VIDEO: Glenn Greenwald & Laura Poitras Q&A on Snowden, the Surveillance State & Press Freedom
Journalists Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras and Ewen MacAskill hold a press conference in New York after winning a Polk Award for their reporting on Edward Snowden and the NSA. Greenwald and Poitras arrived in New York earlier today. It is their first time in the United States since breaking the Snowden story.
REPORTER: Glenn, were you worried you were going to get arrested when you came into the United States?
GLENN GREENWALD: We weren’t so worried that we weren’t willing to get on the plane. I mean, if we were really worried, we wouldn’t have come. There was no need for us to come. But we knew, certainly, that it was a risk.
I mean, I think the important thing to realize about this is that American national security officials and other officials in the government have deliberately created an environment where they wanted us to think there was a risk. They have very deliberately and publicly suggested that the journalism we were doing was a crime. They have advocated that we be arrested. They have had their favorite media figures openly speculate about the possibility that we would be. They detained my partner for nine hours. They announced that there was a terrorism investigation pending in the U.K., and they refused to give my lawyers any information at all about whether there was a grand jury investigation, whether there was an indictment under seal—very unusual behavior when dealing with these lawyers, in particular, who say that they can always get at least something.
So they wanted us to have this kind of uncertainty about whether or not they would take action upon our return to the U.S. That’s very clear. And it’s easy, I guess, to say it doesn’t seem likely that it will happen, but when those threats are being directed at you, you take them seriously. And so we did, but then, obviously, assessed that the risk was low enough, mostly because we didn’t think that they would be so counterproductive or self-destructive to do it, and were willing, therefore, to get on a plane and come back.
REPORTER: And those conversations about the indictment, how long—or if there was an indictment or grand jury out, how long did those conversations go on?
GLENN GREENWALD: We’ve been trying to get information from the government about whether or not we could safely return to the U.S. for at least four to five months. And originally, the government said that they were willing to have conversations about what that might entail, and then, ultimately, I guess, decided that they weren’t willing to have those conversations, because they just stopped returning calls and stopped giving any information. And so, they just expressly refused to say whether or not there were—whether there was a pending indictment under seal or whether or not we were the targets of a grand jury investigation.
AMY GOODMAN: Your trip isn’t over. It doesn’t just have to happen at the airport. What are you concerned about, for both Glenn and Laura? And, Laura, if you could describe how your experience coming through the airport today compared with your previous experiences?
LAURA POITRAS: Sure. I mean, you know, the other risk that I think that we face as journalists right now are the risk of subpoena, where the government subpoenas our material to try to get information about our source. And we know that the government has been using the border as a sort of legal no man’s land to get access to journalists’ materials. I mean, I’ve experienced that for six years, where I’ve been detained, interrogated and had equipment seized at the border, and never told, you know, for what reason that’s happening. So—
AMY GOODMAN: How many times have you been stopped?
LAURA POITRAS: You know, I’ve asked the government to answer that question, and they won’t tell me. I think close to 40 or more. I’ve got FOIAs out, and soon as I can get a precise count, I’ll certainly publish it. So, I mean, the risks of subpoena are very real. And as—you know, as you indicate, I mean, the fact that we’re here is not an indication that there isn’t a threat. We know there’s a threat. We know there’s a threat from what the government is saying in terms how they’re talking about this journalism, the journalism that we’re doing. And, I mean, the reason we’re here is because we’re not going to, you know, succumb to those threats.
REPORTER: You’re not covered by the First Amendment of the United States. What kind of fears do you have in England when you travel and when you come home at night?
EWEN MacAKSILL: I mean, I was the first one back from Hong Kong, and I was a sort of test case. And I sort of wondered if we would be—if I would be stopped on the way in—
GLENN GREENWALD: The guinea pig, we called you.
EWEN MacAKSILL: Yeah, the guinea pig. And I wasn’t stopped. Then The Guardian lawyers briefed me on how to deal with a grand jury. So, second time in, I thought maybe I would get stopped, but I haven’t been. I do get stopped on the way into Britain, which is kind of perverse, normally just for about 20 minutes. And they send me to a sort of [inaudible] check for passport details and then say, "Your passport’s been reported stolen or missing." Well, the only person that reported it stolen or missing is me. I put in a formal complaint last month, and we’ll see what happens.
And there is a—we have not been told this officially, but there is a criminal investigation underway in Britain into The Guardian, so theoretically Alan and myself and others could end up in jail. But our feeling is that the British government will probably back away from that. The last thing they need is a two- or three-year fight in the courts over press freedom. So I think if it ever goes to the director of public prosecutions, they probably won’t do it. But we can’t be sure.
LAURA POITRAS: I mean, and I have to say, on a personal note, I do not plan to travel the United Kingdom anytime soon, given—after the experience that David had at the border, at the lack of press freedoms that they have in that country. So, it’s—which is not a good indication for a democratic society.
AMY GOODMAN: What are your plans for the United States? Will you be staying here long? Glenn, will you be moving back? Laura, will you be moving back?
GLENN GREENWALD: I mean, I think—you know, I think that this first step—I mean, since we didn’t know what today held, we haven’t been doing a lot of long-term thinking, because we had no idea what the outcome would be of our deplaning. But I think that once we got on the airplane this morning, it was a commitment not just to come back for this one time, but to come back whenever we want, which is our prerogative as American citizens. And it ought to be our right, not just to come back, but to come back without fear of that kind of harassment, to even have that enter our thought process.
So I don’t know what Laura’s long-term plans are, I mean, but for me, you know, I have a book coming out next month, and I want to be able to come to the U.S. to talk about the issues that it raises. I have a lot of journalistic colleagues here with whom I’m working. I want to be able to freely travel to work with them and work on stories in the United States and to talk about the things I think we need to be talking about. So I do think this sort of presages more visits to the U.S. for me.
LAURA POITRAS: I mean, I started working outside of the United States and setting up my edit studio in Berlin before I was contacted by Snowden, and because of the sort of repeated targeting that I had at the border, and so this was the decision I had made before working on the NSA material. And for me, the decision is: I don’t feel confident I can protect source material in the United States right now. I mean, it’s just—I certainly can’t cross a border with it or with my equipment or anything that I consider to be sensitive. And so, my plan is to finish editing and then return. I mean, I absolutely plan to return.
REPORTER: Ms. Poitras, you guys have just come from Berlin.
LAURA POITRAS: Yeah.
REPORTER: I’m from the German division.
LAURA POITRAS: Yeah.
REPORTER: And I would like to know—I already asked Mr. Greenwald his opinion this morning, the hearing of Snowden—
LAURA POITRAS: Sure.
REPORTER: —in the NSA commission. So, if they would hear Snowden, what do you think would that mean for Germany, for U.S., and maybe the relationship?
LAURA POITRAS: I mean, I don’t—what I would say is that what’s happening in Germany isn’t—I mean, what they’re referring to it is a Church-like commission hearing and it happening in Germany, looking at the implications and the dangers of surveillance, and that this would probably be going on for, I think they say, at least a year. And so, it’s a significant parliamentary inquiry into what’s happening. We don’t know yet what impact it will have. And there certainly are people who are calling for Snowden to testify. And I think that’s going to be very difficult to—given the making of the committee, that I think he will be invited to testify. And I think that would be—I mean, as well they should, because he is a witness who can answer the questions that they’re seeking to understand.
REPORTER: What worries each of you the most about the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court?
GLENN GREENWALD: Well, what worries me is the fact that it doesn’t have any of the attributes that we’re taught as first-year law students, or even as American citizens, make a court an actual court. It operates in complete secrecy. There’s only one side allowed to be heard, which is the government. And it even for a long time was housed in the Justice Department, indicating what its real purpose is, which is not to be an outside body exerting oversight, but to be an enabler of what the executive branch wants to do. And the proof is in the pudding, in that there’s been 30 years of FISA court decisions and an infinitesimal, humiliatingly small number of demands by the U.S. government to surveil that have been even modified, let alone rejected, by that court. So it’s purely fictitious, the idea that it exerts any real oversight over the surveillance regime.
REPORTER: Laura, I didn’t hear your answer to Amy’s question about whether—what was experience with Laura like now versus pre-Snowden, and I’m wondering whether this whole experience of seeing the support from other journalists gives you more confidence that maybe your actual status will be better now because of Snowden. Is that how you see it?
LAURA POITRAS: Well, I mean, the status—what you actually can witness with your own eyes and what is actually happening, I mean, these are different things, so I don’t know that my status is better. No, I mean, what happened to me before is that I would be detained while I was getting off the airplane, and I’d be escorted into a secondary room and interrogated. And sometimes—
REPORTER: This time?
LAURA POITRAS: No, not this time, so previously. And so, I have notes photocopied and equipment, on some cases, taken. And in this time, yeah, there’s a lot of—there are a lot more, you know, people paying attention, and I think that—you know, that—I don’t think that that is an indication that we shouldn’t be concerned, that there are not people who are looking into and there are grand juries going on. We just don’t have evidence of them yet. But I had no problems coming home this time.
AMY GOODMAN: What has been your latest communication with Edward Snowden? What is he—what are his concerns now and where he stands in Russia?
GLENN GREENWALD: Well, I mean, you know, I don’t think it’s any secret that I talk to him regularly. And, you know, I feel like a lot of what we do has an impact on him, because things—just choices that we make can have an influence on how he’s perceived or even what his legal situation is. So, you know, we certainly talked about our plans to come back, and he was very supportive of that.
And, you know, I think that his situation in Russia is what it’s basically been for the last eight months, which is that he’s in a country that he didn’t choose to be in, that he was forced to remain in by the United States revoking his passport and then threatening other countries not to allow him safe transit. But at the same time, that alternative, as imperfect as it might be, is certainly preferable to the alternative of not being in Russia, which is being put into a supermax prison in the United States for the next 30 years, if not the rest of his life. And so, given how likely of an outcome that was, and he knew that was when he made his choice, I think he’s very happy with his current situation.
REPORTER: Do you know what kind of—whether he’s still—whether he’s actively being pursued now? It seems like recently he’s been speaking a lot, speaking out a lot more, like giving telepresence talks. Does he feel safer?
GLENN GREENWALD: I mean, you know, I think his—I mean, it’s really kind of an extraordinary thing that’s sort of been underappreciated, the fact that he made the choice to go before the world and say that this leak, which is the largest national security leak in American history, the one that has made the American national security state angrier than any other, "is something that I did. And I’m not only saying that I did it, but I want to tell you my rationale for why I did it, and I’m proud of it." And, you know, eight months later, he is further away from the grasp of the United States than he has ever been. And, you know, I think that he feels not just a duty, but a sort of a responsibility, to participate in the debate that he helped to trigger around the world. And the fact that he’s able to do that is one of the reasons why I think it’s so important that he hasn’t been in prison. I don’t think he’s ever going to feel safe, but I think he feels confident enough to be speaking out, and especially because he feels like the focus will remain on the revelations and not on him personally.
REPORTER: And it doesn’t sound—sorry, just to follow up, it doesn’t sound like there’s any pressure on you to get—to, like, use you to get to him at this point.
GLENN GREENWALD: I’m not—yeah, I don’t think we’ve been—I mean, I don’t know. I don’t think we could help the U.S. government get to him in Russia. So I think, you know, he feels like he’s been given asylum under the law. It’s recognized by most countries around the world. And I think he feels reasonably confident that the U.S. government can’t reach through that asylum and get him.
REPORTER: What’s the most important revelation, do you think, that came from all the documents that were released because of Edward Snowden?
GLENN GREENWALD: For me, the most significant revelation is the ambition of the United States government and its four English-speaking allies to literally eliminate privacy worldwide, which is not hyperbole. The goal of the United States government is to collect and store every single form of electronic communication that human beings have with one another and give themselves the capacity to monitor and analyze those communications. So, even though I’ve been warning for a long time about this being an out-of-control, rogue surveillance state, long before I ever heard the name Edward Snowden, to see in the documents that that not only is their ambition, but something that they’re increasingly close to achieving, was, to me, by far the most significant goal, something that I don’t think anyone in the world knew or understood. And every other revelation is really just a subset of that one.
REPORTER: And just to follow up, do you think that nuclear terrorism or any of the threats against the United States would justify that kind of searching of the world? I mean, would we want a nuclear terrorist to go off in New York?
GLENN GREENWALD: Yeah, I mean, I don’t—no, I don’t think that the desire to detect what a small number of people are doing justifies ubiquitous, mass, suspicionless surveillance. And I actually think that the system that says collect everything makes it actually harder to find the things that they claim they’re looking for, because when you collect so much, it’s really impossible almost to find the Boston Marathon attack or the attempted detonation of a bomb in Times Square, any of the other things that the surveillance state, as ubiquitous as it is, failed to detect.
REPORTER: The Obama administration has prosecuted more whistleblowers than all other administrations combined. What is the future of whistleblowing?
GLENN GREENWALD: Do you want to—
LAURA POITRAS: Well, I mean, I think—I’m not going to go into too many details, but I think what we’re seeing is actually more people coming forward, you know, more people realizing that they—that their conscience is telling them that there are things that they know of that should be public. And I can’t go into lots of details. I mean, one that is—actually has been reported was a story that Glenn did with Jeremy Scahill, which was on the targeted killing program and how they’re using metadata to assassinate people without actually knowing the identities of the people. And that came—that information was—that was a source that came forward. So I think, you know, we’re—I mean, I think, you know, in this sort of post-9/11 era, I think there are a lot of people who have sort of a heavy conscience over what has happened and who have a lot of information. And I think that maybe the risk that Snowden has taken opens up a space where people will maybe feel that now is the time to come forward.
MIKE BURKE: What tips do you have for journalists working in the United States regarding securing their data and communications with sources?
LAURA POITRAS: OK, so—and you’re talking about people who are doing like national security reporting? So, I’m on—Glenn and I are both on the board of an organization called the Freedom of the Press Foundation. We just published a blog about a tool that’s called Tails, which is a operating system that runs on a—either USB stick or SD disc, that is a sort of all-in-one encryption tool that you can use for PGP and encryption [inaudible]. And it’s just quite—it’s just really secure. And we are—we didn’t talk about it for a long time, because we didn’t necessarily want to draw attention to it, so that it would be—avoid being targeted. But we figured, by now, the intelligence agencies who are paying attention would sort of—it would be on their radar. So, it’s actually—it’s a really important tool for journalists.
And I think there are huge concerns for international journalists and their communications and how they protect sources, and that these revelations have exposed. So, for instance, information that’s foreign information that’s transited to the United States gets sucked up, and so how are you going to protect your sources? And how do intelligence agencies behind the scenes share information? And those are all the—these are all things that I think will continue to come forward as more sources come forward and more reporting is done. And, yeah.
REPORTER: Glenn, could you speak to persecution of Barrett Brown for his sources?
GLENN GREENWALD: Yeah, I mean, I’ve written a lot about that story. So, I don’t know how many people know the background. But, you know, I think there are a lot of cases over the last five years of people being persecuted illegally and in other ways for their journalism. They don’t all get the visibility that the NSA story has gotten. But, you know, I think that’s really the critical thing, is I think sometimes people look at other countries where journalists are thrown in prison and think, "Well, if that’s not happening here, then it means that we have a free press." But one of the ways that freedom of press is eroded is through continuously threatening journalists. James Risen is here. He actually faces the threat of prison from the Justice Department if he doesn’t reveal his sources. And then there are cases like Barrett’s and others where people who have a lot less visibility are actually being prosecuted and threatened with prosecution for doing journalism that the state dislikes.
REPORTER: After the fact, they were trying to say that he was aiding and abetting this source, who they still apparently haven’t determined was Jeremy Hammond. And I don’t know—I don’t know if you know, if you’ve seen that lately, but I—
GLENN GREENWALD: Yeah, the superseding indictment with that source. I mean, the reason why I think that the most significant episode of the last five years when it comes to press freedom was the characterizing formally of James Risen of Fox News as a co-conspirator with his source was because that really would enable the government to criminalize all forms of journalism. It’s virtually impossible to work with a source in a way that would immunize yourself from those kind of allegations. And so, I think that indictment is, again, an example of that theory being implemented, although with a lot less attention because he’s Barrett Brown and not, you know, the Washington bureau chief of Fox News, but just as dangerous in terms of the precedence of it.
REPORTER: How many days’, months’ or years’ worth of stories are left in the Edward Snowden documents?
GLENN GREENWALD: You know, I hope—I mean, I think about how many days and months and years are left for me. And so, I am hoping that the number is relatively short, but whatever it is, that number is probably a lot shorter than the overall amount of time that needs to happen for there to be reporting. It’s an extraordinarily deep and profound set of materials that he furnished, and, you know, I think that it’s critical that all of the newsworthy items get published that should be published, within the journalistic formula that we’ve been using, even if we’re not the ones who do it. And even if it doesn’t create huge public attention because they feel like they’re inured to it or heard it all, I think the obligation journalistically is to make sure that all of that material that should come out is. And so, you know, I think there will come some point when we all start thinking about other ways for that to happen.
REPORTER: Maybe I missed you talking about this before, but how do you feel the U.S. public has reacted? And do you feel like there’s been a sufficient amount of reaction from the U.S. public?
GLENN GREENWALD: I mean, I think the number of people in this room, 10 months after we first did our reporting, is a testament to how much the story has resonated. And, you know, because I live outside the United States, I think I’m probably a little bit more attentive to how it has resonated internationally, which sometimes I think gets lost in the debate in the United States. But really, I mean, literally around the globe, people think not only about surveillance, but about individual privacy in a digital age and the trustworthiness of government officials to exercise power in the dark and the proper role of journalism vis-à-vis the state, and a whole variety of other topics, including the role that the United States government is playing in the world, in a radically different light than they did prior to this reporting. And I—you know, I see the impact when I go other places and talk about the story, how much it continues to resonate.
And I know I’ve said this before over many months, many times, and there’s a little bit of skepticism when I say it in some circles, but I say it because it really is true: In my opinion, the stories that are the most significant and that are the most shocking and that will have the broadest and most enduring implications are the ones that we’re currently working on and have not yet been reported. And so, I think it’s really hard to assess while we’re still in the middle of the story, which is really where we are, what the ultimate consequences will be. I don’t think we know. But, for me, of course, there’s some indifference or some apathy. There’s some jaded, you know, sort of cynicism. But in general, the public reaction has been, speaking for myself, just vastly larger and more consequential than even in my wildest dreams I imagined could happen when I started working on the story.
AMY GOODMAN: Edward Snowden just warned that the U.S. government is surveilling human rights groups in the United States. Can you, any of you, address this, what you know about this, from the documents, and to U.S. just refusing to give Chancellor Merkel her NSA file, this latest news that just came out, or answer any questions from Germany about U.S. surveillance [inaudible]—
LAURA POITRAS: Where is that—where is that published?
AMY GOODMAN: The information was revealed when a German Parliament member queried the German government about steps it had taken after reports the NSA spied on Merkel’s phone calls. The NSA reportedly instituted a blanket policy of withholding records from people who want to know if the agency has spied on them. Any response to that, and also this issue of nonprofits being spied on here?
GLENN GREENWALD: I mean, it’s—I’ll only break news on Democracy Now!, as you know, but not at press conferences. But, no, I mean, you know, as I said, I mean, I think some of the most significant stories are left to come, and it’s hard to preview them when they haven’t gone through the journalistic process and to talk about ones that we haven’t published. But obviously, Edward Snowden is aware of what’s in the material that he gave us. And so, when he describes what the surveillance state is doing, I think it should be deemed pretty reliable, since everything else that he said about that has proven to be true. And I believe that will, as well, without sort of talking about the reporting that we’re doing.
LAURA POITRAS: I mean, working in Germany, I mean, as we all know, the history of the Stasi in Germany makes this country very, very sensitive to these kinds of invasions of privacy and very aware of their corrosive and pernicious effects when you have governments that surveil their own populations. And so, you have that, and then you’re also balancing the sort of global politics of allies and how—I mean, the government there, I think, is deeply, deeply, deeply concerned about the spying that’s happening there, and they’re trying to, you know, really, I think, investigate that. And I also think, though, there are a lot of things in which the BND is working with the NSA. And so, I think it’s too soon to say what’s going to happen there.
REPORTER: How much of every day does Edward Snowden spend going over the stuff that he got, since he got so much that he must not have known everything that was in it in the first place?
GLENN GREENWALD: Well, first of all, I don’t think the premise of your question is true at all. You know, I mean, if you go talk to a second- or third-year litigator at a law firm who basically spends all of their time sitting in conference rooms with documents full of—you know, boxes full of documents, and have to go through them all in a one-week period or a two-week period, and you develop systems for being able to review thousands and thousands of documents a day or a week, and being able to appreciate what their contents are and make assessments about whether or not they should be sent to the adversary counsel. There are all sorts of ways to review large amounts of material. And, you know, he was a—he has worked in the intelligence community for a long time, and so I don’t think this assumption that he didn’t know what was in the documents is valid or warranted at all. And I’ve talked about before that—
REPORTER: Let me amend that: He didn’t know everything.
GLENN GREENWALD: Yeah, I mean, I think—
REPORTER: In other words, there must be surprises even for him.
GLENN GREENWALD: I mean, as he said, you know, he—part of what he did that I think merits a lot of appreciation is he didn’t take it upon himself to decide what ought to be published and what didn’t, but came to established and well-regarded media outlets and asked them to engage in that process, so that he wasn’t just being the sole arbiter or decision maker about what it was that was being known. And so, I think that process of him vetting the material and then asking us as journalists to vet the material, within a context of very experienced editors and other media outlets, has resulted in the best possible means of publishing these materials. I mean, I’m sure there’s stuff that we report, because part of the reporting we do isn’t just reading the documents, but going and piecing other things together that, you know, he probably didn’t know before. But clearly, you know, I know for a fact that he’s extremely familiar with the materials that he gave us.
REPORTER: Can you describe that process? You have this big cache of documents that’s—theoretically, as far as I know, Edward Snowden actually doesn’t have that cache of documents, but it is held among several different people. How is that then brought out into the public? And corollary to that, why isn’t it just released to the public sort of in a much more open manner, rather than through journalist outlets?
GLENN GREENWALD: Well, if we decided just to release it all, then all of the questions would be: Why did you so recklessly upload to the Internet all of these materials without first vetting them? Why did you expose the identity of this person or blow this program? Or did—why weren’t you more careful? And when Snowden came to us, he had a very clear idea about how he wanted the materials to be reported. If he just wanted it all released to the public, he could have just done that himself. He knows how the Internet works. He wouldn’t have needed us. That’s exactly what he didn’t want, and demanded that we make an agreement with him that that wasn’t how we were going to publish these materials. He knew that in order for this debate that he wanted to be triggered to happen, it needed to be done in a way that the focus wouldn’t be on "Why are you reckless, and why are you helping the terrorists, and why did you expose the identity of this person," and instead have it be on what the NSA is doing. And I think that choice of his was vindicated, and that’s why we’ve adhered to the agreement we’ve done.
And as far as the method, I mean, we go through the documents. We find the ones that we think are most newsworthy. We do the reporting necessary for us to complete the picture. We consult with experts. We work with editors. And then, the minute the story is ready for publication, we publish it. And all of us have been working without stop for 10 straight months doing that. And I think you can look at it in one way and say there’s a lot of documents that haven’t been published, but I think the better way and more accurately way to look at it is to say that in the 10-month period since we’ve gotten the documents, there’s an extraordinary number of documents that have been released. There have been hundreds of articles written about very complicated material, almost all of which have been completely shielded from any serious questioning in terms of their accuracy or their reliability. And I think that’s inspired confidence in the readership and in the public that what it is that we’re reporting is solid and accurate. And ultimately, I think that was the most important thing for having the debate proceed in a meaningful and constructive way.
REPORTER: Is there anything about the Heartbleed bug in the documents you have, or have you checked? The Heartbleed—
GLENN GREENWALD: Laura?
LAURA POITRAS: I—in terms of the time frame, I actually haven’t done the research, because I was preparing to travel, so—since it broke.
REPORTER: So, maybe?
LAURA POITRAS: I’m saying I don’t know.
SAM ALCOFF: A lot of the focus has been on the government and the NSA. Would Booz Allen Hamilton, as private clients—is there any reason to believe that they shared any of the vast troves of information they had with private clients?
GLENN GREENWALD: I mean, it’s—you know, I think it’s hard for us to talk about things that we haven’t actually reported, because it just wouldn’t be a meaningful way to talk about it, because the reporting that we do—oftentimes you read a document, and you think you know the meaning of it, and then you go and do your research and read other documents and consult with experts, and it turns out that the understanding that you had of it originally isn’t the accurate understanding. So I try really hard not just to spout off about things that we haven’t gone through the process of reporting.
Having said that, I will just say that in general the—there almost is no division between the private sector and the NSA, or the private sector and the Pentagon, when it comes to the American national security state. They really are essentially one. And so, to talk about whether or not there are protections on how Booz Allen uses the material versus how the NSA uses it almost assumes, falsely, that there is this really strict separation. They call each other partners because that’s what they are. And they’re indispensable in every way to the national security state, which is why Edward Snowden had access to all these materials, not as an NSA employee, but as a Booz Allen employee. Anything else?
REPORTER: Any regrets on what you’ve done so far?
GLENN GREENWALD: No, I have none at all. I doubt they do, either. But—
REPORTER: What are your hopes for actual reform in—U.S. surveillance reform, in general?
GLENN GREENWALD: I mean, speaking for myself, I would like to see the debate be about not whether the U.S. should be collecting metadata under a specific provision of the PATRIOT Act, 215, but the broader question of whether or not we want to empower the government to monitor and surveil people who are suspected of absolutely no wrongdoing whatsoever, essentially to engage in mass surveillance. Is that really a proper function of the state? And even beyond just domestically, why should one government, in particular, turn the Internet from what it was intended to be, and its greatest promise, which is a tool of freedom and human exploration and liberation, into the most oppressive tool of human control and surveillance ever known in history?
And so, I don’t think anybody thinks that there’s no legitimate form of surveillance. I think that it’s perfectly legitimate for the government to surveil people about whom there’s evidence, real evidence, to believe and convince a court to believe that they’re engaged in actual wrongdoing, a targeted surveillance of people for whom there’s probable cause or some similar standard. But mass surveillance, suspicionless surveillance, of our private communications, I think, is without any justification whatsoever. And I think the national security state ought to be reined in and converted from a system of mass surveillance into one of targeted surveillance.
REPORTER: Glenn, [inaudible] if you would describe the process of bringing a story to air or to the site as researching it, understanding it, and then, when we’re ready, putting it on the site? Do you still reach out to the NSA, White House or DNI to say, "Here’s what we’re about to go with," and give them the opportunity to say, "Please, not that part," or do you cut that out?
GLENN GREENWALD: No, in every single story that we’ve published—every single story that we’ve published—and by "we," I mean just any media organization with which I have worked, and I think with which everybody has worked, on these stories—we have gone to all of the people who might have information to give us to enable our reporting to be better, including the NSA and the GCHQ. And we not only ask for their comment, but give them an opportunity to argue why certain information shouldn’t be published. In the overwhelming majority of cases, their arguments about why we shouldn’t publish end up being rejected, because they’re usually just vague invocations of national security clichés and not anything specific. But in a couple of cases, they have identified specific harms that they thought would accrue, and we thought the information wasn’t particularly useful anyway, and so we ended up being convinced on our own accord not to publish it. But yeah, I think it would be irresponsible not to let them tell you what they want to tell you about the stories, just like you go to anybody before you report on them.
EWEN MacASKILL: Can I just add to that? When we reported WikiLeaks, the information was written by diplomats, and it was easily comprehensible. Some people in the NSA have said that we’ve deliberately been drip-feeding the story, holding back material and—Michael Hayden said that we’re publishing every sort of 10 days, as if this was some sort of deliberate policy. Unlike WikiLeaks, these are very technical documents. You can read them and not realize there’s a story there. As Glenn said, you have to piece the pieces together. You have to speak to people to try and establish what the story is, and it’s very time-consuming. And that’s why we’re doing it this way. We do speak to the agencies, and it’s helpful. Sometimes they say, "We’d like you to redact this particular name," and quite often we’ll do that. Sometimes they’ll say, "You’ve misunderstood this document," and then, when we think about it, we think, "Well, maybe they have got a point." And so it’s a two-way process. And I think it is, as Glenn says, responsible journalism to speak to them.
REPORTER: Have you yet seen any evidence that other countries have regarded these revelations as "we better up our game"?
GLENN GREENWALD: No. Actually, I think that’s an interesting point, as a matter of fact, is I don’t think any countries—you know, I can’t talk to closed societies like China. I don’t know what, you know, their reactions have been. But I think open governments, open countries, their reaction has not been, "Let’s pull our resources to match and replicate the capabilities of the United States." Instead—it is, instead, "Let’s figure out how to defend ourselves from what essentially is this digital invasion of the privacy of our citizens and our elected leaders." And I know in Brazil, for example, and in Germany, the two countries that probably have been the most affected by the revelations and where the reaction has been most intense, there has been very serious debate and resources devoted to figuring out how to build defenses to protect the sanctity of the privacy of their communications.
AMY GOODMAN: Quickly, your—President Obama renewing the bulk phone record data collection despite calling for some reforms, your response to it?
GLENN GREENWALD: I mean, you know, I think that it’s—you know, President Obama likes to parade around as some sort of, you know, King Solomon figure in between the excesses of the NSA and those who are raising concerns about it, and trying to balance it and come up with some reasonable centrist approach. I mean, that’s generally his political brand. The reality is, is that he’s presided over this out-of-control system for five years and has never expressed a single inclination to rein it in in any way. So the fact that he’s continuing it for as long as he can, I think, is the opposite of surprising. I mean, he is an advocate of this system over which he presided for so many years. I mean, I think he’s one of the obstacles to reform, not a vehicle for it.
All right, thank you very much, guys. Appreciate it.
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