How the whistleblowing story was broken

The Guardian‘s Ewen MacAskill has a fascinating account of why Edward Snowden chose their paper to release his information rather than a US publication, and how the whole thing went down. The US media missed getting this scoop because it has developed a reputation for being highly solicitous of the needs of the US government, often consulting with them before publishing stories, and even withholding news at the government’s request. One well-known case is what resulted in Snowden going to Glenn Greenwald.

For an American, the traditional home for the kind of story Snowden was planning to reveal would have been the New York Times. But during extensive interviews last week with a Guardian team, he recalled how dismayed he had been to discover the Times had a great scoop in election year 2004 – that the Bush administration, post 9/11, allowed the NSA to snoop on US citizens without warrants – but had sat on it for a year before publishing.

Snowden said this was a turning point for him, confirming his belief that traditional media outlets could not be trusted. He looked around for alternative journalists, those who were both anti-establishment and at home with blogging and other social media. The member of this generation that he most trusted was the Guardian commentator Glenn Greenwald.

In January, Snowden reached out to a documentary filmmaker and journalist, Laura Poitras, and they began to correspond. In mid-February, he sent an email to Greenwald, who lives in Brazil, suggesting he might want to set up a method for receiving and sending encrypted emails. He even made a YouTube video for Greenwald, to take him step-by-step through the process of encryption. Greenwald did not know the identity of the person offering the leaks and was unsure if they were genuine. He took no action. In March, in New York, he received a call from Poitras, who convinced him that he needed to take this more seriously.

The rest of it is also great. Reading it, it struck me that tis would make for a good film, perhaps directed by Oliver Stone and starring Matt Damon or George Clooney.

Greenwald, who has been relentlessly advocating for transparency and accountability and the rule of law and exposing the media’s complicity in helping creating the current situation, well deserves to have his tireless work result in getting one of the biggest scoops.