U.S.

Edward Snowden Hits Out At CIA Director Gina Haspel: 'You Can Literally Torture People And You Will Be Promoted'

Whistleblower Edward Snowden hit out at Central Intelligence Agency Director Gina Haspel on Thursday, questioning how the CIA chief was able to get "promoted" despite overseeing the country's torture program. 

Speaking at a conference on "National Security Whistleblowing and Government Secrecy" in London, U.K. via videolink, the National Security agency whistleblower, who fled to Russia from the U.S. in 2013, said America's "culture of impunity" has "corrupted not just our system of intelligence, but really, our system of government." 

Read more: Under government shutdown, transparency takes a major hit

Snowden, who copied and leaked highly classified information from the NSA in 2013, exposing a number of global surveillance programs run by the NSA and the Five Eyes Intelligence Alliance, said Americans should question how Haspel could get promoted to the top job in the CIA. 

"People just want to get ahead... They want to be the best," Snowden said. "So what does it tell them when they see that you can literally torture people and you will be promoted rather than prosecuted?"

It was a concern shared by many Democrats and watchdog groups after President Donald Trump decided to nominate Haspel for the top CIA job. 

The 30-year CIA veteran faced strong criticism and questioning from Democrats during her Senate confirmation hearing last May, with senators grilling Haspel over her role in enforcing an interrogation program that saw detainees tortured under the George W. Bush administration. 

Specifically, Haspel was involved in the CIA's rendition, detention and interrogation program, which saw suspected terrorists sent to foreign countries where they were interrogated and in some cases, tortured, a practice billed in the wake of 9/11 as "enhanced interrogation." 

While much of Haspel's role in the program is considered classified information, she reportedly led a CIA "black site" in Thailand in 2002, overseeing a program that saw detainees interrogated and also played a role in seeing videotaped evidence of interrogations destroyed. 

Ultimately, Haspel was confirmed by the Senate, becoming the first female director of the CIA, in a 54-45 vote. Democratic critics maintained, however, that it was not right for the U.S. to promote someone who had helped supervise a site where torture was allowed under the government's watch.

Democratic Alabama Senator Doug Jones, who opposed Haspel, said it was "just hard to get over" her involvement in the brutal torture program. 

Snowden said he still struggles with the fact that so many people in government roles "stay silent" when they encounter information withheld from the public that could be in the public's best interest to know.

"One of the challenges," he said, is "living with the knowledge that people continue to sit at those desks as you did, they see what you saw and they stay silent.

"So you really start questioning, how serious is this? Am I crazy?" he said. 

Under the Trump administration, however, Snowden said he believed many potential whistleblowers could face even greater fears coming forward due the president's vow to crack down on "leakers." 

While the U.S. leader's predecessor, Barack Obama, oversaw his own crackdown on whistleblowers, Trump, Snowden said, "very much wants to break that record."

"I absolutely don’t think that the Trump White House is going to do any better," the whistleblower added. 

gettyimages-1052155418-594x594 Edward Snowden speaks remotely WIRED25 Festival: WIRED Celebrates 25th Anniversary – Day 2 on October 14, 2018 in San Francisco, California. The whistleblower has said he doesn't understand how CIA Director Gina Haspel was 'promoted rather than prosecuted.' Phillip Faraone/Getty