American Scandal

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Every scandal begins with a lie. But the truth will come out. And then comes the fallout and the outrage.

Scandals have shaped America since its founding. From business and politics to sports and society, we look on aghast as corruption, deceit and ambition bring down heroes and celebrities, politicians and moguls. And when the dust finally settles, we’re left to wonder: how did this happen? Where did they trip up, and who is to blame? From the creators of American History Tellers, Business Wars and Tides of History comes American Scandal, where we take you deep into the heart of America’s dark side to look at what drives someone to break the rules and what happens when they’re caught. Hosted by Lindsay Graham.

Edward Snowden | Read, Write, Execute | 2

Edward Snowden | Read, Write, Execute | 2

Tue, 23 Aug 2022 07:01

Edward Snowden lands a job with the NSA. But when he stumbles on a shocking government secret, Snowden has to face a moral dilemma.

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To listen to American scandal one week early and add free, join Wondry Plus in the Wondri app. Download the Wondri app in your Apple or Google Play mobile app store today. It's June 3rd, 2013. Edward Snowden is sitting in a hotel room in Hong Kong. He keeps glancing at the door, his nerves racked. Over and over Snowden replays the same haunting image in his mind. A SWAT team kicking down the door, agents shoving him to the ground and laying cold handcuffs on his wrists. Snowden can imagine the police hauling him away and shoving him in a jail cell where he'll spend the rest of his life, a prisoner for trying to do the right thing. It's a terrifying vision, and the longer Snowden entertains this nightmare, the more he can feel anxiety creeping up inside him, threatening to swallow him whole. So Snowden stops himself, takes the deep breath. He has to stop fretting, he has to focus on the present, because right now he's giving the most important interview of his life. And if he doesn't stay clear headed, no one will understand the full story and why America has to learn the truth about its government. Snownex hails and looks back up at Glenn Greenwald, a reporter for the Guardian. Four hours, the two men have been talking about why Snowden leaked thousands of top secret government documents, showing that the National Security Agency has been spying on Americans. The interview has been exhausting, but it's not over yet. All right, Ed, I'm sure you're tired, but we gotta keep going. We have to cover your personal journey. Well, okay, but can we first talk about the actual program at the NSA? I mean, I can tell you all about what they're capable of, why these surveillance programs pose a real danger to democracy. Yeah, sure, we'll talk about that, we'll get there. But right now let's talk about you. This story isn't about me. Well, it's about the government's shore, but it is also about you. Are you okay with that? Snowden bites his lip. He was the one who invited journalists into the story. He knows he could have just uploaded the files to the internet and been done with it, but Snowden wants to have an impact. And he knows that means trusting the journalists to do their job. Yeah, okay, we can talk about me. Well, good. Now, you spent most of your adult life working for the intelligence community, right? Yeah, that's right. And in that community, loyalty and secrecy are paramount. Sure. So these values, they're seared into your brain. How did you get to a point where you were willing to go against these bedrock principles? I just felt like the public had a right to know what was happening to its privacy. Okay, but you couldn't have been the only one at NSA to have concerns. Why were you the one who released them? I keep telling you, I felt like I had a moral duty to confront wrongdoing. I don't know what else to say. Well, look, when we first started talking, I thought you were some gray beard. You know, putting a solid 30 years at the NSA, you didn't always like what you'd been told to do, but you buried those qualms except one day. You've got a terminal cancer diagnosis and suddenly realized you couldn't die with everything on your conscious. That's who you thought I was. Well, yeah, because that's who risk's going to prison for the rest of their life because of some abstract principle of moral duty. It's got to be someone already on death row, someone with nothing to lose. But you're not even 30. You have everything to lose. So again, why did you become a whistleblower? I just got to a point where I couldn't remain silent. Greenwald's size. Look, the government is going to do everything they can to discredit you. We need some sort of counter narrative to keep public opinion on our side. We need to show that you're doing this to save the country, not to harm America. But to show that, we need people to feel your morality. Feel your principles and your conviction. You've got to dig deeper here. God, I don't know what's safe. Well, let's do this. Why don't we go all the way back to the beginning? Tell me your story. Tell me how you got here. Snow nods and sets his jaw. His mind grows flooded with old memories. There were the old days at the CIA, the long nights in front of glowing computer screens. That fateful morning on 9.11. And the moment when Snowden uncovered a terrible truth and everything changed. A day Snowden will never forget. American scandal is sponsored by the new ABC drama Alaska Daily. When an indigenous woman goes missing in Alaska, it sparks new questions about other missing and murdered indigenous women. And that's where the thrilling new ABC drama Alaska Daily begins. And where it's headed, we'll have you on the edge of your seat. Two time Academy Award winner Hillary Swank stars as Eileen, a veteran reporter, who joins a team of local journalists working to bring the truth to light. From Academy Award winning screenwriter Tom McCarthy, Alaska Daily premieres Thursday, October 6th on ABC, and streams next day on Hulu. If you're into true crime, the Generation Y podcast is essential listening. We started this podcast over 10 years ago to dissect some of the craziest and most notable murders, crimes, and conspiracy theories together, and we'd love for you to join us. Follow the Generation Y podcast on Amazon Music or wherever you listen to podcasts. From Wondery, I'm Lindsey Graham, and this is American scandal. In early 2013, the documentary filmmaker Laura Poitrus received an encrypted email from a mysterious source. The man claimed to be a member of the US intelligence community, and he said he had proof that the National Security Agency was conducting mass surveillance of American citizens under the guise of fighting terror. Poitrus and the reporter Glenn Drainwald knew they couldn't turn away from the story. And even though they risked charges of espionage, the two journalists traveled to Hong Kong to interview their whistleblower. Poitrus and Greenwald would learn that their source was a 29 year old named Edward Snowden. He was a contractor with the NSA, and despite his young age, Snowden had pulled off one of the largest heists in American history. Snowden claimed to be a patriot. He said his leak was an effort to help protect American democracy. And as the journalist interviewed Snowden, they would learn that their whistleblower had a complicated backstory. He was an idealist, a former enlisted member of the military. Snowden had worked for the CIA and had a deep faith in American values. But to fight for those values, Snowden had decided to risk everything, including his personal freedom, and even the ones he loved. This is episode 2. Read, write, execute. It's the mid 1990s in Croft and Maryland. It's almost midnight on a school night, but Edward Snowden is still awake. The young teenager is perched on a chair inside his dad's home office, and he's holding a pillow over a modem as it connects to the internet. The dial up modem hisses, chirps, and beeps, and Snowden heaves his weight against the pillow trying to muffle the sounds. He can't let his parents know he's still awake and back on the computer. If they catch him, his mom and dad are going to be furious, and they'll send him right back to bed. But for Snowden, going to sleep is not an option. Not too long ago, the CD ROM drive on Snowden's computer broke, and that means he can't play any of his video games. Snowden feels driven to fix whatever's wrong. So a few hours ago, Snowden went online and posted to an electronic bulletin board. He wanted to know if there was some way to fix his computer. Snowden spent a lot of his time with this online community, and he's certain that by now someone has responded with an answer. But to get the answer, Snowden needs to make his way onto the internet, and the modem needs to hurry up and connect. Finally, the beeping and chirping comes to a stop, and Snowden is online. He tosses aside the pillow, and plunks down into the desk chair, logging into the bulletin board. As he scrolls through an endless list of posts, Snowden's eyes light up. Ever since his dad brought home their first family PC when he was nine, Snowden has been obsessed with computers. He quickly learned how to build and program them. He became something of a whiz kid, and he learned everything by talking to people online. Once he posted a question about why a piece of hardware wasn't working, and in a wild turn of events, a computer science professor wrote a four page response explaining how to fix it. Snowden was flabbergasted. He couldn't believe a professional academic would take time to help him, a kid in suburban Maryland. But that's what's great about being online, you're anonymous. No one on the bulletin board knows that Snowden is pale and scrawny with big glasses, or that he's just a kid. On the internet, Snowden is free to be whoever he wants. Sitting in his dad's office, Snowden scrolls through the bulletin board, looking for his post. There are lots of conversations to get through, but finally, Snowden spots what he's looking for, and gets a sudden jolt of excitement. There are over 20 responses. Snowden is certain someone's going to have an answer about his CD ROM. But as he starts reading, Snowden realizes that most of the responses aren't about hardware. They're about the upcoming consumer electronics show in Las Vegas. It's a premiere showcase of technology and new products, and everyone is begging Snowden to come. Snowden's size. He'd love to go. But CES is not exactly meant for someone in junior high. Although he's already told his online friends he can't go, seems like they won't take no for an answer. Snowden doesn't want to upset these people. They're the best part of his life. It's his whole life, really. He sleeps through most of the day at school, and his classmates make fun of him for being obsessed with computers. But if he tells his online friends why he can't come to a show in Vegas, everyone will know who he really is. Just a kid. So Snowden gets up from his seat and begins pacing back and forth, his mind racing. He doesn't like lying. It doesn't feel right to hide the truth. But he also doesn't want to spoil anything and lose his place in this community. But the longer he thinks about it, the more Snowden realizes he can't keep hiding. So he takes a deep breath and sits back down. Then he begins typing out a reply. Snowden tells everyone that he appreciates the imitation. He wishes he could go to Vegas and see all the new cool tech, but he can't go because he's a kid. Snowden's hands start shaking, and he almost deletes the message. But instead, with a single keystroke, he hits sand and waits. Snowden feels nauseated, but almost immediately a reply pops up. The guy writing says he's amazed. He can't believe Snowden is so young and knows so much about computers. Snowden sits back, grinning, and surprised. They're not making fun of him. But all at once, Snowden is hit by a feeling of loss. Because he realizes that now there's no going back. He's no longer anonymous. And that means he's no longer free, not like he used to be. It's the morning of September 11, 2001. Edward Snowden races up the stairs of a small house in Fort Mead, Maryland. He throws open the door. And when he steps inside, he finds his boss sitting at her computer, typing rapidly. Snow knows he's about to be in a bit of trouble. He's late for work, and his boss isn't going to be happy. But with everything Snowden just heard on the news, he sure shall understand. Snowden clears his throat, announcing that he's arrived. And his boss swivels around in her chair and checks her watch. Then she lets out an exasperated sigh and reminds Snowden that he's late again. He may be only 18 years old, but he has to treat this like a real job. It's not high school. Snow nods and quickly apologizes. He knows it's not acceptable to come into work so late. And he's grateful for the job. He still can't believe that even after dropping out of high school, he actually managed to land a job working on websites. He feels profoundly lucky. But Snowden explains that today is different. He was just listening to the news, and he heard something about a plane crash in New York. It sounded awful, and he was trying to figure out what was going on. That's why he was so late. Snowden steps into the office and asks if his boss knows anything. But instead of showing any interest in the news, his boss snaps, telling Snowden to stop wasting time. They have a big deadline, and have to get to work. Snowden wants to argue what he heard sounded like a big deal, but he knows she's right. So he sits down at his computer and picks up where he left off. For about 10 minutes, Snowden keeps working, writing code for a website. He's about to start on a new feature when suddenly the office phone starts ringing. Snowden's boss grabs the receiver. And judging by her tone, it must be her husband calling. Snowden assumes it's just going to be a quick hello, but his boss's voice grows shrill, and she slams down the receiver. Her eyes wide with terror. Snowden's boss announces that two planes have just crashed into the World Trade Center. Another one just hit the pentagon. It is some sort of coordinated attack, and her husband told her the NSA is evacuating headquarters and closing the base in case they're also targets. They're not too far away. Snowden's boss says he needs to get out of here right now. Snowden suddenly feels dizzy and disoriented. He can't process what he's hearing, and then it slowly dawns on him. His whole family could be at risk. Snowden's dad is stationed at the Coast Guard headquarters in D.C. His mom is a clerk at a federal courthouse in Baltimore. His grandfather works for the FBI. If terrorists are targeting the federal government, all of his family members could be in danger. Snowden doesn't think twice. He grabs his bag and races out of the office, and begins calling everyone who might be in danger. He can only pray with all of his heart that no one has gotten hurt. A few minutes later, Edward Snowden jumps into his car and starts the engine. He begins speeding out of Fort Mead. But when he arrives at the main road, he hits a wall of traffic. Snowden tries to maneuver around the gridlock, but there's nowhere to go. So he hits the radio and tries to get an update on the news. Snowden is a little more of that. This is according to some people down town at aircraft did crash near the Pentagon, and the West Wing of the White House has been evacuated amid threats of terrorism. So this comes on less than a day. And dials his mom. Mom, I'm fine. I'm on the base, but I'm heading home. I know we're trying. We're all trying. Where are you? Are you coming home? What? No, you have to leave. Mom, please listen to me. Look, I promise. I'll do what I can. Fine, but what about Grandpa? Is he in New York? I don't know. I'm worried he was at the Pentagon. I've been calling, but I can't get through. Look, Ed, I'm sorry. There's another call coming in. It might be Grandpa, so I'm going to hang up. I'll call you as soon as I hear anything. Mom, mom. Snowden bangs the steering wheel as he continues to crawl through traffic. He feels sick and shocked. He can't believe this is real. It's like something out of a movie. But as Snowden looks out at all the other drivers, he can see he's not alone. Everyone is stunned, and everyone looks afraid. As Snowden tries to grapple with such an impossible moment, he suddenly grows cold with anger. Someone is going to have to pay for this. Snowden wants to be part of the fight. American scandal is sponsored by sleep number. I'm anxious. This week my entire company is attending a podcast conference, which is wonderful. I hope they all enjoy it. But it means they won't be working, so we're all scrambling to make sure everything gets done now. That's been keeping me up at night. There are so many things that can, and sleep is important. So the last thing that should cause you to lose sleep is your bed. Choose proven quality sleep from sleep number. And right now is the biggest sale of the year event, where all their smart beds are on sale. With 50% savings on a 360 limited edition smart bed, it's a great time to discover adjustable comfort for both of you. Sleep number smart beds not only adjust your ideal firmness. My sleep number is 45, but their sleep IQ app tracks how well you sleep. It measures your best sleep hours, heart rate, breathing, and movement. And you can use these data to improve your sleep. 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Sometimes Snowden still doesn't quite believe that he made it all the way to Europe that he's working for the CIA that his life has turned out as it has. It seemed like only yesterday that Snowden was just some kid who liked to play around with computers. He knows that he grew up a lot after 9.11. The terrorist attacks were the reason Snowden enlisted in the army. He wanted to serve his country and help wage the fight against those who threatened American freedom. But Snowden's time in the military didn't last long. Shortly after starting training, he broke both of his legs and was medically discharged. It was a huge disappointment. And although Snowden had dreamed of being a fighter and a hero, he realized he had another kind of superpower. Snowden could serve his country using his skills with technology. So after a rigorous job application process, he eventually swore an oath to his country, and even though it seemed improbable, Snowden landed a job working for the CIA. Snowden will admit the job's not that exciting. Right now, he's helping officers and agents with computer related tasks. It's kind of like a help desk and not the kind of thing he dreamed of when he imagined working for the CIA. But it is a steady gig, and Snowden feels like he's doing important work. Or at least he felt that way until recently. Staring out across Lake Geneva, Snowden keeps turning over the same troubled thoughts. He hasn't lost his idealism about public service. But in working for the CIA, he's come face to face with some serious moral dilemmas. And that's part of what he's trying to figure out tonight. What he should do, whether he should stay with the CIA, or whether there's another way to serve the country without sacrificing his moral principles. Snowden takes the sip of his drink and turns to one of his colleagues who's joined him here on the lakefront. He works with the National Security Agency as part of a joint task force that partners with the CIA. Snowden is hoping that with all his experience working in intelligence, the man can point him in the right direction. Clearing his throat, Snowden tells the agent that if he wouldn't mind, Snowden would love to talk about something important, something about work. Another firework explodes in the sky, and the agent gives Snowden a curious look. Is this something they have to talk about now? It's a perfect summer night. Not really time to talk shop. Snowden nods. He doesn't want to spoil the evening. But this is his chance. So he tells the agent he's been feeling troubled and needs to figure out what to do. The agent can see the heavy expression on Snowden's face. So says, alright, how can he help? Snowden sighs. And then he begins telling the NSA agent about a mission Snowden was recently involved in, one that went terribly awry. It all started with the CIA's assumption that Saudi Arabia was financing terrorism. The agency needed proof of the crime, and Snowden thought he could help. He'd met a Saudi banker at a party and offered to connect the banker to a CIA case officer. Snowden thought the officer might be able to glean some intelligence from the banker. But the CIA officer could never get the banker to open up. So he took another tack and blackmailed the banker, getting him arrested on charges of drunk driving. The CIA officer hoped that would give the agency some leverage and get the banker talking. But still the banker wouldn't talk. He ended up getting a DUI and losing his job, and in the end his life was ruined. Snowden explains that he felt torn with guilt. The banker wasn't suspected of funding terrorism. He was an innocent man. But the CIA was still willing to destroy him. Snowden pauses, and looking at his colleague from the NSA, he can tell he's not the only one who's troubled by the story. Another firework explodes in the sky, and Snowden's colleague takes a long sip of his drink. He says this can happen. It's ugly, but it's a fact of on the ground espionage. Snowden says that's exactly it. He has to believe there's a better way to gather intelligence, and he has a feeling the NSA is the one fighting the good fight. His colleague says Snowden is right. The NSA now has the tools to get the same results just by using digital communications. They could have broken into the Saudi banker's email, gotten all the information they needed. They never would have had to ruin an innocent man's life. Snowden continues to gaze out at Lake Geneva. He was certain he'd found a home with the CIA. The agency and its spycraft had loomed so large in Snowden's imagination. But he can see that the real work of national security is more complicated than any childhood fantasy. America has to be kept safe and free. That's the goal. But the way you achieve that goal is just as important as the goal itself. You can't undermine American values in the fight to protect American values. It's just not right. Snowden is starting to see that these kind of problems may just be a bait in feature of the CIA. But Snowden also knows he doesn't have to work for the CIA. There are other agencies. Maybe it's worth looking more into the NSA. Snowden could always get a new job, and he could be a part of a more ethical and principled fight. It's the summer of 2009, a year later. In an office in Tokyo, Edward Snowden sits reading a document on his computer. It's a little after 3am, and this late at night, the office is gone quiet. There are a few other guys working the graveyard shift. But like Snowden, they're parked in front of their computers, working silently. Snowden Yons and Rubs his eyes. He's tired. And Snowden wishes he could get back home and get a little sleep. But he knows he has to keep plowing ahead. Tomorrow is a big day. And if Snowden doesn't keep working, he'll end up squandering what could be an important opportunity for himself and for the intelligence community. For the last few months, Snowden has been working a new and exciting job. On paper, he's technically employed by Dell computers. But in the real world, Snowden is working as a contractor for the NSA, writing computer code, and supporting the agency in its efforts to protect America. Part of his work involves writing programs that safeguard government data. It's an important task, and Snowden has been thrilled to put his technical skills to work in the fight against terrorism. But Snowden was also just handed an opportunity that draws on a very different set of skills. Tomorrow, the agency is hosting a conference about Chinese hackers. At the last minute, the conference organizers requested that Snowden fill in as a presenter. He would only have 24 hours to prepare. He'd have to quickly become an expert on China and the country's use of technology to conduct espionage. Snowden knew he was too good an opportunity to pass up. He could lead to bigger and better things. So he said yes. Now sitting at his desk at 3 a.m., Snowden is racing against the clock. He's only got a few hours before the presentation. And although his eyes are scratchy and he's feeling the pinch of exhaustion, he keeps preparing. Snowden pages through an NSA briefing and shakes his head. The report is downright startling. Apparently, the Chinese government has a vast ability to spy on its own citizens. China collects everything from emails to phone calls to text messages for its 1.3 billion citizens. It's an incredible intrusion into people's private lives. Snowden continues reading the report, stunned by the magnitude of the Chinese government's abuse. He could never imagine living in a country like that, knowing that all his communications were being monitored. Snowden turns the page of the report and reaches for his coffee. But lifting up his mug, he notices he's all out. It's time for a refill. Snowden heads to the kitchen and pours himself another cup. But as he takes a sip, Snowden gasses across the office, suddenly noticing all the government computers running 24 hours a day. The walls are mounted with security cameras. And somewhere, all this footage is being catalogued and stored. Snowden gets a bitter taste in his mouth. That report, the one on China, was practically a how to guide for spying on an entire population. And the more he thinks about it, the more Snowden wonders if the NSA is doing something similar. How ounce would they understand all the mechanics of mass surveillance? But Snowden just chuckles at the preposterous thought. He's just tired, probably getting paranoid. Because the US is not China. America has a long history of respecting the right to privacy. There's no chance the NSA or anyone else would have built such a frightening system of mass surveillance. And in any case, now is in the time for crazy what ifs. Snowden has to finish reading up on China and get ready for his presentation. When that's done, he'll head home and get some sleep. And when he's finally rested some, he'll see if he is still actually paranoid about government surveillance. And any other crazy fantasies about the NSA. A year later, Edward Snowden hikes through an overgrown forest in the Japanese countryside. A gentle breeze rustles through the tall dark canopy. And up ahead, Snowden's girlfriend, Lindsey Mills, squat on the ground, taking photographs of ancient trees and dappled sunlight. Snowden's size. By all measures, this is a perfect day. He's with the woman he loves and she looks gorgeous. The two are hiking through one of the most awe inspiring places on the planet. Snowden should be happy. He should be present and focused on the moment. But no matter how hard he tries, Snowden can't stop his mind from wandering. It's been like this for months. And it all began when Snowden stumbled on a report that left in feeling dazed and shaken. Snowden was at work doing one of his routine jobs for the NSA. As one of the technical specialists, Snowden scours the agency's servers and cleans out digital files that have been stored in the wrong place. That day, Snowden was just doing his job. When the report came to him by mistake, it was highly classified. The kind of document that only a dozen people in the entire US government have access to. And although he probably shouldn't have, Snowden decided to take a look. As soon as he began to read, his hands went numb. The report detailed a program at the NSA called Stellar Wind, a sophisticated apparatus designed to conduct mass surveillance. But the surveillance wasn't just focused on terrorists. The NSA was scooping up the data from millions of US citizens. That data wasn't the actual content of phone calls or emails. But Stellar Wind was recording the information known as metadata, including the time, location, and length of phone calls. To an outsider, that kind of information might seem benign. But Snowden knows it all adds up. Taken as a whole, the data provide a complete picture of a person's life. The government now knew what time a person woke up, where they went, who they interacted with. The agency could be turned into an instrument of political warfare during elections, or the data could be used in a campaign to silence government critics. The possibilities for abuse were endless, and Snowden felt sick to his stomach, because he realized he was personally culpable. He didn't know it, but he was helping build the infrastructure used to spy on innocent civilians. That realization has stuck with him every day since. And Snowden doesn't know how he's going to be able to lead a normal life. He can't even enjoy a day out in nature with the woman he loves. But somehow he'll have to just get through it. He'll keep these secrets to himself. And in the months and years to come, Snowden will manage to soldier on. Snowden's girlfriend, Lindsay Mills, stops in front of the pale mushroom, growing on the trunk of a fallen tree. She shoots a photo. When she turns around, her light brown hair dances in the wind. Yeah, look at this. Can you believe it? This is the real thing. Yeah, it's nice. I mean, this weird alien creature. This mushroom is actually alive. Yeah, it's beautiful. Mills lowers the camera and stares at Snowden. Ed, what is going on with you? What do you mean? I'm fine. No, you're not. We've been walking around for an hour. You've barely said two words. Ugh, well, maybe you're right. I'm sorry. Don't say sorry. Tell me what's going on. I'm just in my head. I'll be better when I get some rest. No, but it's not just today. You've been distant for months. It's work stuff. Well, what kind of work stuff? You know I can't talk about it. That's what you always say. I can't talk about it. Well, that's the deal. And remember, when we first started dating, I told you I couldn't discuss my work. None of that's changed. Well, that's not true. Something has changed. You're not telling me what it is, though. Snowden bites his lip and looks off into the distance. Look, I'm sorry. Stop saying sorry. Talk. I can't. I can't. Snowden stares at the ground trying to hold back his emotion. He doesn't like this. Having to lead a double life, hiding the truth from his girlfriend. Snowden can't believe he has to hold on to a secret so large something the world deserves to know, but he'll make it work. He tells himself he can hold on to these secrets. But if he's being honest with himself, at some point the dam is going to break. And when that happens, Snowden isn't sure what he's going to do. What if your family was the victim of a home invasion, or you woke up in the morgue, or you were seriously injured miles from help? What would you do? This is actually happening. Ask our listeners this very question while we bring you captivating real life stories of trauma and perseverance. This is actually happening brings listeners extraordinary true stories from the people who lived them. You'll hear stories about conflict, turmoil, or threats that dramatically alter the course of someone's life. Each episode is an exploration of the human spirit and how survivors manage to overcome hardship and move on with their lives. Even thriving afterward. The new season of this is actually happening is available ad free only with Wondry Plus. And if this new season isn't enough, you can listen to more than 120 exclusive episodes available only to Wondry Plus subscribers. Join Wondry Plus on Apple Podcasts or on the Wondry app. It's the fall of 2012 in Honolulu, Hawaii. It's well after 1am, but Edward Snowden is still in his office in a building deep underground. It's like a bunker in here with air conditioners pumping out a stream of freezing cold air. But Snowden is a sweaty mess. He keeps tapping his foot and fidgeting with his hands. And when Snowden hears what he thinks are footsteps, he jerks up his head looking for who might be coming. Snowden is growing panicked. Certainly he's about to be caught and arrested. But then the footsteps go away. And Snowden syncs back into his chair as eyes shut with relief. It was a false alarm, but that doesn't change anything. Snowden has to keep moving so he returns to his keyboard and continues typing rapidly, carrying out a mission that he knows could change the world. Even though he left Tokyo, Snowden is still working for the NSA. And for the past 6 months, he's been learning more and more about the agency's program of Master Balanced. The NSA's activities are shocking in scope. And the more Snowden has learned, the more he's grown convinced that he has to get the truth out to the world. And let Americans decide for themselves whether they want the government to spy on their private lives. But with claims this big, Snow knows he can't just go on to the internet and tell the truth. He needs evidence. So slowly and surely, he's been carrying out a three part plan he calls Read Write Execute. Snowden's already finished part 1. He's read thousands of government documents. Now he's on to part 2, Write, which involves copying NSA files onto an old desktop he drag out of storage and secret. Part 3 is Execute, and that's the plan he's carrying out tonight. Snowden is going to finish copying top secret government files onto a memory card. And then he's going to smuggle them out of his NSA office. Snowden looks at the monitor. The copying is 92% done, almost there. But Snowden's nerves are shot. It's taking too long. He could be caught. He could be thrown in jail for treason. Snowden taps his foot, losing his patience. When suddenly there's a ding, and Snowden glances at the screen, processes done. All files are copied to the memory card. Snowden leaps out of his chair and begins prepping the next part of the plan, getting the memory card out of the building. Snowden ejects the tiny card from his computer and grabs a Rubik's cube that's sitting on his desk. He pops a red square off of the cube. And then Snowden carefully slides the memory card into the empty slot of the cube. It fits perfectly. Snowden snaps the red square back into place and slings his bag over his shoulder. As he walks toward the exit of the building, he starts spinning the rows and columns of the cube, twisting it left and right up and down. Snowden knows this doesn't look like anything out of the ordinary, and that was also part of the plan. For months he's been walking through work playing with this Rubik's cube. He wants people to think it's just a personality quirk, something he did for fun, but it was all leading up to this moment, so no one would bat an eye as he played with the cube, or suspect he was smuggling out classified documents. Snowden approaches the exit of the building. Up front there's a security guard standing by a metal detector. It isn't normal procedure for employees to walk through the metal detector, but Snowden can't take a single risk, not with the memory card hidden in his Rubik's cube. So Snowden begins with the next phase of the ruse. He tells the guard that he's been enjoying playing with the Rubik's cube and the guard should give it a try. The guard smiles and waves away the suggestion. It's just a toy for kids. Snowden laughs, trying to look calm and easy, and says the guard should just try it out. And before the guard can respond, Snowden tosses him the cube, then walks past the metal detector and stands on the other side, grinning. The guard laughs and says what the hell, then begins twisting the cube seeing if he can get the color squares to line up. Snowden tries to keep a smile, plastered on his face, but his palms are sweating as he watches the guard fiddle with a puzzle. What if the red square pops off? What if the guard asks to keep it? Snowden knows he has to remain looking calm and casual, so still grinning, Snowden holds out his hands and asks for the guard to toss it back. The guard gives the cube another turn and looks up. It has the two lock eyes. The guard smiles and lobs the cube back, completely avoiding the metal detector. The guard waves good night, and says he'll see Snowden tomorrow. With his hands wrapped around the Rubik's cube, Snowden steps out into the muggy tropical night. A flood of relief comes washing over him. He did it. He just smuggled top secret files out of the NSA and was not caught. Snowden knows this is just the start. He's about to sneak out thousands more documents. He'll put together irrefutable proof about the NSA's programs, and when he shares it with the public, the government will no longer be able to hide in the shadows. It's just before dawn on May 18, 2013, about a year later. Edward Snowden is lying in his bedroom in Honolulu. He's staring up at the ceiling fan, watching it spin round and round. The birds have just begun to chirp. When Snowden looks over across the bed, he sees his girlfriend, Lindsay Mills, fast asleep, the sheets rising and falling with her every breath. It's a tender sight. She looks so peaceful and gentle when she's asleep. The Snowden almost begins to cry. These are his final moments living any sort of normal life. Soon he'll go into hiding. He won't be able to talk to his family, his career will be over. And more important than anything, Snowden will probably never spend another morning with the woman he thought he could never live without. Snowden rolls over toward Mills, a breeze in the sweet smell of her hair and skin. He can't believe he's voluntarily walking away from her. She's been his only constant these past seven years. The two of them have moved from country to country, always starting over, but always living together. In a few moments, the alarm will go off. Mills will get up and leave for a camping trip, a trip that Snowden encouraged her to take. And when she gets back, Snowden will be gone. He'll leave a note saying he's been called away on work. And she'll believe it, even though Snowden will be in Hong Kong, meeting with a pair of journalists. Snowden hopes the journalist will help spread the truth about the NSA. And while Hong Kong is a Chinese territory, it has a degree of independence. Snowden's hoping that will buy him a little extra time, and even though he's given up everything in his life, he'll at least be able to share his story with the journalists before the police find him and lock him up. Snowden turns over in bed as Mills bats at the clock without opening her eyes, managing to turn it off. As she drifts back to sleep, Snowden slides over and wraps his arm around her. And you're squishing me. Oh, sorry, I'm just gonna miss you. It's only a couple days. I know, but you're the best person I've ever met in my life. Mills opens her eyes at crack and squints its Snowden. What's up with you? I don't know, I've just been difficult to be with lately. I know that. It's okay, I'm used to it. I know, but I am sorry. And what's going on? Are you sure everything's okay? Yeah, it's fine. I just love you. You know that, right? No matter what, I love you. I do know that. And I love you too. Mills rises and kisses Snowden on the cheek. But I gotta get up, we're all miss my flight. Let me give you another squeeze. Ed, seriously, you gotta let go. I gotta get ready. You're the one who said I deserve some time away with my friends. I did. I did. And you're right. Get up. Go. Have a great time. I will. And I'll see you when I get back. Mills gets up and starts getting dressed. And as he lies in bed watching, Snowden tries to hold it together. He still can't believe he's doing this. A few minutes later, Mills is ready to go. She heads to the front door and says goodbye. Snowden tells her one last time that he loves her. She says she loves him too. And then Mills opens the door, steps out and walks away. Snowden shuts his eyes. And before he can help it, he rubs into loud, wrenching sobs. He's done a lot of hard things over the past year, but this was the hardest. His old life, the life he loved is over. And in two days, Snowden is going to start a new life as a whistleblower. He'll probably end up in prison. But when all is said and done, Snowden believes the sacrifice will be worth it. That this was the right choice. From Wondering, this is episode two of Edward Snowden from American Skin. In our next episode, Snowden partners with a team of journalists and tells his story to the world. But with his accusations rocking the United States government, Snowden faces greater threats than he ever thought possible. If you'd like to learn more about Edward Snowden, we recommend his autobiography, permanent record. This episode contains reenactments and dramatized details. And while in most cases, we can't know exactly what was said. All our dramatizations are based on historical research. American Scandal is hosted, edited, and executed produced by me, Lindsey Graham for Airship, audio editing by Molly Bach, sound design by Derek Barrett, music by Lindsey Graham. This episode is written by Austin Rackless, edited by Christina Malsbury. Our senior producer is Gabe Ribbon, executive producer, our Stephanie Jenz, Jenny Lauro Beckman, and Marsha Louis for Wondering. If you like our show, please give us a five star rating and leave a review and be sure to tell your friends. I also have two other podcasts you might like, American History Tellers and Business Movers. 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