Greenwald almost blows the biggest story of his life

No Place to Hide; Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State, Glenn Greenwald, 2014
This book seems to be a collection of five articles. For this reader, Part One, Ten Days in Hong Kong, is the most interesting.
On Dec 1 2012 (The first published article, featuring the FISA Verizon order appeared in the Guardian on June 5,2013, more than five months later.) Glenn Greenwald (GG) receives an email from “Cincinnatus” saying he has important documents to share but GG must first install PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) encryption on his computer. GG ignores the email. Three days later he receives another email from C asking him to confirm he received the first email. GG immediately says he got it and later that day he receives an email with detailed instructions for installing the encryption program. GG does nothing for seven weeks. He thinks encryption would be useful for his work so he emails C on Jan 28, 2013 saying he will get someone to help him install the encryption. GG still does nothing and C steps up his efforts, producing a ten minute video “PGP for Journalists” on how to install the program. GG does nothing.
PGP Public Key Encryption public-key-encryption-example

On April 18, GG flew to New York to give some talks. On landing GG receives an email from Laura Poitras (LP) the documentary filmmaker saying she needs to meet him in person the next time he is in New York. GG had written an article detailing all the times Poitras was detained at US airports and her equipment seized. After the article the harassment at the airports stopped. GG arranged to meet LP at a restaurant in Yonkers. She changed tables several times at the restaurant and told GG to remove the batteries from his cellphone. She then showed GG a couple of emails she received asking LP to work with GG. GG thinks the sender is real but they do nothing and GG returns to Brazil.

On May 11 GG receives an email from a technical expert he and LP had worked with in the past asking GG if he is ready to install the PGP encryption. He responded yes and was told to expect a Fedex package in Rio de Janeiro. The package was held in customs for a week enhancing the paranoia. The day after the package finally arrives, GG receives an email from LP saying they need urgently to talk but only via OTR chat. GG figures the source must have sent LP some documents. LP is far less a technophobe than GG so must have installed PGP. GG had used OTR in the past and now managed to install it and sign up for an account. LP tells GG they need to go to Hong Kong immediately to meet the source. GG thinks the source has to be guy in his late fifties with a thirty year career with the NSA living somewhere along the Washington beltway. Hong Kong makes no sense.

The source was getting upset with LP and GG delays and was discussing involving the Washington Post. That finally got GG into gear. The source agreed to chat over OTR and GG assured him he was committed to the story but he still can’t make sense of Hong Kong. LP had shared some PRISM material with the Washington Post and they responded with an army of lawyers and foot dragging, greatly worrying the source. GG asked to see some documents before he came to Hong Kong and the source patiently walked him keystroke at a time through the PGP installation process. GG was embarrassed by his lack of proficiency but the source assured him he had lots of free time then. Once installed, the source sent GG about 25 documents, the tip of the iceberg.

The documents convinced GG that he needed to go to Hong Kong immediately and that He would need major institutional support to get this material out. GG had been working at the Guardian for only nine months but had little contact with their editorial staff. GG immediately Skyped Janine Gibson British editor in chief of the US edition in New York gushing about the material. Gibson told GG to get off Skype immediately. GG flew to New York and agreed to meet LP in New York. GG arrived in NY May 31. GG and LP book a non stop flight from New York to Hong Kong but then Gibson drops that the Guardian insists on involving long time Guardian journalist Ewen MacAskill who will fly with them to Hong Kong. LP is furious and GG doesn’t know their minder MacAskill. LP was afraid a third person might freak the source but GG understood that the Guardian wanted a long time company man on the scene. LP relents but only if MacAskill stays away from the source until she and GG are ready to introduce him.

Snowden Journalists MacAskill, Greenwald, and Poitras MacAskill Greenwald and Poitras

LP insists that GG buy a new air gapped (never connected to the Internet) laptop before they leave. As they drive to the airport LP gives GG a tutorial on secure computer systems and hands him a thumb drive (with the full collection of documents). For the 16 hours of the flight GG can’t stop reading. He is amazed by the level of organization and pre thought put into the document archive. He immediately locates the FISA Verizon order that all domestic phone metadata records must be handed to the NSA.

We now enter the realm so well captured in the 1997 Norwegian movie Insomnia where the crime detective sent north of the Arctic Circle to the land of midnight sun finds he can’t sleep. GG doesn’t sleep for the next 10 days. When he is about to collapse, he pops a pill and drops off for a couple hours and is then back at work. Part of this is because constant communication with New York Guardian staff is necessary but mostly that he is too excited after chasing the NSA story for years, proof of the whole horrible reality and scope of their surveillance activities has fallen in his lap.
Snowden’s Hideaway MIRA mira room

GG wants to meet the source immediately but LP thinks that would look suspicious so they wait til tomorrow. The source gives LP elaborate spy trade-craft instructions of how and where to meet. GG is expecting a hideaway but instead they go to a Kowloon five star hotel. They are instructed to find a meeting room with an alligator (not real) on the floor where at a precise time they are to wait for exactly 2 minutes. If the source doesn’t appear they are to leave making sure they are not being tailed. Twenty minutes later they are to return to the alligator for exactly 2 more minutes. If the source does arrive they will recognize him carrying a Rubiks cube (GG laughs). GG is expecting an older very senior Washington bureaucrat and is shocked when a young kid (Snowden was 29 but looks younger in a tee shirt jeans and nerd glasses) shows up carrying a Rubiks cube. GG thinks this kid can’t possibly have had access to all those top secret documents. But they are now committed so follow Snowden to his room.

GG was once a practicing lawyer and treats the first meeting with Snowden as a legal deposition where the lawyer tries to trip up a witness forced to answer all questions. Snowden is calm, articulate, very organized and thoughtful and GG can’t find any holes in his amazing story. GG can’t contain his excitement. LP films the deposition. They plan the first release of articles and the time when Snowden wants to reveal himself as the whistle-blower.
NSA-Verizon-Surveillance

The first article will be the FISA Verizon order and the Guardian plans to tell the government ahead of publication as has become standard practice. Gibson calls the government the morning of planned publication and then total silence. At 3PM an army of White House, NSA and other officials call Gibson back. They want to meet in about a week to explain why the Guardian shouldn’t run the story, Gibson says they have until she hangs up to convince the Guardian. The government tries bullying and threats. They don’t work. Their reasons are totally lame and Gibson decides to publish. London and the lawyers agree. At 5:40 May 5, 2013 the story goes live. GG spends the rest of the day and night on the phone with interviews, then starts the next cycle for the PRISM story where nine internet providers are giving the NSA all their data.
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The same cycle between the Guardian and government repeats but this time someone in government give lap dog Washington Post a heads up and they rush to post the story they have been holding without publication. GG reads the Post story and realizes they haven’t even asked the internet services for comment. The Guardian story which goes live 10 minutes after the Post’s includes denials from all nine providers that they were cooperating with the government. GG figures the providers and NSA can fight out their denials in public. GG suddenly remembers Cincinnatus and sends an email to thank him for suggesting the PGP program. Snowden immediately emails back you are welcome. GG has never connected Cincinnatus to Snowden. Several more articles follow.

Finally the time arrives to announce the identity of the leaker who the NSA has been unable to identify. LP wants to include a video of Snowden but can’t use the disjointed GG deposition. LP writes down a list of 20 questions and asks MacAskil, who everyone has come to trust, to read the questions while she films. The result is the 12 minute video we have all seen introducing us to Edward Snowden for the first time.

About the time of this release a Guardian lawyer is sent to Hong Kong who asks what is being done to protect Snowden once his identity is released. GG and LP and even Snowden seem to have given this little thought. As the last story began breaking an acquaintance of GG’s, who lives in Hong Kong, called GG pointing out that everyone would now be looking for Snowden in Hong Kong and asking if they didn’t need some qualified Hong Kong lawyers. He suggested two human rights specialists with good contacts in the Hong Kong government. The Guardian lawyer quickly vetted them via the Internet and decided they were good choices. GG agrees to meet and the friend tells him they are already in the Hotel lobby. When GG opens his door a swarm of reporters are waiting. They follow him into the elevator and GG finds still more reporters waiting in the lobby. He decides to give a short impromptu interview and within 15 minutes most reporter have left to file their stories.

GG was finally able to locate his friend and the lawyers. They suggested the lawyers accompany Snowden to a UN mission and from there to a safe house. But how to get Snowden out of his five star Hotel? Snowden is now ahead of them with a prepared disguise and he makes his way safely to an exit where the lawyers are waiting. So that is how the biggest story of GG’s life got told.

Also featuring is GGs Brazilian partner David Miranda who comes across as a wise, intuitive advisor without whom GG would be even more indecisive. It is Miranda that first concludes the source is for real. He advises GG to pressure the Guardian so the story gets out there. Later, he becomes a story himself when LP and GG decide to use him to courier Snowden material from Berlin, where LP lives to Rio de Janiero where GG lives. It never occurs to either that Miranda is in danger as he transits the London airport. Miranda is stopped, his possessions seized and he is threatened and bullied for nine full hours under a British terror provision. Under pressure from the Guardian and Brazilian diplomats, Miranda was released to continue his journey after the full nine hours allowed under this dangerous law. Miranda arrived in Brazil a returning hero, but very frightened. Presumably the British government (or the US) has the thumb drive he was carrying but GG doesn’t say.

Snowden prepared thumb drives for both LP and GG with all documents. He also prepared a separate thumb drive for the Guardian containing the documents pertaining to the British GCHQ activities. British authorities later descended on Guardian London offices demanding all Snowden documents. The Guardian refused but agreed to let the GCHQ supervise and observe the destruction of all computers at the Guardian. Before this happened, the GCHQ materials were forwarded to the New York Times where they must be sitting in limbo.

Snowden encrypted the documents and assured GG and LP that neither China nor Russia would have the capability to break the encryption. This reader assumes the US could break the encryption but only if they dedicated some super computers for several years to the effort. Even if the Miranda carried thumb drive is in either British or US hands, it is unlikely any attempt will be made to decrypt the material. It is likely that the NSA is still unaware of the full extent of the documents in the archive unless all are now located in the new Intercept archive.

One of the big lessons learned by GG in this adventure is the absolute necessity for investigative journalists to use encrypted communications. Their work will be impossible in the future without these tools. GG further advises all activists and any lawyer engaged with litigation against the government to encrypt all their communications. He uses the example of David Petraeus to illustrate how easy it is to destroy a career if unencrypted emails fall into the wrong hands.
nsa-yes-we-scan nsa cartoon

Part twoCollect it All” highlights documents emphasizing the worldwide and universal scope of NSA ambitions.

Part three makes a strong case for the harm that Surveillance causes in a democracy. His strongest point comes in his conclusion. The public sector operates in total darkness and secrecy and privacy while the private sector is subjected to total surveillance of their activities with no place to hide. Somehow our system has become completely inverted. Snowden had expected Obama to reign in the illegal abuses and held off his release until it was clear things were worse than before.
obama whistleblowers

Part Four is a discussion of the forth estate much of which (the corporate media) have become mere tools of the corporate state. GG was shocked that media personalities were at the forefront of attacks suggesting GG be prosecuted for his reporting. This is new. News organizations used to come immediately and strongly to the defense of journalists under Government attack. They no longer do this. The Obama administration has felt free to conduct open warfare against whistle blowers and their reporters who are trying to do investigative reporting as guaranteed in the Constitution. The Guardian’s own lawyers suggested GG should avoid returning to the US and repeatedly failed to get assurances from the US government that GG would not be arrested and prosecuted should he return.
David Gregory shocks Glenn Greenwald gregory arrest greenwald
David Gregory Calls for Greenwald to be Arrested for Snowden Reporting Live on Meet the Press.
Seymour Hersh (who broke the My Lai massacre and Abu Ghraib prison abuses stories) suggests that journalism would be greatly improved if about 900 corporate media types were to lose their jobs.

LP has now released her new documentary Citizenfour in a theatrical release. It will doubtless receive Academy Award nominations.

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