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Nearly a year ago, the world learned the name Edward Snowden, and with it, information about a vast surveillance network run by the U.S. government. For Glenn Greenwald, the journalist who broke the stories based on Snowden’s stolen documents, the revelations represented a high point in a career devoted to exposing government overreach. Today, Snowden remains a fugitive, but debate over state secrecy, privacy and the rights of whistleblowers dominates headlines. Kojo sits down with Greenwald to talk about his role in this story, what more there is to learn, and the impact of his reporting on state security.
- Glenn Greenwald Investigative journalist; Founding Editor of the web site "The Intercept"; Author, "No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State"
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Most of the National Security Agency (NSA) programs Edward Snowden’s documents revealed are “definitely” still in use, says Glenn Greenwald, the investigative journalist who first broke the story about the vast surveillance network run by the U.S. government.
While President Barack Obama has spoken out about changing how the government uses personal data, not much has changed within the NSA since Snowden’s documents were released, Greenwald said Wednesday on the Kojo Nnamdi show.
Among those programs: Xkeyscore, which gives any NSA analyst direct, real-time access to all of the emails linked to a given personal email address.
Watch Greenwald discuss the programs below.
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Watch the full interview with Glenn Greenwald in our studio.
Read An Excerpt
NO PLACE TO HIDE: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State by Glenn Greenwald. Copyright © 2014 by Glenn Greenwald. Reprinted by arrangement with Metropolitan Books, an imprint of Henry Holt and Company LLC.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. It's hard to believe that this time last year the world didn't yet know the name Edward Snowden. We hadn't yet heard now infamous acronyms like PRISM. And for most of us, the National Security Agency was just another top secret hub somewhere off the Washington-Baltimore Highway.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIBut on June 5, 2013, a story in The Guardian by journalist Glenn Greenwald told the world about a massive NSA surveillance effort targeting Verizon phone customers. Since then, the revelations brought to light by Edward Snowden's stolen NSA documents have not only shown a glaring light on a massive U.S. spy network targeting billions of people worldwide.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIIt's also prompted a debate over state surveillance, privacy, and the rights of whistleblowers. With more stories to come, Glenn Greenwald's journey with Edward Snowden's Hong Kong -- from Edward Snowden's Hong Kong hotel room to the Pulitzer prize has been nonstop with media interviews, debates, and now his own book. The journalist who shook Washington to its core now essentially enters the belly of the beast and in it faces your questions and mine.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIGlenn Greenwald is an investigative reporter and founding editor of the website, "The Intercept." He's the author of "No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State." Glenn Greenwald joins us in studio. Thank you so much for joining us.
MR. GLENN GREENWALDGreat to be here. Thanks for having me.
NNAMDIYou can watch a live video feed of this conversation at our website, kojoshow.org. If you'd like to join the conversation, you can call us at 800-433-8850 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can send us a tweet, @kojoshow. Glenn Greenwald, there's a lot to talk about this hour. But I'd like to start with your story about how this chapter of your life started. You came pretty close to blowing off the biggest story of your career, and the reason was one we could all relate to, that universal dread of downloading a computer program. Can you take us back to Dec. 1, 2012 and tell us how this began?
GREENWALDSure. I was at home and was working on multiple stories, as was typically the case, and received an email from an anonymous emailer who called himself Cincinnatus, the name of a 5th B.C. Roman emperor, essentially a dictator who gave up power. And what it said was actually quite vague. It essentially said, you don't use encryption and this particular encryption program in particular called PGP.
GREENWALDAnd the person who emailed me said, since you don't use that, there are a lot of people out here who would like to talk to you who are incapable of doing so because we don't trust that our emails won't be read in transit. And, obviously, that was from Edward Snowden, as I now know in hindsight. But at the time, I didn't know who that was or see any reason why I should prioritize him over all the other things that I was doing. The...
NNAMDIEven though you promised to use the encryption and never did.
GREENWALDYeah. I had essentially -- I'd been intending to for months. And I sort of said, you know the way you do when someone asks you to do something, but you're not sure when you can do it. Yeah, I'll sort of get to that. And I never did. And then he spent seven weeks trying to cajole me to do so. But the problem was he was afraid, for understandable reasons, obviously, to give me any information in an unencrypted environment. And so essentially, I did almost lose the story because I never found a reason to put him at the top of my list.
NNAMDIYour account of your first meeting with Edward Snowden was very cloak and daggerish. Can you describe that meeting at The Mira Hotel in Hong Kong?
GREENWALDI mean, Hong Kong itself is a very strange place because it's essentially sort of China but not China. It's semi-independent, and it's a sprawling and modern city. And we were suddenly in the middle of the city, Laura Poitras, the reporter with whom I was working, and myself, and we were on our way to meet this person whom we knew had many thousands of documents. But we didn't know anything about him. And so he created the plan for how we would meet, which was that we would meet in the middle of...
NNAMDIIs it The Mira or Mira? The Mira?
GREENWALDYou know, I'm not actually sure. It's...
GREENWALDI guess both work.
GREENWALDIt's tomato and tomato. And the idea was that he had selected this place in the middle of the hotel that he, in his words, thought was sufficiently deserted so that we could meet there without a lot of attention but not so deserted that if we met there, it would attract attention. And the instructions to wait on a couch that was situated in front of this gigantic plastic green alligator that was decoratively put on the floor.
GREENWALDAnd we had two assigned times to wait for him, a code question to ask to signify to him that everything was fine on the way over, that we hadn't been followed. And then once he arrived, the question was, how are we going to know that it's you? And the plan was -- he said, I will be holding a Rubik's cube in my left hand. And that's how you'll know it's me.
NNAMDISaid he'd be holding what became my enemy in his left hand, a Rubik's cube.
NNAMDIIn case you're just joining us, we're talking with Glenn Greenwald about his new book "No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State" and inviting your calls at 800-433-8850. You can read an excerpt about Edward Snowden's initial contact with Glenn Greenwald at our website, kojoshow.org. What were you expecting Edward Snowden to be like before you met him?
GREENWALDI didn't have a very clear idea because he said almost nothing about himself. But I was certainly expecting that he would be somebody who would be quite older, probably in his 60s or even 70s. And I thought that because I -- he had demonstrated to me that he really did have access to extremely sensitive top secret documents of the NSA, the most secretive agency in the U.S. government. He also had a very sophisticated insight into political frameworks and strategic thinking that made me believe he was a veteran of the intelligence community.
GREENWALDAnd most of all, he told me from the beginning that he was adamant that he not hide, that he be identified as the source publicly, which meant that he was willing to risk his liberty for the rest of his life. And that led me to believe that he was probably quite old. And so when I met him -- you know, and he looked like a kid.
GREENWALDI mean, he's 29, but he looked at least five years younger. It was some extreme cognitive dissonance. It really -- it actually made me physically dizzy just thinking about what I was expecting versus the reality of what I was faced with. And it led to a lot of confusion and distrust at the very beginning because it was so different from what I was expecting.
NNAMDISaid him -- you describe him as a veteran of the intelligence community. A lot of media reports suggested that this guy was some low-level functionary in the intelligence community. That was not the case at all.
GREENWALDExactly. You know, it's interesting. You know, I think we all know that the media is capable of disseminating falsehoods. Any of us who lived, for example, through the Iraq War know that very well. But when you're actually in the middle of a story, you really get a full appreciation for just how eager the media often is to just mislead the public on large questions.
GREENWALDAnd you're absolutely right. Edward Snowden, though he was depicted as this high school dropout and low-level IT guy, was in fact a very highly-trained cyber operative by both the CIA and the NSA, who actually started teaching other operatives how to both hack into other nation's systems as well as to safeguard the confidentiality of digital data that the U.S. government possesses.
NNAMDIDuring those initial days of questioning Snowden and learning why he was leaking these documents, what did you learn about his moral and his intellectual reasoning for what he did?
GREENWALDThis to me was the central question that I needed to get answered because if you think about it -- and it's one of the main reasons I wrote the book, was to contemplate this question -- why would a 29-year-old with a very stable life and a lucrative career and a girlfriend who he loved and a family who supported him knowingly risk the rest of his life in prison in pursuit not of enriching himself or to exact vengeance, but to defend political principles?
GREENWALDAnd, ultimately, what I understood him to have concluded and to have morally reasoned is that it isn't enough in the world to have beliefs against injustice, that those beliefs only are meaningful if you're willing to take action, and to even sacrifice your own interest in pursuit of those principles.
GREENWALDAnd he essentially convinced me that he was not comfortable or willing to live the rest of his life knowing that, resting on his conscience was the fact that he had confronted and discovered this injustice and let it linger and fester without doing something about it, that whatever the U.S. government did to him, including putting him in prison, wouldn't be as bad as having to live the rest of his life with that knowledge that he did nothing.
NNAMDIGiven that determination that he projected to disclose these documents, how did that influence you as you faced your own presumably fears about writing and publishing these articles?
GREENWALDIt really influenced me profoundly to see somebody who was that young, who had done something so principled. Whatever you think of Edward Snowden and the disclosures, there's no denying that he sacrificed his life in pursuit of this principle. And what was really striking to me about it was that when we were in Hong Kong, I know for myself, I was able to sleep almost never. The tension and burden and obligations that these documents imposed and the excitement over it just prevented me from even resting.
GREENWALDAnd, by contrast, he was incredibly at peace, even though he was the person who, within a short -- a matter of days, we knew was going to be the most wanted fugitive by the world's most powerful government. And it was that peacefulness and that tranquility of watching somebody who knows that they've done something so profound out of a sense of conviction that really infected me. And I felt like it became my obligation to do the reporting in the same spirit of fearlessness that had driven him to make this choice.
NNAMDIYou know, he could have covered his tracks more carefully. Why did he decide not to do that as well as he could have when he stole these documents?
GREENWALDYeah. I mean, I spent a long time asking him whether he believed that his being detected as the source was inevitable. And he insisted that it was inevitable, and the reason was what you just said, which is that he didn't even take all the steps he could have to prevent detection. And the reason, he said, it was two-fold. One is that he didn't want his colleagues at the NSA to be investigated and harassed and falsely accused for being the source of the leak.
GREENWALDHe didn't think that was fair or just. But he also just felt that it was his obligation as an individual and as a citizen. If you were going to do something that affected this many people and this extreme, he thought it was his obligation not to hide or to try and avoid detection but to come forward publicly and identify himself and explain why he did what he did.
NNAMDIWhen did you finally figure out that Cincinnatus was indeed Edward Snowden?
GREENWALDIt was many months later. In fact, it was -- it was one of the more embarrassing things that happened. I hadn't -- even once I knew I had this source, I never connected him back to that email or who, back in December, I was essentially ignoring and blowing off. And I had finally installed the encryption programs that he had wanted me to install with his help. And I don't know what caused it. But I was using encryption, and I was sitting in my hotel room in Hong Kong. And I suddenly remembered this emailer from months earlier...
NNAMDIYeah. That was guilt attacking you, yeah.
GREENWALDI think it was guilt. You're absolutely right. That was resting on my conscience. And you're absolutely right. And I said, you know, I need to email that person and say, you know, guess what, I now have encryption. I know it took me a long time, but now we can communicate. So I searched for the email by keywords. I found the email. I emailed that person and excitingly announced to him that I now had encryption.
GREENWALDAnd about an hour later, I went over to Snowden's hotel room. I walked in to work on documents. And he looked at me with a little bit of scorn -- maybe a lot of scorn -- and he said, you know, the person you just emailed, Cincinnatus, that was me. And that was the first time I put together the fact that this amazing source was actually the person emailing me all those months earlier.
NNAMDIYour personal motivations for taking on this story were two-fold. As an activist journalist, you wanted to, in your words, shine a light not only on secret NSA spying but on the corrupting dynamics of establishment journalism. For those listeners who are not familiar with your work, give us an idea of your problems with the reporting that those more mainstream or traditional outlets do.
GREENWALDYou know, when I got into journalism in 2005, I did it because I was interested in a narrow range of topics, mostly as a formal lawyer, constitutional lawyer, ones arising out of this war on terror theories that the Bush Administration had adopted that I thought were extreme and radical. And I quickly learned that you can't really engage political problems, even ones that narrow, without understanding and engaging the role that the media plays in enabling these policies.
GREENWALDAnd as I looked more at what the media does, the more I came to understand that the theory of why we have a free press was supposed to be that we have this force that is outside of the circles of political power, that serve as a check on those who wield political power, by scrutinizing what they do, investigating it and pushing back and creating some tension between those in power and a free press.
GREENWALDAnd what I think has happened probably over the last four to five decades, but particularly in the wake of the 9/11 era, was that the exact opposite had happened. The media ceased being adversarial to the government. They became very subservient to it. They became spokespeople for it. The most obvious example is the role the New York Times and other leading American media outlets played in the run-up to the Iraq War on questioning the disseminating claims by the government, no matter how dubious in evidentiary they were.
GREENWALDBut there's lots of other examples. And I had been a long-time critic of the U.S. media, going back to the time I first started writing in 2005, based on those principles.
NNAMDIYou know, when I first got into this business some 40 years ago, a wiser colleague than myself says, "What you will learn from your colleagues is that they question everything the government says about domestic policy and believe everything the government says about foreign policy." He was, as I said, a much wiser man than I was.
GREENWALDThat was prescient. It's true.
NNAMDIHere is Sally, in Reston, Va. Sally, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
SALLYYes. My question was this -- and forgive my voice. I have a cold. But when something is going on with a government official or an agency or program, we citizens, ostensibly anyway, have the right to question this and to ask about it. But I worry a little bit about the undue -- well, I consider undue influence of corporations around the world. And we can't keep track. We don't know who the president is -- I mean, the average person has to really search.
SALLYAnd I'm wondering how you uncover things that might be going on that aren't good for our country, our nation or our people, when it's not our government, when it's an agency or organization other than our local or federal government?
GREENWALDIt's a great question. And I think it underscores a really important and serious development that hasn't gotten a lot of attention. I mean, if you think about it, Edward Snowden is talked about as being an employee of the NSA. And in one sense he was. He went into the NSA's offices every day. He worked on their systems. The reality was, though, for at least the last couple of years, he wasn't actually an employee of the NSA at all.
GREENWALDHe was an employee of a huge, sprawling, defense contractor firm, Booz Allen Hamilton, and prior to that the Dell Corporation. And that's because most of our government functions, certainly in the national security and the intelligence realm, have been privatized. I think it's something like 70 percent of the NSA's $75 billion budget goes into the coffers of private corporations.
GREENWALDAnd we're at the point where you almost can't even talk about, any longer, a division, a meaningful division between major corporations and the public's fear. They almost have merged to such an extent that they perform the same function. The problem is exactly what the caller said. We have all these great safeguards and transparency rules for people in government, but they don't apply to those in corporations who are actually carrying out the major functions of government power. And that is a critical aspect of our country functions to understand, that it is often corporations playing the major role.
NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break. When we come back we'll continue this conversation. You can watch a live video feed of the conversation at our website, kojoshow.org. We're talking with Glenn Greenwald, investigative reporter and founding editor of the website, The Intercept. He is also the author of "No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State."
NNAMDI800-433-8850. Do you think revelations of the government's surveillance program has changed this country, has change our relationship to other countries? Send us an email to email@example.com. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. Our guest is Glenn Greenwald, investigative reporter, founding editor of the website, The Intercept, and author of the book, "No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State." Last month, the Pulitzer Prize for public service reporting was split between the Washington Post and The Guardian for their reporting on this.
NNAMDIThe Pulitzer came just days after Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras won the George Polk Award for national security reporting. Congratulations. What's interesting about your arrangement in Hong Kong is that your friend, Laura Poitras, was working with you and with the competition at the Washington Post at the same time. Can you explain that and tell us how that competition with the Post entered into how you broke these NSA spying stories?
GREENWALDWell, the interesting thing about Snowden's choice is that both Laura and I are essentially outsiders. Even though I was working with The Guardian I was there more or less on an independent basis. I was able to work for other organizations. Laura is probably the most independent person I've ever known. She is a filmmaker. I don't think she's ever worked for a large corporation or any kind of regular employee job in her life.
GREENWALDAnd so what we really wanted to do is to try and use these institutions to do the reporting in the most effective way possible, and playing them off against one another. But also, making sure that an institution like the Washington Post, which is basically the most cherished newspaper of the Washington political elite, we knew that if they were involved in the story, if they were reporting some of Edward Snowden's documents, that it would be very difficult for the Washington media and political class to say, "Well, this is treason.
GREENWALD"And the people involved should go to prison," because they would essentially be arguing for the prosecution of Washington Post journalists. And so involving them in the story was an important strategic choice, I think, we made.
NNAMDIBecause of your Guardian editor's hesitancy to publish your stories you came pretty close to publishing them on an independent website. How did you weigh the risks and the benefits of doing something like that without the backing of a media institution?
GREENWALDYou know, one of the points that I think is really important to understand about journalism, is that when the Constitution was enacted and there was this idea of a free press, there wasn't supposed to be this professional class of people called "journalists." It was really designed to protect citizens of all kinds who wanted to use the press to check the government, to engage in activism. And so part of me liked the idea of saying, I'm going to do this story just as a citizen, not a part of a huge corporation.
GREENWALDAnd the other part of it was we felt like if we were going to break this massive story on our own we could recruit this sort of worldwide army of volunteers of editors and researchers and fact checkers and lawyers, and I loved the idea of this kind of emboldening process, where people would just ban together based on their pure passion for transparency in journalism and work together on this story.
GREENWALDBut, you're right, there were incredible risks to doing this reporting, even being part of a protective institution like The Guardian. And so I'm ultimately glad they decided to do it aggressively and I didn't have to test those risks by leaving.
NNAMDIGot an email from Beth, in D.C. "I loved your statement this morning on C-SPAN about how the corporate ownership of news has eliminated most serious investigative reporting on the government and the corporations. You said that most big news organizations are now owned by corporate parent companies. And that those interests pose a conflict for the news organizations. I could not agree more, but could you elaborate?"
GREENWALDIf you look at how media ownership existed five or six decades ago, there were some exceptions, but by and large if you worked for a newspaper or even a television station, the people who owned it were companies or families that tended to just have as their primary asset, that newspaper or that television network. They were journalism companies.
GREENWALDWhat you have now instead, if you look, for example, if you see -- if you watch MSNBC and you see a host you like, or you look at CNN and you see somebody you like there, the MSNBC host is actually a Comcast employee. And the CNN host is a Time Warner employee. And Time Warner and Comcast have enormous amounts of relationships with the government that have nothing to do with their media division. And so they don't want their media division to create hostility between their corporation and the government.
GREENWALDIt becomes this kind of corporatized mindset, where even the journalism is expected to be, like all other parts of the corporation, faceless and soulless and uncontroversial, especially to those in power. And I think it really has diluted and neutered journalism, in the way that corporations tend to neuter and dilute most of what they touch because the idea is to be as sort of shapeless and inoffensive as possible. And that's a really bad thing for journalists to be.
NNAMDIOnto the telephones again. Here now, Allison, in Washington, D.C. Allison, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ALLISONKojo, thank you, again, for a great show, and Mr. Greenwald for your work on just, you know, I believe Edward Snowden is a national hero for what he's done. And I think the press is just, you know, they are not journalists. They are entertainers. They are more interested in hanging out with stars at the Correspondents' Dinner and being in black ties than doing your job.
ALLISONAnd I believe the war in Afghanistan would have ended sooner if we were seeing the kind of combat footage that we saw during the Vietnam War. And it's unfortunate that we don't have that independent force (unintelligible) watching our government for us.
NNAMDIAllison, thank you very much for your call. Care to comment, Glenn?
GREENWALDYeah, you know, there are some good journalists at every -- even the media outlets that I like to rail against most, like the New York Times and NBC News. They're -- you find…
NNAMDIYou rail against the editors more than you rail against the journalists.
GREENWALDYeah, yeah, I mean, I think usually it's the fault of the editors and the ownership structure, but the one thing that the caller said that I do think I just want to highlight is, you know, there was this fascinating event that very few people know about, which is in 2003 there was an MSNBC correspondent who was considered this rising star in the network, named Ashleigh Banfield.
GREENWALDShe covered the war in Afghanistan, the war in Iraq. She wore these red-rimmed glasses. She was very telegenic. And she began to get a lot of fame. And she came back from the war in Iraq. And in April of 2003 she gave a commencement address at Kansas State University, which you can read online. And I encourage you to do so. And it talked about how the way that American cable networks and news networks covered the Iraq War and the Afghanistan War was extremely propagandistic.
GREENWALDThey were almost not allowed to show where, for example, the missiles that you saw being launched, as they were embedded in the U.S. military, where those missiles were landing and who they were killing, and the children whose live they were ending and the families they were destroying. And she said she almost couldn't be part of coverage that was that distortive, where Americans had no idea of the destruction that their wars were reeking because the U.S. military was presenting this very kind of glorified picture of what this was.
GREENWALDAnd shortly after that speech she was demoted and then six months after that she was fired from MSNBC. And for years you couldn't find her on television. She was on Court TV or something. And now I think she hosts a morning show on CNN. But that sort of shows just how suffocating and restrictive establishment media is when it comes to American policy.
NNAMDIWhat do you say to people who view your reporting and how know of your points of view on some matters, because you've been writing for years, who view you through an ideological perspective and say, "Look, Glenn Greenwald, everybody knows that what drives you is an anti-government agenda."
GREENWALDYou know, it's funny about that, because to me all of us human beings view the world subjectively. We all have opinions and there is -- we're not computers. We all perceive the world through all sorts of subjective prisms, where we're from, our socioeconomic status, our backgrounds, our experiences. So to me there's no difference, there's no such thing as, are you a journalist who has opinions or are you a journalist who doesn't have opinions?
GREENWALDWe all have opinions. The question is are you a journalist who candidly tells your readers and listeners what those opinions are or do you pretend, deceitfully, that you don't have them? And ultimately, the real question is, is your journalism factually reliable? That ultimately is the only question that matters. And I think in the NSA story very few of our stories have ever been meaningfully questioned. And I think that settles that debate.
NNAMDIOnto Frederick, in Hanover, Va. Frederick, you're on the air, go ahead, please.
FREDERICKGood afternoon, Kojo. I just have few -- one issue that I have with Mr. Greenwald and this interview. I've not heard him say anything about the American soldiers that get killed out there, based on this information that he -- they have leaked out. I heard him talk about the innocent kids and civilians that die out there, but what about soldiers that we send out there?
FREDERICKWhat about the risk that that information, which was revealed, may have jeopardized their lives? Did he ever consider that? And also, he's criticizing mainstream media in this whole set up. Well, the mainstream media that he's worried about, he's also part of the whole set up. Now…
NNAMDIBefore he responds to you, can I ask you to be more specific about what lives do you think have been lost as result of his reporting?
FREDERICKI can't -- I'm pretty sure, based on that reporting, the information that they put out, people may have died, they -- because if any…
NNAMDIYou keep saying may have. I was trying to find out if you were speaking about a specific incident.
FREDERICKNo, no, no. Not at all. (unintelligible)…
NNAMDIOkay. Well, allow me to have respond.
FREDERICK…but it is -- when you reveal this information to the general public out there or to the people who we are watching closely, or maybe not, and then now they know how to react and they might find out, oh, this guy was here. He was one of the people that we need to get rid of. Or maybe those people may have that capability to go away because now (unintelligible)…
NNAMDIOkay. Allow me to have Glenn Greenwald respond. Glenn Greenwald?
GREENWALDYeah, I mean, I think you asked the key question, which is if you're going to accuse somebody of risking innocent lives or causing the deaths of other people through their journalism, you ought to be prepared to present evidence and a specific case or cases to prove that what your accusation -- that your accusation that you're making is true.
GREENWALDEvery single time there is a leak or there is unwanted disclosure, the U.S. government, going all the way back to the 1971 leak of Daniel Ellsberg, the famous Pentagon papers leaker, makes the same claims. Oh, by shining a light on what we're doing, you're risking innocent lives. You're killing people. And it turns out over and over never to be true. And I think the critical point to understand here is Edward Snowden gave us many tens of thousands of documents.
GREENWALDAnd asked us to be very careful about deciding what should be published and what shouldn't be. Almost a year later, we have published a small percentage of those documents because we have been so meticulous and so careful in making sure that the public gets the information that they need to know about what their government is doing without endangering any innocent lives.
NNAMDIWe got -- well, I should mention that last year we -- I mentioned this to you on the break. We talked to a different NSA whistleblower named Thomas Drake. Mr. Drake has become a kind of exhibit A about the hazards of blowing the whistle. He complained about a controversial early data collection program called Trail Blazer. First, he did it through formal channels. Then by talking to a reporter at the Baltimore Sun.
NNAMDIDrake was vigorously prosecuted under the espionage act, facing 10 charges that could have put him away for his whole life. He ultimately plead guilty to one misdemeanor of mishandling documents. When we spoke to him he was working at the Apple Store. That is a pretty disturbing story. And it's one apparently, that Edward Snowden knew about. How did whistle blowers like Drake influence the way you and Snowden approached reporting the details of these documents?
GREENWALDThe U.S. government destroyed Thomas Drake's life, essentially. And that was true, even though, as you said, he did exactly what they encouraged whistle blowers to do, which is to come forward first inside the government. And then if they get nowhere you go to a journalist. And he was very deliberate and careful and narrow about what he disclosed. It was clear government corruption and wrongdoing.
GREENWALDAnd then, as you say, not only did they try and put him in prison for many years, they made him plead guilty to a small trivial misdemeanor that resulted in the revocation of a security clearance, which meant he couldn't work at his career any more. And now he's a retail clerk at the Apple down the street, where he still, by the way, works. And one of the things that Edward Snowden saw is that over the last five years -- and media organizations and people devoted to -- for free journalism have complained about this vigorously.
GREENWALDThe Obama administration has actually prosecuted more whistle blowers during the last five years than all administrations in American history combined. In fact, double the number. They have become extremely aggressive, one might say vindictive, about punishing anybody who comes forward with information showing that the government is breaking the law or otherwise acting corruptly in secret. And so knowing this, Edward Snowden did not feel safe to try and use the mechanisms of the U.S. government to get this information out.
GREENWALDThose mechanisms are designed to suppress the information and punish the person who tries to come forward. And he knew that working with journalists was his only way to get the information to be known.
NNAMDIHere's Randall, in Washington, D.C. Randall, your turn.
RANDALLWell, simply, I just want to know what harm -- does anyone know of any actual harm created by the government -- caused by the government program? And additionally, I would like to -- feel like -- I almost feel like, with Edward Snowden being in Russia as a safe haven, it just all seems like you and Mr. Snowden are kind of like traitors because I don't think that the government program was actually hurting anyone. If you could explain it to me, how they hurt someone.
NNAMDIHow was this government program hurting anyone?
GREENWALDWell, first of all, once we exposed the program, a federal court here in Washington, the first court to actually -- the first federal court to look at the constitutionality of the program said that the program is a violation of the Fourth Amendment and has violated the constitutional rights of tens of millions of Americans, which sounds like a pretty significant harm to me.
GREENWALDBut beyond that there have been specific revelations, such as the fact that the U.S. government, according to one of the documents that I'm publishing in the book and that I reported on previously, has been collecting the online sexual activity of people it considers "radical." Meaning people who radicalize others with their message, even though they themselves are not members of terrorist organizations or plotting terrorist attacks.
GREENWALDAnd they have collected this information, intimate chats, visits to pornographic websites, and are plotting how to use that information to discredit those people. There are documents that talk about tracking those who visit the Wikileaks website in order to find out who they are, how to write fake victim blog posts so that they can destroy the reputation of people who they consider their adversary.
GREENWALDYou know, we in this country went through in the '60s and '70s extreme abuses, where the U.S. government was caught using those surveillance abilities to destroy the reputations of civil rights leaders and anti-war activities and the Black Panthers and the Weather Underground.
GREENWALDPeople that they considered at the time to be radical. That is exactly how this system is being used now. That is the harm. And it's very easy if you're not one of the people who is a dissident or an activist or a Muslim to dismiss it all and to say, well, it doesn't seem to be affecting me, so I don't really care. But the question of how free a society is about how it treats its marginalized groups and dissidents. And those are the people who virtually always are the victims of surveillance excesses.
NNAMDIMy next question was going to, once the initial story broke, what was life like for you in Hong Kong or every place else? But rather, I'll read this email from Patrick and add it to my question. "Has U.S. Customs or other U.S. law enforcement or intelligence agency attempted to threaten, harass or intimidate Glenn Greenwald? For example, has U.S. Customs ever seized or confiscated his computer or cell phone?"
GREENWALDWell, I didn't actually...
NNAMDIOr that happened to your partner.
GREENWALDYeah. I mean, I didn't actually come back to the U.S. for 10 months as I did this reporting, which I did from Brazil where I've worked for nine years. And Laura Poitras did her reporting from Berlin. And the reason was is that the U.S. government had continuously threatened to arrest and prosecute. You had the senior national security official in the Obama administration, James Clapper, who repeatedly called us Edward Snowden's accomplices, which is a term from the criminal law.
GREENWALDYou had people like Peter King and Mike Rogers overtly arguing that I ought to be arrested if I came back to the United States. Keith Alexander accused us of selling documents. We have lawyers trying to talk to the Justice Department about whether we could safely return and purposely refuse to say whether or not we could. And, of course, my partner was detained for nine hours with the knowledge of the White House under a terrorism law in London.
GREENWALDAnd there's an active criminal investigation. So for a long time, our lawyers were insisting that we not come back. And we finally took the risk three weeks ago because there was a roomful of journalists waiting for us to get there to receive a journalism prize and we felt like the U.S. government would be sufficiently constrained. And so we returned to the country without a problem. But they definitely wanted us to have that fear on purpose.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back, we'll be continuing this conversation with Glenn Greenwald. His latest book is called, "No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the U.S. Surveillance State." Do you think Edward Snowden and the journalists he worked with did the right thing? Give us a call, 800-433-8850. You can watch a live video feed of this conversation at our website, kojoshow.org. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. Our guest is Glenn Greenwald, investigative reporter, founding editor of the website, The Intercept. Author most lately of the book, "No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State." In this book, you include 56 previously unseen documents. I'd like to talk about what some of us tell us. One of the documents lays out what seems like the NSA's doctrine, collect it all. What's amazing about that document is the brutally frank terms the NSA uses to describe its ambitions. Can you describe that document for us?
GREENWALDOne of the most exciting parts of writing the book for me was to give people the opportunity to see the evidence themselves and not have to rely on what the NSA claims or what I say or anything else and to make up their own mind. So the NSA makes all kinds of statements in public about how they're this targeted, discriminating agency that only wants to listen to the calls and emails of terrorists.
GREENWALDBut in private, they speak much, much differently about what their mission was when they think that nobody's listening. And one of the documents that they created, they called our new collection posture. And this term collect it all is one that appears repeatedly throughout the NSA's documents. But this document has not just collect it all, it also has other phrases describe what they do, which is sniff it all, process it all, exploit it all, partner it all and know it all, which is essentially the NSA's declaration that they are trying to collect the communications not of terrorists and national security threats but of all human beings on the planet.
NNAMDINo public official would probably use those words if he knew he was being listened to. Another document you shared describes how the NSA actually intercepts rankers and switches, going to consumers and implants them with surveillance devices. Can you provide more detail? What kind of consumers are being tapped? How extensive is this?
GREENWALDThis is a really extraordinary part of what the NSA is doing because, for years, the U.S. government has been vehemently denouncing the Chinese, claiming that the Chinese government invades the products of Chinese tech companies and puts backdoors into their products and telling the world that you shouldn't ever buy a single Internet product from the Chinese. And what this document and set of document really reveals is that there are whole teams at the NSA devoted to doing what you just described.
GREENWALDWhich is if somebody orders a router or a switch or a server from, for example, Cisco, which is the company named in one of the documents, the NSA will physically intercept the package in transit, will open it in a secret location at the NSA and plant a secret backdoor surveillance delays in it, reseal the package with factory seals and send it onto the unwitting users. And these devices, (unintelligible) switches and servers are used to provide internet service to large groups of people.
GREENWALDThey can be large companies or even villages or parts of municipalities so that everybody who then uses those devices and has the communications transmitted over them will have their communications directed to the NSA repository.
NNAMDIAre manufacturers knowingly cooperating with the NSA in that effort?
GREENWALDThere's no knowledge that with -- they are cooperating with the NSA in lots of ways. With this specific program, there's no knowledge that -- there's no evidence that, for example, Cisco knew about it. In response to the book, Cisco has actually vehemently denied that they knew about it and said that they are very concerned that the NSA is compromising the integrity of their products for reasons that you can understand, because people won't want to buy American products if they think the NSA or correctly know that the NSA is invading those.
NNAMDISnowden's documents also included details of a program XKeyscore. What is that?
GREENWALDXKeyscore is the most comprehensive search mechanism program that an NSA analyst has and it's probably one of the primary motivations that drove Snowden to come forward. What XKeyscore does is it lets an analyst sit at his or her desk and enter into an extremely simple program, the manual for which I reprint in the book, an email address, someone you may want to target.
GREENWALDSo if they know your email address, they enter the email address into this field. They then select from a pre-populated pull-down menu called justification where they just click whatever justification is there. This person I think is a terrorist. I think they're an agent of a foreign power, whatever they want to say. They then hit submit. Nobody audits or supervises that search before it's processed.
GREENWALDIt returns all the emails to that person's desk. And then on an ongoing basis, every time there's an email sent or received, sends it to the analyst's desk. It's what Edward Snowden was talking about when he said, very controversially, sitting at my desk as an NSA analyst, I could have wiretapped anyone, including the president, if I had his personal email. This is the program that he was referring to.
NNAMDIIf you have anybody's email address because we have records of every single one of that person's keystrokes, I can tap into all of their communications. As far as we know, are most of these NSA programs still up and running?
GREENWALDDefinitely. I mean, President Obama has advocated the termination of the very first program we reported that the court found unconstitutional, which is the telephone metadata program, although it still is in operation and even he wants to simply modify it rather than end. Some of the programs, such as the ones that have enraged foreign leaders like German Chancellor Angela Merkel to eavesdrop on the personal cell phones of world leaders he says has been discontinued. But by and large, the NSA surveillance tape at its core still continues.
NNAMDIOn to David in Manassas, VA. David, you're on the air, go ahead please.
DAVIDThank you for taking my call. I guess one of my -- one of the perplexing things about this whole concept is I think the amount of information that has come out since Mr. Snowden has released these papers and through the journalistic efforts is alarming to say the least. What I am having a much more difficult time understanding is the almost apathetic response that it's received. In some circles, clearly, there has been a lot of attention paid to it.
DAVIDBut the general public seems either uninterested, unaware or apathetic towards it. And I'm wondering your journalist's insight into why he thinks this might be the case.
GREENWALDSo first of all, I think it's important to separate American public opinion from world public opinion, because this has been a global story. I'm based in Brazil. This has been probably one of the two or three biggest political stories there that has reshaped how Brazilians think about all sorts of things, including their relationship with the United States, same with in Germany, within France and Spain and other countries.
GREENWALDBut even here in the United States, you know, if you've looked at polling data, there's a remarkable poll, which is the Pew poll that every single year since 9/11 has asked Americans this question. Which do you fear most, the threat of foreign terrorists or the threat to your own liberties by the U.S. government? And every single year, Americans overwhelmingly by like 70 to 30 have said I fear terrorism more than I fear the threat to my liberties from the U.S. government.
GREENWALDIn 2013, three months into the Snowden story, it completely reversed. Seventy percent or 65 percent said I now fear the threat to my civil liberties from my own government rather than the fear of terrorism, which is an extreme change. And you have politicians in the West, in the Midwest, from both parties running against the NSA. There really is a lot of outrage. The problem is there's no outlet for it.
GREENWALDHow, if you're an American citizen and you're outraged about what the NSA is doing, do you express that outrage? Americans don't generally march in the street. When they do it's over things like health care or the inability to pay bills or unemployment. But in general, I think there's a sort of helplessness among the American public that even when we vote for different leaders, even when we go to the polls, even when we speak out, very little changes. So I don't think it's a lack of outrage, I think it's a lack of vehicle for having that outrage manifest in a meaningful way.
NNAMDIWell, some of that outrage is against you and Edward Snowden. Here is Courtney in Alexandria, VA. Courtney, you're on the air, go ahead please.
COURTNEYHi, Kojo. My comment is this. I'm concerned about the way that Edward Snowden is being characterized in this conversation. The words principled had been used, the word sacrificed has been used to suggest that Mr. Snowden has acted in a principled way and that he has sacrificed his life on behalf of this cause in which he deeply believe. And I don't question that he deeply believes in the cause.
COURTNEYBut I am deeply concerned that Mr. Snowden has not had the conviction to accept the consequences of his action. And by that I mean this, in the 1960s when African American civil rights leaders had to engage in civil and criminal disobedience, they experienced the fire hoses and the dog bites and the imprisonment. A "Letter from Birmingham Jail" was actually written in a Birmingham jail.
COURTNEYAnd so my point is that instead of pursuing the right to (unintelligible) of his cause and having the courage of his conviction to stand and accept whatever imprisonment may have been needed out in America, he's instead, fled to Hong Kong and now to Russia. And I find that deeply troubling. I think that if he is truly a man of principle and truly a man of conviction, he will come back to America and accept whatever is the consequence of his actions.
GREENWALDI think it's unbelievably bizarre to try and claim that someone has some sort of moral obligation to submit themselves to the American penal state for the rest of their lives in order for us to view their actions as admirable or principled. There are all kinds of people who do admirable and principled things who don't actually want to spend the rest of their lives in a cage. And I think one of the things important to understand about Mr. Snowden is we were assuming when we were in Hong Kong that the almost certain outcome of his actions was that he would end up in an American prison.
GREENWALDThat that was something he was prepared to do. He didn't want that to happen. What person in their right mind would? But he was prepared to do it. And it was only by a stroke of all kinds of luck and variably escaped situations was he able to remain outside that. But even in his current situation, he has unraveled his entire life. He has no contact with his family. He's unable to travel.
GREENWALDHe's in a country that he didn't choose to be in. He didn't go to Moscow and choose to live there. He was forced to stay there when the U.S. government blocked him from leaving. He's unraveled his entire existence. He faces 30 years at least of prison if he would return to the U.S. He has sacrificed all sorts of things in his life in pursuit of this cause. You can question the cause. You can question the disclosures of the validity of them.
GREENWALDBut I really think no reasonable person can question the fact that he sacrificed all sorts of self-interest in order to defend these political principles in a way that very, very few people would be willing to do.
NNAMDIEveryone wants to know how many more big stories you have to come based on these documents. And you've called it a fireworks show. What do you mean by that?
GREENWALDWell, what it -- what it's essentially saying -- there was a GQ article on which I kind of analogized to the fireworks. And the reason I did that is because there's one story in particular that I actually believe is the biggest and most important story that is pulled from the archive. And the reason that it hasn't been told yet is because this probably also the most complex story to tell in terms of the effect on other people, the legal questions involved, the difficulty in the reporting.
GREENWALDWe've been working on the story for many months and it will probably take a couple more months for us to tell it. But it's the story that I think will shape how this episode is remembered for many years to come.
NNAMDIWhat are your communications like right now with Edward Snowden? Do you talk to him about upcoming stories so that at least he knows what to expect?
GREENWALDI speak with him with great regularity. I certainly -- he's left it to the journalists to make the decisions about which documents get disclosed within a framework we agreed to. But I do generally give him a heads up of the stories that are coming.
NNAMDIYou've made your mark as a self-described outsider to the traditional media war, but you're now the boldface name for a first look media and its website called the Intercept, which is funded by the founder of eBay. Tell us what your plans are for the Intercept.
GREENWALDOne of the problems that I think we've isolated in how the media functions is there's this sort of diorama right now, which is there's great opportunities because of the internet to do genuinely independent journalism. The problem is is that if you do that, you can go and create your own website or a collective website. You're generally without the resources you need to do real, sustained investigative journalism.
GREENWALDYou don't have a whole team of editors, lawyers if you need them, technology, travel budgets. On the other hand, if you want to go do journalism where your have all the -- those resources, you're often not independent because you have to go work at big corporations. And so what we wanted to do is combine the best of both worlds and to say that we want to create a new media outlet where your independence as a journalist is guaranteed.
GREENWALDThe journalism that you do should be about following your passion, having your own voice. But at the same time, you'll have this independence, but we want to give you all the tools you need. So that's the idea.
NNAMDII'm afraid that's all the time we have. Glenn Greenwald, investigative reporter and founding editor of the website the Intercept. His latest book is called, "No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State." Glenn Greenwald, thank you so much for joining us.
GREENWALDThank you for having me. I really enjoyed it.
NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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