Glenn Greenwald, Edward Snowden & Covert Journalism

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Who are Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras, and Ewen MacAskill? What was the conversation between Glenn Greenwald, Edward Snowden, and Laura Poitras? What did each journalist do in breaking the story of mass surveillance?

Glenn Greenwald, Edward Snowden, and Ewen MacAskill spoke at the Mira Hotel in Hong Kong. Laura Poitras filmed the conversation. Read more about Glenn Greenwald, Edward Snowden, and the how the story broke.

Glenn Greenwald: Edward Snowden Contacts Journalists

Ed couldn’t blow the whistle by talking to someone higher up the chain of command because the highest authorities knew—and had authorized—mass surveillance. He considered self-publishing (posting the docs online and sharing a link), but while it would have been the safest and easiest, he rejected it because it didn’t lend him enough authority. He needed an institution or a person to release the information to prove authenticity, mitigate his biases, and help explain the information.

Ed decided to talk to journalists. He needed to find people who the public trusted and who wouldn’t be scared off by the government trying to stop them from publishing things. At first, Ed tried to find journalists on his own, and then realized the NSA already kept track of the kind of people he needed. He approached two people.

  • Laura Poitras. Poitras is a documentarian who has focused on foreign policy since 9/11. She’d reported on William Binney, an NSA cryptanalyst, and the 2005 Iraqi elections during US occupation. She was regularly harassed by the government.
  • Glenn Greenwald: Edward Snowden saw that Greenwald was a columnist who used to be a civil liberties lawyer. He had written about the unclassified PSP report in 2009.

Getting in Touch

Ed knew better than anyone that it’s hard to be anonymous on the Internet. He got in touch with journalists using a variety of different identities and used encrypted email. He had to convince and/or teach the journalists to use encryption too.

Ed decided he was going to leak the intelligence community’s original documents rather than simply describe STELLARWIND to the press. This meant that he had to access the documents, organize them, and then remove them from the NSA building.

Laura Poitras, Glenn, and Glenn’s colleague Ewen MacAskill meet Ed in Hong Kong on June 2. From June 3-9, Glenn Greenwald, Edward Snowden, and Ewen MacAskill talked while Laura filmed. At night, Ewen and Glenn would write up the day’s work, and Laura would edit her video and work remotely with another journalist, Bart Gellman.

Glenn Greenwald: Edward Snowden Story Breaks

The Guardian released Glenn’s first story on June 5. It was about the NSA collecting data from Verizon, which the FISA Court had permitted. On June 6, a story about PRISM appeared in both the Guardian and Washington Post.

After Story by Glenn Greenwald, Edward Snowden Decides to Come Forward

Ed’s office had tried to get in touch with him—he was supposed to have returned to work May 31—and he ignored their messages. The US government was working hard to identify the source of the leak and Ed knew that they’d soon figure out it was him. Ed also knew that if they identified him, they’d spin the story to misrepresent him so he looked crazy or morally suspect, and they’d shift the focus from what they’d done to what he’d done. 

Ed decided he’d reveal himself as the source of the leak before the government could. Ewen wrote a story about him and Laura suggested doing a video statement. They didn’t have time to polish a video statement, so Laura used footage from the first day they’d met. The video went live on June 9.

Glenn Greenwald, Edward Snowden & Covert Journalism

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best summary of Edward Snowden's "Permanent Record" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full Permanent Record summary:

  • What Ed Snowden discovered that caused him to completely lose faith in the government
  • How Snowden led the bombshell reports of US mass surveillance
  • How Snowden is coping with his treatment as both patriot and traitor

Rina Shah

An avid reader for as long as she can remember, Rina’s love for books began with The Boxcar Children. Her penchant for always having a book nearby has never faded, though her reading tastes have since evolved. Rina reads around 100 books every year, with a fairly even split between fiction and non-fiction. Her favorite genres are memoirs, public health, and locked room mysteries. As an attorney, Rina can’t help analyzing and deconstructing arguments in any book she reads.

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