FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Greenwald Botches NSA Leak

Edward Snowden’s leak of NSA material was not well executed. One of several mistakes was that he sought refuge in Hong Kong, which, as the Times argues, “is likely to extradite leaker if U.S. asks”. And it’s not as though there weren’t alternatives: Snowden could’ve fled to Latin America, which is exactly where Julian Assange “strongly advise[s] him to go”.  As Assange put it, “Latin America has shown in the past 10 years that it is really pushing forward in human rights. There’s a long tradition of asylum.” Assange is presently being given political asylum in Ecuador’s embassy in London.

It’s also puzzling that one of the journalists whom Snowden contacted about the leak, Glenn Greenwald, did not advise Snowden to forgo Hong Kong in favor of Latin America. Greenwald is a former civil rights litigator turned journalist who writes helpfully and knowledgeably about civil liberties: he can’t plausibly claim ignorance about the fact that Hong Kong typically cooperates with U.S. extradition requests. Having by his own account corresponded with Snowden “since February”, this would’ve given Greenwald plenty of time to research the likelihood that Hong Kong would grant Snowden political asylum. Greenwald even notes that he was “working with” Snowden “long before anyone spoke to Bart Gellman,” the only other journalist with whom Snowden corresponded. So Greenwald was not short on time to research potential safe havens for Snowden.

Snowden even informed Greenwald of his intentions to flee the country: as Greenwald recalled, “He sort of said, ‘My plan is, at some point, go somewhere far away, and I want you to come there and interview me.’” Then would’ve been a good time to exercise some journalistic ethics and see to it that his source would be going to a safe place. Having failed that, he complied with Snowden’s request to publish his name. Now Snowden is in a country that’s likely to extradite him, and he can’t fly somewhere else because the world knows who and where he is.

When Snowden first contacted Greenwald, Snowden reasonably requested that they communicate using encryption. Greenwald replied that he didn’t have encryption software. Snowden graciously sent him a homemade video with instructions on how to install such software, which Greenwald never completed. Irritated, Snowden then moved on to a filmmaker, Laura Poitras, who, when asked if she gets a lot of requests to communicate via encrypted methods, said “No, I don’t.” Presumably neither does Greenwald, which makes it all the more baffling that he didn’t bother to install encryption software per the directions he was so helpfully given.

To be fair, The Guardian is hardly unique in its failure to equip its journalists with encryption software or even knowledge about such tools. As Forbes columnist Andy Greenberg helpfully explains in his recent book, “This Machine Kills Secrets”, most if not all of the mainstream media fail to have adequate encryption software with which to communicate with potential sources. In most cases, either encryption software is installed lazily—riddled with security holes—or it isn’t installed at all. In contrast, Wikileaks features excellent encryption software along with protocols that very meaningfully protect leakers’ anonymity. As perplexing as Snowden’s choice of refuge is, so too was his choice to submit his leak to The Guardian instead of Wikileaks. It’s worth noting that Bradley Manning was caught because of human rather than technological failure. Manning confided his leak in a friend who would later give him the Judas treatment. Wikileaks’ software, based in large part on the Tor anonymity engine, succeeded in concealing Manning’s identity.

Barton Gellman, who scooped Greenwald by about twenty minutes, had an interesting explanation for why he decided to publish the story when he did. Though he “would have been happier to have had a day or two” on the story, he “started to hear some footsteps, so I had to move.” The cynicism is astonishing. God forbid The Guardian should beat Gellman to the story by 30 minutes or so. If only Gellman’s concern over being the first to break the story was matched by his concern for the source’s safety; Snowden then might not be facing likely extradition, as he is now. When sources are regarded as merely opportunities for career advancement, it’s no wonder there aren’t more people leaking to the press.

It’s unclear to me which is the greater threat to freedom of the press: cyber surveillance or journalists’ vainglory.

Ken Klippenstein lives in Madison, Wisconsin, USA, where he edits the left issues journal, whiterosereader.org He can be reached at Reader246@gmail.com

More articles by:

Ken Klippenstein is an American journalist who can be reached on Twitter @kenklippenstein or by email: kenneth.klippenstein@gmail.com

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
Weekend Edition
August 23, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Notes on Inauthenticity in a Creeping Fascist Nuthouse
Andrew Levine
Recession Now, Please
Rob Urie
Mr. Trump Goes to Kensington
Jeffrey St. Clair
Deep Time and the Green River, Floating
Robert Hunziker
Earth 4C Hotter
Kenneth Good
Congo’s Patrice Lumumba: The Winds of Reaction in Africa
Pete Dolack
The Realism and Unrealism of the Green New Deals
David Rosen
The White-Nationalist Great Fear
Kenn Orphan
The War on Indigenous People is a War on the Biosphere Itself
L. Michael Hager
What Netanyahu’s Travel Ban Has Revealed
Ramzy Baroud
Jewish Settlers Rule the Roost in Israel, But at What Price?
Evaggelos Vallianatos
Is Environmental Protection Possible?
Josue De Luna Navarro
What It’s Like to Grow Up Hunted
Ralph Nader
They Don’t Make Republicans Like the Great Paul Findley Anymore!
Gary Olson
Whither the Resistance to our Capitalist Overlords?
Dean Baker
On Those Downward Jobs Revisions
Rev. William Alberts
Beware of the Gun-Lover-in-Chief
Helder F. do Vale
Brazil: From Global Leader to U.S. Lapdog
Laura Finley
Educators Actually Do “Work” in the Summer
Jim Goodman
Farmers Need a Bill of Rights
Tom Clifford
What China’s Leadership is Really Worried About: Rising Debt
Daphne Wysham
Saving the Planet Means Fighting Bipartisan Corruption
Tierra Curry
Amazon Fires Put the Planet at Risk
Nyla Ali Khan
Kashmir: Decentralize Power and Revive Regional Political Institutions
John W. Whitehead
American Apocalypse
George Wuerthner
How Agriculture and Ranching Subvert the Re-Wilding of America
Daniel Murphy
Capital in the 21st Century
Jessicah Pierre
400 Years After Slavery’s Start, No More Band-Aids
Kim C. Domenico
Finding the Comrades: Maintaining Precarious Sanity In Insane Times
Gary Leupp
“Based on the Fact She Won’t Sell Me Greenland, I’m Staying Home”
John Kendall Hawkins
The Chicago 8 Trial, Revisited
Rivera Sun
Tapping into People Power
Ted Rall
As Long as Enemies of the State Keep Dying Before Trial, No One Should Trust the State
Jesse Jackson
The Significance of the “1619 Project”
Thomas Knapp
“Nuance” in Politics and Public Policy? No Thanks
Christopher Brauchli
Trump and Endangered Species, Wildlife and Human
Mel Gurtov
China’s Hong Kong Nightmare, and the US Response
Ron Forthofer
Sick of Being a Guinea Pig
Nicky Reid
Why I Stopped Being White (and You Should Too)
Jill Richardson
As the School Year Starts, I’m Grateful for the ADA
Seth Sandronsky
Rethinking the GDR
Adolf Alzuphar
Tears / Ayizan Velekete
Stephen Cooper
General Jah Mikey: “I Just Love That Microphone, Man”
Louis Proyect
Slaves to the Clock
David Yearsley
Moral Cantatas
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail