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U.S. intelligence heads, President Barack Obama, and lawmakers say that domestic spying programs are not actually monitoring the content of Americans' phone calls and e-mails. But former NSA contractor Edward Snowden says they are lying.
Snowden did an online Q and A session with "The Guardian" newspaper Monday. It was a live chat with questions from journalists and the general public on Twitter, where Snowden directly rebutted the criticism against him, and the claims that officials have been making in the wake of his intelligence leaks.
The head of the NSA on Wednesday told Congress that these methods of surveillance - in particular the PRISM program to monitor e-mail communication - have helped prevent dozens of terror events. Specifically, one from 2009.
"[Director of National Intelligence Jame Clapper] said that section 702 collection was critical to the discovery and disruption of a plot to bomb the New York subway system, Zazi case. Is that correct?" Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont asked the director of the NSA on Wednesday.
"That is correct. In fact, not just critical, it was the one that developed the lead on it," replied Gen. Keith Alexander.
Not true, says Snowden. In his online chat, he wrote, "U.S. officials also provide misleading or directly false assertions about the value of these programs, as they did just recently with the Zazi case, which court documents clearly show was not unveiled by PRISM."
Snowden's last known whereabouts were in Hong Kong. China's foreign ministry today said that he has not cooperated with China, and he is not one of their spies.
"If I were a Chinese spy, why wouldn't I have flown directly into Beijing? I could be living in a palace petting a phoenix by now," Snowden wrote during the live chat.
A majority of people in the U.S. do not support Snowden's cause. New CNN/ORC polling found 52% of those polled disapprove of his actions, compared to 44% who support him. Most people, 54%, want to see him extradited back to the U.S., and prosecuted for what he's done.
In Snowden's online chat today he said, "... the U.S. government is not going to be able to cover this up by jailing or murdering me. Truth is coming, and it cannot be stopped."
To a lot of people that seems like a rather outrageous charge.
U.S. officials "seem to think that if he turns over, to the Chinese government or some foreign government, what is in his possession and what is in his head ... it would be one of the gravest, and most cataclysmic injuries to U.S. national security ever," The Guardian's Glenn Greenwald told CNN.
Greenwald said that there is no evidence Snowden intends to give intelligence to foreign governments, and that he has denied having done so.
"He's concerned that the only way that they might think to stop him is to physically stop him," Greenwald said. "I don't know of any evidence that they intend to do so."
Denis McDonough, the White House chief of staff, was on CBS over the weekend. He took issue with the suggestion by Snowden and others that the NSA surveillance programs are illegal, and that there have been abuses. He argued, as the administration has, that Congress has oversight and specific committees are in the loop. Also, when it comes to specific white papers, members of Congress were invited to see them in 2009 and 2011. McDonough also pointed out that there is a court, a FISA court, and that there are also inspectors general.
"This oversight that they keep citing is important. It's symbolic. They - even the senators who get alarmed by what they're seeing are barred by law from doing anything about it," said Greenwald.
"As far as the FISA court is concerned ... The NSA does not need individual warrants to listen in on the communications or read the e-mails of American citizens when they're talking internationally to people overseas. They go once every six months to the FISA court. The FISA court rubberstamps these vague guidelines that the NSA says they're using to make sure they're complying with the law," said Greenwald.
"And once that happens, the NSA can force telecoms and Internet companies to give them whatever they demand, under the guise that the FISA court has blessed their guidelines," said Greenwald.
Check out the video above for our full interview with Glenn Greenwald.