Edward Snowden. Courtesy: Guardiannews.com
What a day. Sunday opened with more fallout and media debate over the revelations from the pair of bombshells about NSA data collection and surveillance via The Guardian and The Washington Post. Glenn Greenwald, the main reason for The Guardian scoops, went on ABC from somewhere abroad for a valuable interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos. A few hours later he was back—with the shocking news that the source for the leaks had chosen to reveal his identity and location.
Turns out Glenn was in Hong Kong.
The Guardian posted a full, riveting interview, words and video (shot by Laura Poitras of the Post), with the leaker, 29-year-old Edward Snowden, a former CIA employee who now works, or worked, for a major NSA contractor. He had fled to Hong Kong from Hawaii hoping to gain asylum there or in another place, such as Iceland, but he seemed to expect the worst.
You probably know all this already but if you need to catch up here’s how I followed news and reaction at my Pressing Issues blog, including an amazing interview with my old friend Dan Ellsberg, who said that even at his advanced age—if he’d been given this material himself this month he would have leaked it and accepted spending the rest of his life in prison. Snowden is being attacked by some for fleeing to repressive China—but others ask, what better options did he have?
But here’s an intriguing media angle. As I noted yesterday, Barton Gellman, the fine Washington Post reporter who had also been the recipient of Snowden’s leakage, followed The Guardian’s account of working with Snowden by writing his own first-person account. This repeated the pattern of the first big leak last week—The Guardian went first, the Post closely behind. On PRISM, the Post beat The Guardian by twenty minutes, according to Mike Calderone of Huffington Post.
Gellman claimed that Snowden actually came to him first last month, then demanded that the Post publish his material within three days (for his own safety) and in full—that is, all forty-one slides from the now-fabled PRISM slide show. Gellman writes that after he told Snowden that the paper doesn’t operate that way and could not make such promises—and they’d have to check it out with government sources in any case—the whistleblower told him he would now go elsewhere with the material. About two weeks later the Post learned that the first Guardian report was about to explode, which prompted the Post to quickly go public. In both cases, with PRISM, the news outlets used only four of forty-one slides.
But is this how it really went down? Greenwald tweets today: “Bart Gellman’s claims about Snowden’s interactions with me—when, how and why—are all false.” And: “The reality is that Laura Poitras and I have been working with him since February, long before anyone spoke to Bart Gellman….I have no idea whether he had any conditions for WP, but he had none for us: we didn’t post all the slides.”
Gellman has not replied to Greenwald on Twitter, but on Sunday he tweeted, “Snowden didn’t bolt when I refused guarantees, just quit going steady. And not because I consulted USG [US government].” Tim Noah, late of Slate, tweeted: “By (rightly) not allowing Snowden to dictate how and when of release, Wash Post lost exclusive.” Gellman did hit back at a WikiLeaks charge that he had informed on the leaker in going to the US government: “Accusing me of ‘informing’ on Snowden to USG is garbage. I told him I’d seek comment and did. Period.” He also told Charlie Savage of The New York Times, via Twitter, that if he saw the still-secret slides he wouldn’t publish them either.
Calderone has just written this valuable untangling, with Poitras, it turns out, playing perhaps THE key role. Snowden, he explains, first approached Greenwald months ago but Glenn was stymied by tech issues and didn't know what the leak entailed. Poitras met Greenwald later and told him that Snowden had told her details and this sparked all that followed. As for Gellman: It appears true that Snowden did go to him first with PRISM, and then to Greenwald. But Greenwald objects to Gellman suggesting that Glenn was the second choice all along, when in fact he had gotten the first leak...first.
Stay tuned for more on this—here’s a new Greenwald interview with NBC—and the numerous other angles on this tremendously important story.
UPDATES Kevin Drum at Mother Jones asks what's on the many slides not published by the two news outlets—and why not published? Though surely not up to Greenwald and Gellman alone. More updates: USA Today and Reuters ID'd Snowden’s hotel, but he had already checked out. Smearing of Snowden begins. The AP declares that Snowden, and Bradley Manning, are "leakers" not "whistle-blowers."
Glenn Greenwald plays a pivotal role in my book (with Kevin Gosztola) on the Bradley Manning case, just published in an updated edition. Soime of my other books on political campaigns, atomic coverups and more here.