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Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Message Said to be From Edward Snowden Read to European Parliament Rights Panel

PARIS â€" Edward J. Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who disclosed thousands of classified government documents and is now in hiding in Russia, made a surprise appearance of sorts at the European Parliament in Brussels on Monday.

Reading from a statement that she said had come from Mr. Snowden, Jesselyn Radack, a former ethics adviser to the United States Department of Justice and a former government whistle-blower, quoted Mr. Snowden as saying that “the surveillance of whole populations, rather than individuals, threatens to be the greatest human rights challenge of our time.”

Ms. Radack, who has represented several prominent dissident former officials from the N.S.A., came to prominence after she revealed that the Federal Bureau of Investigation had committed what she said was a breach of ethics in its interrogation of John Walker Lindh, who was captured during the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 and dubbed the “American Taliban.”

Ms. Radack told Parliament’s civil liberties committee on Monday that Mr. Snowden said in his statement that it should not take what he called “the persecution and exile” of leakers like him to generate robust international debate over the breadth of government surveillance.

“If we are to enjoy such debates in the future, we cannot rely on individual sacrifice, we must create better channels for people of conscience to better inform not only trusted agents of government but independent representatives of the public outside of government,” she said, quoting Mr. Snowden’s message.

Mr. Snowden, 30, who has been granted temporary asylum in Russia, has been charged in the United States with espionage and theft, after his leaking of N.S.A. materials exposed a massive surveillance program in the United States and internationally. While his critics regard him as a traitor, many Europeans portray him as an effective civil liberties advocate.

The polarization between Europe and the United States over the Snowden affair was laid bare in September when the European Parliament, in a rebuke to Washington, nominated Mr. Snowden for the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, considered Europe’s top human rights award. Previous recipients of the award include Aung San Suu Kyi of Myanmar and Nelson Mandela of South Africa.

Ms. Radack, who works for the Government Accountability Project, a Washington-based advocacy group, said by telephone from Brussels on Tuesday that the Snowden case showed the importance of credible government oversight bodies where whistle-blowers could turn. “When government bodies are functioning the way they are supposed to, whistle-blowers are willing to go through them,” she said.

The hearing was also attended by Thomas A. Drake, a former senior executive at the N.S.A. who leaked information to the media in 2006 about wasteful government spending and alleged snooping on American citizens.

He told the committee that the N.S.A. was “not just eavesdropping on all Americans and building the architecture for a police state in the U.S., it has created the largest set of mass surveillance programs in the history of the world.”