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"Right Out of a Spy Movie": Glenn Greenwald on First Secret Meeting with NSA Leaker Edward Snowden

StoryMay 14, 2014
Watch iconWatch Full Show

In part two of our extended interview, journalist Glenn Greenwald tells the inside story of meeting National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden. Greenwald and filmmaker Laura Poitras were the journalists who first met Snowden in Hong Kong last June, going on to publish a series of disclosures that exposed massive NSA surveillance to the world. Greenwald has just come out with a new book on the Snowden leaks and their fallout, "No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State." Recalling his first encounter with Snowden, Greenwald says: "The big question was: How are we going to know that it’s you? We know nothing about you. We don’t know how old you are, what you look like or what your race is or even your gender. And he said, ’You’ll know me because I’ll be holding in my left hand a Rubik’s cube.’ And so, he walked in, was holding a Rubik’s cube, came over to us, introduced himself, and that was how we met him."

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: On Tuesday, the group Privacy International sued Britain’s intelligence agency for illegally developing spy programs that remotely hijack computers and mobile devices. According to the legal complaint, the British GCHQ and the National Security Agency can now take over a device’s microphone and record conversations occurring near the device, take over a device’s webcam and snap photographs, retrieve any content from a phone, log keystrokes entered into a device, and identify the geographic whereabouts of the user. Eric King of Privacy International, said, quote, "The hacking programs being undertaken by GCHQ are the modern equivalent of the government entering your house, rummaging through your filing cabinets, diaries, journals and correspondence, before planting bugs in every room you enter," he said. Privacy International’s legal complaint is based on documents leaked by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden and first reported on by Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Glenn Greenwald and The Intercept.

Well, today we’ll spend the rest of the hour with part two of our interview with Glenn Greenwald, author of the new book, No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State. Glenn Greenwald and filmmaker Laura Poitras were the journalists who first met Snowden in Hong Kong last June. Glenn Greenwald came by Democracy Now!’s studios on Monday. I asked him to talk about how Edward Snowden first reached out to him.

GLENN GREENWALD: He first tried to contact me—or did contact me back in December of 2012, when he sent me an anonymous email using the name Cincinnatus, which is the name of a 5th BC Roman emperor who had famously been recruited to become essentially the emperor of Rome to vanquish a foreign enemy and then voluntarily gave up power after he succeeded and was at the height of his power and said, "I’m going back to my farm," and became sort of the symbol of civic virtue, somebody who uses power for the collective good and not for their own personal aggrandizement. And that was the name Snowden chose when he first contacted me. The problem was that he was afraid, for obvious reasons—the reasons that are now obvious—to tell me much about who he was or what he had. All he would say, essentially, was "I have a story for you." But as you know, we get contacted every day by people claiming to have stories, often which turn out to be—most of the time which turn out to be nothing. And so I didn’t prioritize it. He wanted me to install encryption so that we could talk securely, and I never did. And he tried, essentially, for seven weeks and finally gave up and then went to Laura Poitras, my friend, the award-winning documentarian. She did have encryption, and we were able to start speaking that way about the story that he had.

AMY GOODMAN: And talk about what eventually brought you and Snowden to Hong Kong.

GLENN GREENWALD: Well, when I first talked to Snowden, which was in early—the early part of May, he was a huge mystery, both to myself and Laura. All we knew was that he was claiming that he had access to incredibly incriminating documents at the highest level of the national security state. But we didn’t know who he was or how he got those documents or even what those documents were. And from the beginning, he was insistent that we travel to Hong Kong in order to meet him. And the idea that he was in Hong Kong was quite mystifying both to myself and Laura, and raised a lot of flags of suspicion, because we obviously assumed, when it was time to meet him, that we were going to be traveling to northern Virginia or southern Maryland, which is where most of the people who work at these agencies reside. And it was very difficult to understand why somebody with access to these kind of documents would be in Hong Kong of all places. And he was a little bit reluctant to talk about that.

I didn’t push much to get information, because I didn’t want to make him feel like he was being interrogated, especially early on before a bond of trust had been created. And the only thing I said was, "Of course I’m willing to come to Hong Kong, given the magnitude of what you’re saying you’re able to give me. But before I get on a plane and travel all the way across the world, I just would like to see some sample of the material that you’re prepared to turn over." And he said, "That’s completely understandable." He sent to me, through encryption programs that he helped me walk me through step by step to install, roughly two dozen top-secret NSA documents that I received sitting at my home in Rio de Janeiro. It was the first time any documents had leaked from this most secretive agency inside the U.S. government ever.

The documents themselves were explosive. Among them was the documents detailing the PRISM program, in which the NSA had obtained access directly to the servers of the largest Internet company so that they could get the emails and chats that they wanted directly. And so, when I got that first set of documents, I knew that this story was very serious, the source was at least somewhat reliable, that it wasn’t just a crank or crazy person. And the very next day, I got on the plane. I flew to New York to meet with my editors at The Guardian. I met Laura there. And the day after that, on the first available plane, we flew the 16 hours to Hong Kong to meet Edward Snowden.

AMY GOODMAN: But even that, it wasn’t as simple as that, because though you were a columnist for The Guardian newspaper, they were concerned. They wanted one of their trusty, older-generation reporters to be there, too.

GLENN GREENWALD: You know, I think that that—one of the reasons why I wrote the book is because there’s a perception of what has happened that’s informed by hindsight, and hindsight often distorts the situation more than it clarifies. And, you know, the challenges that we faced very early on in that story, journalistically and legally and politically, were quite profound. And, you know, we had no idea who it was that we were going to meet. We had no idea what he had done to get these documents or what the legal ramifications were or what the risks were of going to Hong Kong. In fact, The Washington Post, whom he had thought about involving, actually said that they were unwilling to send any of their journalists to Hong Kong because they were so worried about the risks.

And so, you know, The Guardian understandably was worried about all of that. And as you say, I had only worked with them for eight months. My deal with The Guardian was I write whatever I want, and I post it directly to the Internet, and you don’t interfere in any way in what I’m writing. So I had barely worked with any Guardian editors at all, let alone on a story of this size. And so, there was a lot of trust issues. I didn’t fully trust them in terms of how they were going to handle a story like this, and they didn’t fully trust me that they could, you know, essentially stake the 190-year history of their newspaper on a story based on what I was telling them, given that we had no relationship. And so, at the last minute, they did insist that this very trusted reporter, Ewen MacAskill, traveled along with us. It was a last-minute sort of request. And it bothered Laura, and it bothered me, and we were worried about what it would mean for the source. But we ultimately accepted it.

AMY GOODMAN: You write that Laura was particularly concerned that if this source, who you were going to meet in Hong Kong, were at the airport secretly sort of, well, checking you guys out as you came in, and saw someone else with you, he might just disappear. He might just back out.

GLENN GREENWALD: That was a big concern. I mean, we knew that this person was extremely well prepared. I mean, everything that he proposed to us had been thought through in a very detailed and systematic way. It was all incredibly planned. And so, the fact that there was this major last-minute change, which was it wasn’t just me and Laura, whom he trusted by that point, enough to meet, we’re coming, but also this completely unknown person from The Guardian, who just got thrown onto the end, was a major concern. And The Guardian said, "You don’t have to let him meet the source until you’re ready. We just want him to go to be around and just sort of help and to be our eyes and ears." And we essentially agreed, because I thought it was a reasonable request, and I felt we could manage it. But it was illustrative of the kind of challenge that we faced right from the beginning in doing this story, with so many unknowns.

AMY GOODMAN: So, tell us about the moment, Glenn Greenwald, that you laid eyes on Edward Snowden. How did you agree to meet and then do the interview?

GLENN GREENWALD: Well, the meeting itself was incredibly intricate, and it was, you know, right out of a spy movie, essentially. I mean, he had—he was staying at a large hotel in Hong Kong, which itself was a little bit confusing. I mean, why would somebody who makes off with this amount of documents—you know, you picture them in sort of a hovel of an apartment and that’s very obscure, so they can’t be found, and he was staying at this sort of highrise, luxury apartment hotel in the middle of the most commercial district in Hong Kong, which was itself very surprising.

And so, he had selected a place in the hotel—and this is very illustrative of how Edward Snowden thinks—that was, in his words, not so trafficked that we will cause a scene by meeting there and be noticed, but not so obscure that it would be conspicuous if suddenly people were there. He found this, what he thought was this perfectly calibrated place, which was in this kind of bizarre room that had an enormous green alligator on the floor. And our instructions were to go to this room at two different times, 10:00 and 10:20, and to sit on the sofa in front of the green alligator and wait for him. And if he didn’t show up on the first occasion, we were to leave the room and come back in 20 minutes and wait for him. And the second time, he asked us to speak code questions to hotel employees, to ask, "How is the food here? When does the restaurant open?" so that we could signal to him that things had gone well on the trip over, that we hadn’t been followed. It was sort of a code question that he would hear as he hovered.

And so, we sat down as instructed at 10:00. He didn’t show up. We left. We came back at 10:20. A minute later, he walked in. And the big question was: How are we going to know that it’s you? We know nothing about you. We don’t know how old you are, what you look like or what your race is or even your gender. And he said, "You’ll know me because I’ll be holding in my left hand a Rubik’s cube. And so, he walked in, was holding a Rubik’s cube, came over to us, introduced himself, and that was how we met him.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to a part of that first video that appeared a few days later, the video when the world first saw Edward Snowden, filmed by Laura Poitras in Hong Kong.

EDWARD SNOWDEN: The greatest fear that I have regarding the outcome for America of these disclosures is that nothing will change. People will see in the media all of these disclosures. They’ll know the length that the government is going to grant themselves powers, unilaterally, to create greater control over American society and global society, but they won’t be willing to take the risks necessary to stand up and fight to change things, to force their representatives to actually take a stand in their interests.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about, Glenn Greenwald—that, again, Edward Snowden—that first video that the world came to know so well, how long that interview was, what shocked you most by it, how long it took you to put online, how The Guardian responded to this video.

GLENN GREENWALD: Well, the most extraordinary thing about this story, the most unusual and the most difficult, from the very beginning, was that Edward Snowden, from the very first time that I ever spoke with him, told me that he was absolutely determined to identify himself as the source of these disclosures, that he didn’t want to hide, he didn’t want to remain anonymous. He felt a moral responsibility to come out and explain why he did what he did to the world. And, you know, that’s extremely unusual. I mean, if a source comes to you with information that can send them to prison for the rest of their lives, they typically want you to even go to jail if it means that you have to to protect their identity. He wanted the opposite: He wanted to come forward and explain to the world why he did what he did. And—

AMY GOODMAN: He didn’t want to be Deep Throat.

GLENN GREENWALD: He did not want to be Deep Throat. He wanted to be Edward Snowden saying, "I stand up and take responsibility for the choice that I made, and I want to explain to you why I made it." And so, from the beginning, I felt this very deep responsibility to make certain that he would have the ability to send the message that he wanted to send, to speak to the world and be heard in the right light, in the right way, so that the perception of him would come directly from him. And the way that Laura decided that this would be best done would be to make a video so that he could literally speak in his own words, not speak through me, not speak through any newspaper or other media institution. And so, the first thing that Laura did was, on the very first day that I met Edward Snowden, I interrogated him for literally six straight hours, so that I could convince myself that he was an authentic and reliable person, that what he was telling us was true. And she said it was so fragmented and so detailed and so lengthy that she didn’t feel like she could really put together a video that would really convey who he was.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, wait. Let’s just talk about who you are, Glenn Greenwald, what it means to be questioned by you.


AMY GOODMAN: You’re a constitutional lawyer by training.

GLENN GREENWALD: Right. And, you know, I had spent, you know, many years, before being a journalist, not just as a lawyer, but as a litigator, which means that I so many times would sit down at a table just like this with witnesses, probably a little closer to me than you’re sitting, and for days at a time bombard them with questions. And almost nobody can withstand that level of scrutiny if they’re lying. The lies will always come out. And I felt very confident that if he were lying, that that would come out. It’d be apparent in the questioning.

And after six hours, I felt extremely confident that he was telling the truth about everything. There was no—there were no inconsistencies. There was no hesitation. He withstood all of it. I mean, we didn’t let him go to the bathroom. We didn’t let him eat anything or even have a drink of water. It was literally two feet away from me and asking questions. But Laura felt like that wouldn’t make a very effective video because it was too fragmented and too detailed. And so Laura wrote up, I think, 20 questions, and I added maybe five other ones. And it was on the third or fourth day that we were in Hong Kong, and we said, "Let’s really do this video the right way, in a focused way, so that he’s answering the questions that the world is going to want to know."

AMY GOODMAN: At any point, Glenn, were you afraid that Edward Snowden would disappear?

GLENN GREENWALD: We were constantly afraid that he would disappear, not on his own volition, but because there was going to be a knock at the door, and American agents or Chinese agents or Hong Kong local authorities were going to find out what he was doing and come and take him away. That was—that threat, that fear, was constantly hovering over everything that we did. And, you know, part of why he chose Hong Kong, ultimately I found out, was because he felt like that would afford him the protection he needed from the U.S. government to be able to do the work that he wanted to do with the journalists whom he had selected. But yeah, that was always a serious concern.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about what happened on the fifth day, what Edward Snowden said about some security having been breached—


AMY GOODMAN: —having to do with his home in Hawaii.

GLENN GREENWALD: Yeah, I mean, you know, we—we had—none of us had any idea what the U.S. government knew about what he had done. And so, we were operating completely in the dark. And I got there on the fifth day that we were in Hong Kong, and he said, "I found out some alarming news." And it was the news I had been waiting for, I thought, which was he said that he had discovered that NSA officials, a human resources person and an internal NSA police officer—which I didn’t even know exists, but the NSA has its own police force, and an officer from that police force had been dispatched to his home in Hawaii, which he shared with his longtime girlfriend, to essentially say, "Where is Edward Snowden? And why hasn’t he been at work? And do you know what it is that he’s doing? And do you mind if we search?" And Snowden was certain that this meant that the government had detected that he was the source of these disclosures. And I had argued the opposite, that I didn’t think that they would send just a human resources person and a police officer to his home, if they really thought he was the source of this massive leak. They would probably send FBI and SWAT teams and who knows what else. But neither of us was certain. And so, the possibility that he had been detected in some way or was about to be was very real, and it accelerated the need to get this video ready, so that we could have him appear before the world on his own volition.

AMY GOODMAN: Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Glenn Greenwald. His new book, released Tuesday, is No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State. When we come back, we’ll talk with Glenn about how Edward Snowden managed to go underground in Hong Kong after meeting with Glenn and Laura Poitras. This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a minute.


AMY GOODMAN: On our website, we have a new video timeline of Democracy Now! reports on Edward Snowden and the surveillance state. It features all of our interviews with Glenn Greenwald since he filed the first report last June based on Snowden’s leaked NSA documents. You can see the timeline at

This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we continue with Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Glenn Greenwald, author of the new book, out this week, No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State. I asked Glenn Greenwald to talk about how Edward Snowden managed to secretly leave his hotel room in Hong Kong once it became known he was the source of the NSA leaks.

GLENN GREENWALD: Well, you know, the spycraft that permeated everything we did in Hong Kong extended right up until the time that he had to escape, because what had happened was, once we—it was really amazing. We spent the whole week reporting from Hong Kong on these stories, and not a single media outlet ever wondered, "Why are they in Hong Kong breaking all these NSA stories?" But the minute we revealed his identity, they put it all together and realized that Edward Snowden must be in Hong Kong, because we had interviewed him live from there. And so, they all descended on the city, and they were all desperately searching for where he was. They had found my hotel room by bribing a variety of hotel employees. But they were looking everywhere for him. And we knew that if they found him before he was able to leave, that he would never be able to leave, because they would follow him incessantly. And so, we arranged for some lawyers, who we were able to find in Hong Kong, who were well connected, to rush over to the hotel and literally take him out of his hotel room and put him into hiding 15 or 20 minutes before the media found him. And on that day, we were really worried that he wasn’t going to be able to get out of his hotel, that the media swarm would have found him. And he talked about how he could change his appearance—he could shave his head, he could do things to his face—to essentially make himself unrecognizable and be able to leave the hotel. I mean, it was at that level of spycraft that all of these events took place.

AMY GOODMAN: So where did he go?

GLENN GREENWALD: Well, he—we put him into the hands of these lawyers, who specialize in human rights law and in asylum claims. And they put him in various safe houses throughout Hong Kong, people who essentially were willing to shield him, on the premise that he was going to ask the world for asylum protection from the United States government.

AMY GOODMAN: So, then explain what his thinking was, and your thinking, about Hong Kong, about China, about what his chances were of one of these governments cooperating with the U.S. government in arresting him and then extraditing him.

GLENN GREENWALD: You know, people second-guess all these things that happened. You know, why did he end up in Hong Kong? Why didn’t he go to Iceland? Why didn’t he go, you know, to Ecuador, to begin with? And there are really good answers to all of that. But the best answer is—and he himself said this all the time, whenever I would ask him about alternatives—was, you know, he would say, "Look, all my options are bad options." If you’re going to be a whistleblower who leaks more sensitive material about the U.S. government than anyone in history, you know, you’re not going to have very good options. They’re going to know you, who you are and where you are, and they’re going to want to find you, and it doesn’t matter where you go. And as it turns out, I think he planned really well. I mean, I think Hong Kong ended up being a great choice. They didn’t get him in Hong Kong. He tried to get to Latin America and was forced by the U.S. government to stay in Russia. But that, too, turned out to be fortuitous, because he’s further outside of the grasp of the United States, a year later, than he has ever been.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain what happened there, because a lot of people forget why he ended up in Russia, that he traveled to Russia because he wanted to sell the Russians secrets, or that he sold the Chinese secrets. Explain how he ends up being stuck in Russia.

GLENN GREENWALD: Well, first of all, it’s just such a potent sign of how disingenuous our political discourse can be, because when he was in Hong Kong for those first two-and-a-half weeks, all sorts of people were asserting—obviously without evidence—that he must be a Chinese spy. This was clear, clearly a Chinese espionage operation. And the minute he moved from Hong Kong to Moscow, those same people just switched seamlessly from he’s a Chinese spy to a Russian spy and forgot or ignored the fact that they were claiming something quite different just a moment ago.

Any whistleblower in the United States who’s effective is going to be aggressively demonized. But what people have blocked out and what the media has successfully obscured, because it’s the media that typically tries to attack Snowden by saying, "Oh, look he’s in this oppressive tyranny, and it’s hypocritical that he would be in Russia while criticizing the United States," is that he did not choose to be in Russia. He went to Moscow with the intention of flying on to Havana, which had promised him safe passage so that he could then fly to the northern part of Latin America, where he would request asylum. And it was only because on the flight from Hong Kong to Moscow, when the U.S. government, with no due process, unilaterally just revoked his passport, declared it invalid, and then bullied and threatened the Cubans out of rescinding their offer of safe passage, and he landed and realized he no longer had safe passage, did they force him to remain in Russia. And he stayed there for five weeks. I mean, as he always says, "If I were a Russian spy, do you think I would have been given that welcome of being forced to remain in the airport for five weeks while the Russian government thought about what they wanted to do with me?"

And he only then, once he realized that he would be physically incapable of leaving Russia—remember, during this time, the U.S. government showed how radical it would be. There was a plane that they thought that he was on, that was actually the plane of Bolivian President Evo Morales. And despite no evidence that he was on the plane, they literally forced the plane down by preventing overflight rights from several of their allies in Europe, and he was forced to land in Austria. The fact that they were willing to force down the plane of a president of a sovereign country, based on a whim, showed that they were physically going to force him to stay in Russia, not let him leave. And it was only then that he sought asylum. So then to try and use that against him and say, "Well, he’s in Russia, and that undermines his credibility as a messenger," is the ultimate in irony.

AMY GOODMAN: But talk about Julian Assange, then, another person who is the target of the U.S., not clear if he’s been secretly indicted by the U.S. I mean, here he is holed up in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London. The role he played in Edward Snowden’s escape from Hong Kong?

GLENN GREENWALD: WikiLeaks, as an organization, deserves immense credit for what they did to protect Edward Snowden. It was daring and innovative and heroic. Obviously, Julian himself was physically incapable of leaving the embassy in London. But what they did was they dispatched somebody who has been working with WikiLeaks for many years, who’s very closely associated with Julian Assange, a British woman named Sarah Harrison, who went to Hong Kong and met Edward Snowden and arranged his passage out of Hong Kong and to Russia and then stayed with him for five weeks in the airport and then three more months once he got asylum, just to be a witness to the world that he was being treated fairly. And WikiLeaks provided support for him and an infrastructure, legal advice. Essentially, the reason why Edward Snowden is a free man today and able to participate in the debate that he galvanized is because of the bravery of WikiLeaks and Sarah Harrison.

AMY GOODMAN: And Sarah Harrison then goes on to—well, she can’t go home to London.

GLENN GREENWALD: Right. I mean, she is concerned—almost certainly with very good reason—that if she went to London, at the very least she would be detained under the same terrorism law that they used to detain and interrogate my partner, David Miranda, which would entitle them to take all of her things and to question her. And if she didn’t answer every single question truthfully and honestly, in their eyes, they would then have the right to arrest her and prosecute her just for that. So she’s essentially exiled from her own country as a result of helping Edward Snowden be protected against persecution from his own government.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Sarah Harrison now lives in Germany.


AMY GOODMAN: Glenn Greenwald, talk about how Edward Snowden got asylum in Russia.

GLENN GREENWALD: I mean, it’s really a fascinating and, I think, still, kind of obscured series of events. You know, the context for it is that even though the Cold War is over, the American political class still regards Russia as this enemy. I think it’s just baked into the DNA of Americans at this point to hear the word "Russia" and just sort of react with hysteria. And so the Russian and American political classes really hate each other. And for years, there have been numerous Russian criminals that have sought refuge in the U.S., whom Putin has been demanding be returned. And the position of the U.S. government is: "Sorry, but we have no extradition treaty with you, and therefore we just—there’s no way to turn them over, even though we would love to be able to do that." And so, once Snowden ended up in Russia and the U.S. government started demanding that he be extradited and turned over, there was a lot of secret negotiations between the Russians and the Americans. And I was quite concerned at that point that that was going to end in an agreement where Snowden would be turned over. But the animosity between the two political classes is so intense—

AMY GOODMAN: And this is even before Ukraine.

GLENN GREENWALD: Yeah, this is before Ukraine, precisely. That even though it probably would have been in both of their interests, where they could have each gotten very valuable things, they just weren’t able to come to an agreement. And then Putin saw it as a way to sort of highlight the human rights abuses of the U.S. government, the way they love to highlight the human rights abuses of Russia and other countries, by giving Putin—by giving Snowden asylum.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Glenn Greenwald, you leave Hong Kong. Edward Snowden ends up with asylum, at least for now, in Russia. And you begin this series of articles—Laura Poitras, as well—revealing these documents that you have. Now, who has these documents? That’s a critical question. Does Edward Snowden have them, for example, in Russia?

GLENN GREENWALD: Right, so there is a certain universe of documents that Edward Snowden gave to journalists. And of the journalists to whom he gave documents, directly or indirectly, only Laura and I have the full set. There are other news organizations that have enormous numbers of documents, just not the full set, including The Washington Post, including The Guardian, ProPublica and then The New York Times. ProPublica and New York Times got theirs from The Guardian, when The Guardian was concerned that the British government would order them to destroy their entire set. So there are multiple organizations that have numerous documents. Der Spiegel has gotten numerous documents, because Laura has worked with them in Berlin. I’ve worked with other organizations around the world. They have lots of documents, as well. So they’re very dispersed at this point. Edward Snowden insists that when he went to Russia, on purpose, he took no documents with him of any kind, that he gave them all to the journalists he wanted to have them in Hong Kong and then took nothing with him.

AMY GOODMAN: So, how you broke through, here—you’re at a point now where it is known that you and Laura Poitras had interviewed Edward Snowden. This is posted online, the video, at The Guardian, and you’ve written your article. We’re talking about the danger Edward Snowden was in. And what about the two of you, and then what happened to Edward Snowden?

GLENN GREENWALD: We were pretty aware from the beginning—I mean, I think one of the—one of the important parts of this story is that we knew early on that what we were going to do was going to be at least as much about media and journalism issues as it was about surveillance. And the reason is that there’s a set of unspoken rules that usually govern how media outlets handle stories like this, which is, if you get a lot of documents, what you do at most is you publish one or two stories. You don’t publish many of the raw materials. You go to the government and extensively negotiate with them about what you can publish and what you can’t. You take all sorts of guidance from them about what you should and shouldn’t disclose. You do one or two stories, and then you kind of walk away, before you do any real damage or disrupt anything for real. You collect some awards. You get a lot of accolades. You know, you sort of just leave the status quo be but show the country that you’ve done some real journalism.

And once we got the sense of how vast and sprawling this archive was, we knew we were going to do everything differently, that we were going to ignore all those rules, because we don’t believe in those rules because they’re corrupting. And so, we knew that once we started publishing not one or two stories, but dozens of stories, and we were going to continue to publish until we were done, which is still our plan and still what we intend to do, that not just the government, but even fellow journalists were going to start to look at what we were doing with increasing levels of hostility and to start to say, "This doesn’t actually seem like journalism anymore," because it’s not the kind of journalism that they do. It doesn’t abide by these unspoken rules that are designed to protect the government. And so we knew there were going to be all kinds of risks to us about threats, accusations that we were engaged in criminality, in treason, the possibility that we were going to be arrested or have legal process against us. Obviously, my partner was detained for 11 hours under a terrorism law and still is the target of an ongoing criminal investigation. The Guardian’s newsroom—

AMY GOODMAN: And this was David Miranda in—

GLENN GREENWALD: David Miranda in London.

AMY GOODMAN: —Heathrow Airport.

GLENN GREENWALD: And so, yeah, and over even the past three months, before we came back to the U.S., Laura and I for the first time three weeks ago, there was this escalating series of public threats, from James Clapper, who called us accomplices, to Mike Rogers, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, who called us thieves and said that we ought to be arrested. And so there was this deliberate climate created that was supposed to make us uncertain about what our fate would be, hoping that we would then curb the reporting or otherwise be a little bit less aggressive.

AMY GOODMAN: Wait, I want to just show, so it’s not just you saying or characterizing, since we are very concerned about people speaking in their own words, that exchange from February between House Intelligence Committee Chair Mike Rogers and FBI Director James Comey.

REP. MIKE ROGERS: There have been discussions about selling of access to this material to both newspaper outlets and other places. Mr. Comey, to the best of your knowledge, is fencing stolen material—is that a crime?

JAMES COMEY: Yes, it is.

REP. MIKE ROGERS: And would be selling the access of classified material that is stolen from the United States government—would that be a crime?

JAMES COMEY: It would be. It’s an issue that can be complicated if it involves a newsgathering, a news promulgation function, but in general, fencing or selling stolen property is a crime.

REP. MIKE ROGERS: So if I’m a newspaper reporter for fill-in-the-blank and I sell stolen material, is that legal because I’m a newspaper reporter?

JAMES COMEY: Right, if you’re a newspaper reporter and you’re hawking stolen jewelry, it’s still a crime.

REP. MIKE ROGERS: And if I’m hawking stolen classified material that I’m not legally in the possession of for personal gain and profit, is that not a crime?

JAMES COMEY: I think that’s a harder question, because it involves a newsgathering function, could have First Amendment implications. That’s something that probably would be better answered by the Department of Justice.

AMY GOODMAN: FBI Director James Comey being questioned by House Intelligence Committee Chair Mike Rogers, who, by the way, says he will leave Congress and become a radio talk show host. Glenn Greenwald?

GLENN GREENWALD: Well, right immediately after that hearing, Politico asked Mike Rogers, not that there was any doubt anyway, but "Who is it specifically who you were thinking about when you were engaged in that colloquy?" And he said, "Glenn Greenwald." And the headlines in Politico were then, and in The Huffington Post and a bunch of other places was: "House Intelligence Committee chairman accuses Glenn Greenwald of being a thief and a fence and engaging in felonies." And so, you know, when you have those kind of accusations being made by people who are powerful within Washington, you take them seriously. And the thing about it is, even if the threats don’t end up manifesting in terms of arrests, it creates this climate, that’s intended to be created, where journalists have to be afraid that the journalism that they’re doing, that’s supposed to be protected by the First Amendment, can now be subject to arresting you and charging you with crimes in a federal court system that has been extremely deferential to the U.S. government in the post-9/11 era. And that was definitely part of the climate that got created on purpose.

AMY GOODMAN: Reporter Glenn Greenwald. His new book, released Tuesday, is No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State. When we come back, Glenn Greenwald talks about the Pulitzer Prize and the corporate media’s response to his reporting.

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