Author Topic: In exile, Edward Snowden rakes in speaking fees while hoping for a pardon  (Read 2033 times)

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In exile, Edward Snowden rakes in speaking fees while hoping for a pardon

Michael Isikoff and Michael B. Kelley
August 11, 2016

More than three years after fleeing the United States with a massive cache of top-secret documents, former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden remains a federal fugitive, living in Moscow courtesy of President Vladimir Putin of Russia.

But Snowden — who is the subject of a new Oliver Stone biopic that hits movie theaters next month — is making the most of his exile: Over the past year, he has collected more than $200,000 in fees for digital speaking appearances that have been arranged by one of the country’s elite speakers’ bureaus, according to a source close to Snowden who is intimately familiar with his business affairs. At least three of these paid speeches were hosted by public American universities, and documents obtained by Yahoo News highlight various concerns raised by college officials about paying Snowden.

The former intelligence analyst uses video chat technology to address audiences around the globe: In the last five months, a larger-than-life Snowden has appeared on giant screens to a sold-out audience at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, northern Europe’s largest music festival, a symposium on surveillance and civil rights in Tokyo, and Comic-Con in San Diego. In all of these cases, as with most of his appearances, sympathetic crowds greeted him with thunderous applause and praise for his decision to leak classified documents to journalists about U.S. surveillance programs.

“Arguing you don’t care about privacy because you’ve got nothing to hide is no different than saying that you don’t care about free speech because you have nothing to say,” Snowden, using one of his classic lines, told Denmark’s Roskilde Festival in June. After the crowd — reportedly Snowden’s largest ever — sang “Happy Birthday,” the 33-year-old said: “Everyone, thank you. Really. You guys staying with me… is overwhelming. But this is not about me. This is about us.”

<img alt="Revelers react as Edward Snowden is seen on a screen during the Roskilde Festival in Roskilde, Denmark, on June 28, 2016. (Photo: Scanpix Denmark/Mathias Loevgreen Bojesen /via Reuters)" class="StretchedBox W(100%) H(100%) ie-7_H(a)" src=""/>Snowden appears on a screen during the Roskilde Festival in Denmark on June 28. (Photo: Scanpix Denmark/Mathias Loevgreen Bojesen/via Reuters)
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The events promote Snowden’s credentials as a whistleblower whose disclosures triggered significant changes in U.S. surveillance laws. And they come at a crucial moment for him. Timing their efforts to coincide with next month’s release of the Stone movie about his life, Snowden’s supporters are planning a major public relations campaign this fall to petition President Obama to grant him a full pardon before he leaves office.
But the spectacle of Snowden, who stole hundreds of thousands of classified government documents, profiting from his celebrity has irked some U.S. intelligence officials. This could frustrate his supporters’ hopes — admittedly unlikely to be realized — of striking a deal with the Obama administration to allow him to return to the United States without standing trial and risking substantial prison time.
“In my view, I think he has violated the oath that he made to this Constitution and this government,” said CIA Director John Brennan in a recent interview with Yahoo News. “Getting remuneration for it is very unfortunate and wrong.”
Ben Wizner of the ACLU, who serves as Snowden’s U.S. lawyer, strongly defended his client’s blossoming speaking career.
“There is nothing remotely improper about Edward Snowden making a living by speaking to global audiences about surveillance and democracy,” Wizner said, arguing that some in the U.S. intelligence community who approved torture and other abuses have “cashed in” with lucrative book deals and consulting careers. Snowden is “not getting rich off public speaking,” Wizner said. “He lives a frugal and modest life.”
<img alt="One of the only photos featuring Snowden in Moscow, taken in the fall of 2013 while he rode a boat passing the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. (Photo: LifeNews/Rossiya24)" class="StretchedBox W(100%) H(100%) ie-7_H(a)" src=""/>One of the only photos featuring Snowden in Moscow, taken in the fall of 2013 while he rode a boat passing the Cathedral of Christ the Savior. (Photo: LifeNews/Rossiya24
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‘I can assure you he will pay all taxes that he might owe’
Snowden has kept a well-crafted media profile in exile, digitally emerging more than 100 times at various events since arriving in Russia, according to a review of his public appearances. In 2014, he began appearing via video chat — or robot — at events around the world. Sometimes the American leaker turned activist speaks to events for free, especially for nonprofit groups, according to Wizner. In other cases, including talks at American colleges and universities, Snowden is paid as much as $25,000 for an appearance, his lawyer says.
Since September 2015, these paid talks have been arranged by the American Program Bureau (APB), a prestigious speakers’ bureau whose A-list clients range from world leaders such as former President Jimmy Carter and Desmond Tutu to TV stars such as Jon Stewart and Ellen DeGeneres. (Also advertised on the bureau’s website are a number of former U.S. officials, including retired Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry, the former U.S. commander in Afghanistan, and former State Department counterterrorism coordinator Daniel Benjamin.) During that time, three public universities — the University of Iowa, the University of Colorado and the University of Arizona — signed contracts with the bureau for Snowden to appear, according to documents obtained by Yahoo News under open records requests.

The website for the American Program Bureau.

The APB does not publicize its arrangement with Snowden, omitting his name from a list of advertised speakers on its website, although its officers have signed the contracts for Snowden’s talks at the schools. The emails obtained by Yahoo News show that officials at the schools, while usually enthusiastic about the idea of having Snowden speak to their students, raised multiple questions about his appearances, including whether he was donating some portion of his payments to charities or nonprofit groups, whether he was paying U.S. taxes on his fees and whether the payments might be prohibited by an executive order signed by President Obama last year declaring cyberhacking a national security threat subject to sanctions by the U.S. Treasury Department.

The bureau declined repeated requests to answer any questions from Yahoo News about its arrangement with Snowden. Wizner, Snowden’s U.S. lawyer, indicated to Yahoo News that Snowden has not filed any U.S. tax returns on his income in exile, but added: “I can assure you he will pay all taxes that he might owe. But he’s going to do that in connection with a settlement of all the charges” against him.

Snowden’s legal trouble dates back to the spring of 2013. On May 20 of that year, he landed in Hong Kong with what some U.S. officials feared were as many as 1.7 million classified documents taken from NSA systems during his work as an NSA contractor for Dell and Booz Allen Hamilton. (Exactly how much he took remains unclear.)

He subsequently gave American journalists Laura Poitras and Glenn Greenwald an estimated 200,000 documents, the contents of which became the subject of hundreds of news stories detailing NSA practices, including a top-secret program to collect records of phone calls made by Americans. Snowden also provided documents to Washington Post journalist Barton Gellman and South China Morning Post journalist Lana Lam. The subsequent media reports informed the world about pervasive spying by Western governments and spurred efforts by all three branches of government to reform the U.S. surveillance apparatus.

On June 14, 2013, Snowden was charged in a Justice Department criminal complaint with theft of government property and two violations of the U.S. Espionage Act for disclosing classified communications. Nine days later, Snowden, asserting he was on his way to Latin America, wound up at the Moscow airport and was unable to go any farther because the U.S. government had revoked his passport.

‘How much is actually donated?’
The idea for Snowden’s appearance at the University of Colorado, Boulder, arose after the APB speakers’ bureau emailed the university’s Distinguished Speakers Board. The chair of the board told Yahoo News that “the email was more of an advertisement-type format, just informing us that Mr. Snowden was on the speaking circuit.” The university agreed to pay the bureau $56,000 to host a joint appearance with Snowden and Pulitzer Prize-winning author and journalist Ron Suskind on Feb. 16, 2016, for 90 minutes.
“The speaking ‘fee’ for Snowden is also a donation to a non-profit, correct?” Brandon Myers, coordinator for Student Activities + Special Events at the University of Colorado, Boulder, asked APB senior agent Tammy Haschig in a Feb. 1 email. “If so, which organization? The ACLU? How much is actually donated?”
Haschig replied that Snowden “contributes a significant portion of his speaking fees to the Freedom of the Press Foundation, where he is a board member.”
<img alt="APB correspondence with the University of Colorado." class="StretchedBox W(100%) H(100%) ie-7_H(a)" src=""/>View photos

APB correspondence with the University of Colorado.
Snowden echoed the claim during his digital talk with Suskind, telling the crowd that he planned to donate part of his fee to the press organization — a San Francisco nonprofit whose stated mission is to “support and defend journalism dedicated to transparency and accountability.” Other board members of the Freedom of the Press Foundation include Greenwald and Poitras, both of whom received the initial cache of NSA documents from Snowden.
“I want to make sur
e journalists are able to operate,” said Snowden, explaining his decision to make the donation. Suskind, whose appearance with Snowden was also arranged by APB, said it was his “understanding” from Wizner that Snowden was going to donate half his fee to the Freedom of the Press Foundation.

But Trevor Timm, president of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, told Yahoo News that the organization never received any direct donations from Snowden as a result of the Colorado talk or any other of his speaking appearances. On a “handful of occasions,” Timm said, Snowden has forfeited speaking fees and directed that they go to the group, estimating that the organization has received between $10,000 and $20,000 this year under such arrangements. But, he added in an email, “there have been no direct donations from Snowden to Freedom of the Press Foundation.”

If Snowden did not actually make the contribution to the Freedom of the Press Foundation for the Colorado talk, then “I would be disappointed and surprised,” Suskind said in an interview.

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<img alt="The website for the American Program Bureau." class="StretchedBox W(100%) H(100%) ie-7_H(a)" src=""/>
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