brought in.

We have a National Academy of Sciences report back in 2008 that actually said national security that this collection, this massive collection of data harmed security because it makes it harder to find the needle in the haystack or terrorists.

BERMAN: Coleen, thanks.

ROWLEY: I think if people understood it was counterproductive, we would be even debating this.

BERMAN: Well, Coleen, very much, we are debating it right now. Coleen Rowley, thank you so much for being with us.

Jeffrey, let's pick up with you. You, drew a distinction between what Coleen did and what now Edward Snowden did. What about the distinction between this leak and other famous leaks. We talked about WikiLeaks. We talked about the Pentagon papers, Daniel Ellsberg.

How are they different? How are they similar? And does that matter?

TOOBIN: You know, it is -- it is a very hard question because they are all generically the same. They are all released as classified information. WikiLeaks was and the -- I'm forgetting - no --

BERMAN: Pentagon papers, Bradley Manning.

TOOBIN: Bradley Manning. Bradley Manning was -- you know, a vast, vast scale. Every day, reporters do their job and interview people and sometimes get classified information.

How do you draw a distinction between the normal give-and-take of reporters and something that's clearly unacceptable like what Bradley Manning did?

I don't know what the answer is. I think the legal system is struggling with that right now.

ROMANS: One thing that is so interesting to me. This is a guy that worked for three months and apparently began preparing for this just, you know, weeks -- weeks before he released this information. It's private contractors doing some of the most secret business of the United States government. That was something that surprised me -- the scope of private, public companies doing -- making a lot of money doing private things for the government.

TOOBIN: There aren't more than a handful of people in the United States government who make $200,000 a year. This clown, this 29-year- old kid, high school dropout, he's making $200,000 a year getting enormous access to classified information, with apparently very little supervision.

ROMANS: If we believe all pieces of his story, by the way.

TOOBIN: Right. Well, that is -- that is a question worth investigating, as well. Everyone complains about overpaid federal bureaucrats. What about vastly overpaid federal contractors?

BERMAN: So, what's the government do now? He's in Hong Kong, this guy, Edward Snowden. We think he might be headed to Iceland, he said he might seek asylum somewhere.

How does the U.S. get him if we wanted?

TOOBIN: Well, we do -- we have a system of extradition. We can bring charges against him and then go to the government of Hong Kong. That's a very complex political situation there. Hong Kong operates quasi-independently even though it is part of China. We can try to extradite him from Hong Kong, but China essentially has veto power over that. So, we can try to get it. We can pull his passport which might expedite the process. But it's not clear that he will ever return to the United States voluntarily or involuntarily.

ROMANS: A man espousing transparency going to --

TOOBIN: China of all places. A great -- the beacon of First Amendment values.

BERMAN: Jeffrey Toobin, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

Ahead on STARTING POINT, scary moments for a group of women sitting in this limo. They were all older than 90 years old. This limo caught on fire and what they did to get away safely.

ROMANS: And look at that. A pickup truck in the ocean and, wouldn't you know it, the driver may have been under the influence.

You're watching STARTING POINT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: Welcome back, everyone. We'll be talking all morning about what people are calling one of the biggest leaks in U.S. security history. Edward Snowden, the former CIA analyst who went on to work for a private security from Booz Allen leaking information about how the U.S. government tracks phone calls, tracks internet use from overseas.

It has caused a firestorm. The man who broke the story was "Guardian" columnist, Glenn Greenwald. He spoke on the "Today" show just a short while ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GLENN GREENWALD, COLUMNIST, THE GUARDIAN: He didn't say he had the legal authority. That's a word that you included in the statement that he didn't actually include.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He said authorities.

GREENWALD: Yes. He said authority, not legal authority, which is what you just quoted him as saying. And what I'm telling you is that is a misquotation because what he was clearly saying was that and the point that you ought to be interested as a journalist more so than the one that you asked is that people who sit at the NSA desk, thousands of them, have the authority, meaning, the NSA has given them the power to be able to go in and scrutinize the communications of any American.

It may not be legal, but they have the power to do it. And because all of this takes place in the dark with no accountability and no checks, that's the reason why he felt so compelled to inform his fellow citizens about the capabilities this massive surveillance apparatus provides, because it's so conducive to a view.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ROMANS: And Edward Snowden even claiming, claiming, in an interview with "The Guardian" that he could have tapped the president if he had had a private e-mail, a personal e-mail address of the president. He could have even tapped the president. That's the kind of authority he had.

BERMAN: And what Greenwald was doing in his lecture there was explaining that what he was saying was that, at sitting at that desk, he could have done it, whether it was legal or not.

ROMANS: All right. Still unfolding this morning, the bizarre case of the actress charged with sending three letters continued the deadly poison ricin. Investigators alleged 35-year-old Shannon Richardson mailed letters to President Obama, New York City mayor, Michael Bloomberg, and the head of a gun control organization co-founded by Bloomberg.

They say Richardson originally tried to incriminate her husband. The federal charges carries a possible ten-year prison sentence.

BERMAN: It has happened again. Another terrifying limo fire in Northern California. This time, thankfully, everyone got out alive. Take a look at what is left of this limo, the burnt out remains. Ten women, most of them were in their 90s. They were older than 90.

They were on their way to celebrate a friend's 96th birthday Sunday morning, God bless them, when their idling 2009 Lincoln town car limo erupted in flames. Caretaker, Mary Chapman, was inside the limo and helped the ladies escape with only seconds to spare.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARY CHAPMAN, SURVIVED LIMO FIRE: It's very fresh because when I looked out, there were red flames all over the place and black smoke. And then, now, you can see the result.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Police are now investigating the cause of the fire. The limo's owner thinks he already knows what happened.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm speechless because this is a new car. OK. I can see. Look at my tires, brand-new tires. I keep great records of the cars. This was a fire that happened (INAUDIBLE) right there between. It's a manufacture defect.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Five weeks ago, another limo burst into flames on the San Mateo Bridge. Five women, including a brand-new bride were killed.

Ahead on STARTING POINT, he's admitted to killing Trayvon Martin, but he claims it was in self-defense. It's all starting today, jury selection in the George Zimmerman trial begins this morning live. We head to Florida for details on that case that has so captivated the nation.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: Welcome back to STARTING POINT. "Minding Your Business" this Monday morning shaping up for a rally, perhaps. Dow futures are up 45 points. This follows the first gain in two weeks and a nearly five percent rally overnight in Japan's main stock index. Analysts hoping Friday's ho hum (ph) jobs report means the Federal Reserve will keep propping up the economy for now.

We're learning more about the NSA leaker, including the company he worked for and how he got access to top secret documents. Edward Snowden worked for Booz Allen Hamilton reportedly earning $200,000 a year. Booz Allen is a contractor like Lockheed Martin and Computer Sciences Cooperation, do lucrative intelligence work for the government.

What used to be hand (ph) by the government has essentially been outsourced to these contractors. It helps explain why a 29-year-old employee could get his hands on highly classified material. Booz is trying to distance itself from this saying Snowden only worked for it for three months and finds reports of the leaks shocking and that, quote, "If accurate, this action represents a grave violation of the code of conduct and core values of our firm."

Booz Allen certainly has closed ties with the U.S. government. Obama's -- President Obama's current chief intelligence official is James R. Clapper Jr., a former Booz executive. And John McConnell, a current Booz executive, had worked for the Bush administration as the director of National Intelligence. So, a revolving door there. Booz Allen Hamilton right at the center of it and at the center of this controversy.

Meantime, Target is going organic. The big box retailer is now selling a store brand called "Simply Balanced" as a way to cash in on the growing popularity of organic foods. The first products will be drinks and chips, but Target intends to eventually include about 250 offerings in its organic line. Simply balanced. Much better than simply unbalance.

BERMAN: Big organic box. Oh, I'm sure you'll be looking at unorganic food. If you want to get Cheetos, for instance, still be available.

ROMANS: There will always be a market for Cheetos, and I'm sure they will always be at Target.

BERMAN: That's the best news you give us today.

Ahead on STARTING POINT, talk about under the influence. How the driver of a pickup truck wound up in the drink? You know what, it was the drink that put him there. We'll explain. You're watching STARTING POINT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT, everyone. I'm John Berman. ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans.

BERMAN: And it really could be the murder case of the year. Jury selection begins today in the trial of George Zimmerman. He admits to shooting 17-year-old Trayvon Martin but claims he did it in self- defense. Prosecutors, of course, say it was murder. People have been watching this case for such a long time now. CNNs George Howell in Sanford, Florida, with the latest. Good morning, George.

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, good morning. So, you know, we are waiting for court to start 9:00 a.m. eastern time here in just a few minutes. And I want to take you over to some live pictures we have just outside the courtroom. You can see where people are starting to file into the courtroom. We're waiting for Bernie De La Rionda, the prosecutor. We're also waiting for Mark O'Mara to arrive.

We have cameras and people all over this courtroom, covering this story as only CNN can do. Right now, they're waiting for a few things to happen. There are a few pretrial motions that have to be wrapped up, and then, we get into the issue of jury selection. We're looking at a pool of 500 potential jurors to narrow that down to six jurors and at least two alternates. And the goal is to get as many people who have not been heavily influenced by this case to decide the fate of George Zimmerman.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HOWELL (voice-over): Was it a case of murder or self-defense? Those are the questions jurors will face in the case against George Zimmerman. February 26, 2012, the then neighborhood watch captain called police to report a teenager who he described as suspicious.