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Be prepared for a long distance run: Wolfgang Kaleck on the legal efforts to protect Snowden

Speaking at Courage’s launch event in Berlin last week, Edward Snowden’s lawyer in Germany, Wolfgang Kaleck explained the threats his client faces, the politicisation of his case and the ongoing legal work to protect him.

Courage runs Edward Snowden’s only official defence fund, donations to which support legal and public defence efforts for the NSA whistleblower.  Since the fund was launched in August 2013, it has spent over 100,000 dollars on
direct legal costs alone.

Wolfgang Kaleck’s presentation touched on some of the issues the defence fund has been able to support, in Germany and elsewhere.

Over the past year, Edward Snowden has delivered testimony, or spoken by videolink, to a number of international investigations into mass surveillance. A number of national investigations are proposed or ongoing, including two separate German inquiries.

On June 4 this year, the German Federal Prosecutor announced he was reopening a  preliminary criminal investigation into NSA interception of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s mobile phone. Kaleck revealed that, despite the German Federal Prosecutor’s recent claim to have invited Mr Snowden’s participation in the investigation, it was in fact Kaleck who offered his client’s help in proceedings – only to be told there was “no scope” for a witness testimony.

Similarly, while Edward Snowden has been invited to speak to Germany’s Parliamentary surveillance inquiry,  the mechanics of how that testimony will be delivered remain complex:

They want him as a witness but they won’t take any risk. They do not want to be able to secure witness testimony from him… The latest news is that they invited themselves to Moscow and asked us, or me as a lawyer, if we would agree to host them.

Not all of Edward Snowden’s legal team have spoken about their role publicly. Wolfgang Kaleck mentioned one of these, the legal team representing Mr Snowden in the US who have been trying to negotiate his safe return home over the past year. Despite the determination of US officials to take extraordinary measures against Mr Snowden, those efforts continue.

At Wednesday’s launch event, Mr Kaleck asked supporters to “be prepared for a long distance run… he and we all know that solidarity might still also be necessary in one, three or five years, because the US is known for chasing these kinds of people for a very long time.”

Ensuring that Edward Snowden stays safe will be a long battle fought on
many fronts – both legal and public. Edward Snowden’s defence fund will
continue to need money until he is fully protected.

You can help support Edward Snowden by making a donation towards his legal costs.

You can also demonstrate to governments around the world the strength and breadth of popular demand for the whistleblower’s protection by contributing a picture to Courage’s new Stand With Snowden campaign.


Wolfgang Kaleck




Full transcript:

It is a pleasure to be able to speak to you today, although I think you don’t really need a lawyer to explain the legal situation of Edward Snowden. It can be summarised in three sentences.

He is wanted by the superpower USA. So far he is hosted by another superpower, Russia. The rest of the world, with the exception of some brave countries, are profiting from the revelations whilst advising Edward away from turning to Europe.

That’s the short version, now I am going to get a little bit boring.

You don’t need a lawyer to understand what I’m telling you right now because this is not about law, it’s about politics. Every single decision that has been made in the Snowden case is a highly political decision.

Legally, there are several ways for him. It starts with the USA again and it all begins in one part of the US. The Eastern District of Virginia released an accusation last June. We don’t know much more about the charges but we have an idea, I think we all have an idea, of what the accusations might be. The threat is very clear, he is pretty much aware of what the threat is. The threat is something like thirty years in prison. And then, the treatment which whistleblowers regularly receive in the US and that is special administrative measures. That’s maximum security prison and probably solitary confinement.

And because of this threat, he has chosen to go to Russia, with the help of Sarah. There is no need to talk about Russia a lot and I don’t want to start to speculate right now.

As you know, because you all read the New York Times, on 28 April there was a long article about talks which have taken place since last summer between some lawyers who are representing Snowden in the US and the government. So far, and this is also a debate in the New York Times, so far, these talks haven’t shown any results and publicly we don’t know any results of these talks. And still, and I come back to this, still, he thinks and his lawyers in the US think it makes sense to talk with the US government.

There have been a lot of rumours, especially last week again, that he might go to Brazil, he might go to other countries. That’s a little bit of the self-referentiality of the media. He had given an interview to Globo, Brazil, and he repeated what he has been saying previously that he would be happy to be in Brazil – like many of us as well!

As he said to Glenn Greenwald when Globo was in news he had sent a couple of letters to a number of countries together with Sarah last year from the airport, but there is no new development. The situation is that he is wanted by the US, and hosted by Russia.

Then there is the brave country Germany who has been really solid and I am not going into details because this is ongoing. Germans during the last weeks have made a lot of, we would call it in the German phrase, a ‘storm in a glass of water’.

As you all know, from the beginning he has said that he is willing to participate in national and supranational inquiries. Because for him, the most important consideration is not his person.

He always states, he makes it very clear that it should not be about his person but it should be about him as an example, and it should be about the revelations, it should be about mass surveillance, it should be about the subject. So this the primary reason why he is willing to participate in a number of inquiries – participate in the inquiries by the European parliament, by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.

It is important to note that he participated as an expert – he didn’t participate as a witness, he didn’t give a witness testimony. A witness testimony was requested by him by the German parliamentary inquiry, which we know all about. They want him as a witness but they won’t take any risk. They do not want to be able to secure witness testimony from him.

The latest news is that they invited themselves to Moscow and asked us, or me as a lawyer, if we would agree to host them. That has to be decided until next week, not particularly interesting but still the kind of smaller details that we have struggled with. The next stage in Germany is another inquiry where he has not officially been asked by the Federal Prosecutor for Germany to give testimony or to reveal documents.

The Federal Prosecutor stated last week in his press release that he had asked us to give documents or participate in the procedure, in the criminal procedure. It was the other way round – I offered participation, they told me there was no space for any witness testimony, but he is not hindered to reveal any news to them.

So that’s the kind of thing we are struggling with in Germany. A number of other procedures and inquiries are following, so we are talking French senate, the Danish senate, the Belgian state are all starting running inquiries where he might participate or not.

A small inclusion, as I refer back to my summary – the situation is not at all as expected, it is deeper or something else. It seems to be more or less stable like it is right now.

So what I am asking all of you for is: be prepared for a long distance run, be prepared for a long distance run.

He enjoys the solidarity, all kinds of expressions of solidarity, but he and we all know that solidarity might still also be necessary in one, three or five years. Because the US is known for chasing these kinds of people for a very long time. So I would be happy to have to have a solution for him earlier, but if this is not the case, I will have to see you all here in one, three or five years.

Thank you.


Click here for an audio recording of the event.