For several months journalist Glenn Greenwald ignored the efforts of Cincinnatus, an anonymous source who later identified himself as Edward Snowden, to give him information he promised would be of interest. Greenwald thought he was just another nut with a “big” story, the kind that seldom pans out. The aspiring source also irritated Greenwald by instructing him to install encryption software so they could communicate securely. Forget it. Greenwald was a busy guy and didn’t have time for such complications.
Fortunately, documentary film maker Laura Poitras, also contacted by Snowden, pushed Greenwald to respond to the source. After meeting with Snowden last June in Hong Kong, Greenwald and Poitras, along with Guardian reporter Ewen MacAskill, began reporting on what the world now knows as the Snowden files—the thousands of files that continue to inform Americans and people throughout the world that since 9/11 the National Security Agency has turned the Internet and all forms of electronic communication, even video games, into a vast spying machine.
Greenwald’s new book, No Place to Hide, reports the full story of what has flowed from private NSA contractor Snowden’s decision to sacrifice his freedom and, if necessary, his life in order to collect and hand over to journalists a massive archive of files he thought the public needed access to: evidence of the NSA’s use of massive surveillance to spy on Americans without regard to suspicion of crime, to influence foreign policy, to conduct industrial and economic espionage and to develop new cyber warfare capacities.
As the revelations poured into the public domain, it become clear that congressional intelligence oversight committees—established in the mid-1970s after the exposure of secret FBI files led to the first congressional investigations of intelligence agencies—had lost their adversarial function and become largely cheerleaders for the agencies. Telecommunication companies, the files revealed, are partners in the massive surveillance and readily supply records of the calls of all of their customers.
It is staggering to review the importance of the Snowden files released so far, including a report that explains that “collect it all,” the motto of General Keith B. Alexander, director of the NSA, is not a joke about grandeur; it is the actual goal that has governed expanding operations in pace with the ever-increasing capacity of data-gathering technology rather than in line with what technical prowess is actually needed in order to improve national security. One NSA file documented the staggering volume collected was “far more content than is routinely useful to analysts.” The agency, according to another file, processes more than 20 billion communication events (Internet and telephone) from around the world every day.
In Greenwald’s account of the remarkable year he has been at the helm of the reporting of one startling intelligence revelation after another, he strongly criticizes mainstream news media for being what he sees as primarily protectors of the government’s secrets: