In Part 2 of Ron’s discussion with investigative journalist & constitutional attorney Glenn Greenwald, he shares plans to return to the United States, what it’s been like to be part of the story & the threat of prosecution. Read Glenn’s latest investigative work at THE INTERCEPT.
HOW HAVE YOUR FAMILY AND FRIENDS REACTED TO YOU BECOMING ONE OF THE WORLD’S MOST INFLUENTIAL JOURNALISTS IN RECENT MEMORY?
Glenn Greenwald: Yeah, well obviously I have been doing this work for awhile but not with the same degree of visibility but it’s been a little bit of a gradual process as opposed to happening overnight. Certainly this story brought a certain level of notoriety, visibility and influence but also threats and risks. I’ve had very supportive family members and friends throughout the process but its not easy on your friends when they turn on CNN and they see debates where the text on the bottom of the screen says “Should Glenn Greenwald be prosecuted?” and senior level officials in the U.S. government are calling you a criminal. So it hasn’t been easy on them but they all understand that I’m following my passion and that I’m not going to stop.
YOU ARE FREE TO RETURN TO THE UNITED STATES. YOU HAVEN’T BEEN CHARGED WITH ANYTHING.
Glenn Greenwald: Not that I know of…
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR HESITATION TO RETURN HOME?
Glenn Greenwald: From the very beginning the notion that what I’ve done is criminal and that I should be arrested and prosecuted for it has been openly aired, and from people with varying degrees of influence. The first time that I went on “Meet The Press” in July, I was asked by David Gregory why I shouldn’t be arrested for the work that I was doing. I mean David Gregory’s function in life is to channel whatever people in Washington are whispering into his ear. The very next day Andrew Ross Sorkin, the columnist from the New York Times went on MSNBC and explicitly advocated for that. And since then, that has even escalated both in terms of the people who are saying it and also in terms of the extremity of what they are saying. James Clapper, the senior national security official has repeatedly called us accomplices, the NSA calls us Snowden’s agents, the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Mike Rogers, explicitly called me a thief in the questioning of James Comey, the director of the FBI. You’d be idiotic to just casually ignore all those threats and pretend they aren’t happening and get on a plane like an idiot and go back without preparing yourself the best you can. At the end of the day I am never going to allow those kind of threats to keep me out of my own country but I’m also not going to rush head long into what are clearly intended to be some serious threats.
SO YOU WON’T BE HEADING TO NEW YORK IN LESS THAN TWO WEEKS TO ACCEPT AN AWARD THAT YOU ARE RECEIVING?
Glenn Greenwald: No, there’s a good chance I will be doing that because that’s a good way to test – to sort of force the issue. I think it would be very difficult for the U.S. government to do anything like that against any of the journalists who have been working on the story, including me. I don’t think they will. I think it will be even harder to do if we are coming back to accept an award for that journalism. So my plan now is to come back to the U.S. for that award but its not going to be definite till I get on the plane.
WHEN EDWARD SNOWDEN INITIALLY APPROACHED YOU WITH THE DOCUMENTS, WAS THERE ANY THOUGHT OF REPORTING THE STORY ANONYMOUSLY?
Glenn Greenwald: That didn’t actually cross my mind, in part because from the very beginning when I talking with Snowden he was determined to not be anonymous which is very unusual, right? Usually sources leaking classified information insist on anonymity.
WHY DO YOU THINK HE WANTED TO COME FORWARD PUBLICLY?
Glenn Greenwald: I think that in his heart he felt that he owed an explanation to the public about why he was doing what he did. In part, he didn’t want to risk having other people at the NSA investigated and falsely accused. But also, it was very important to him to be defiant about this climate of fear that has been cultivated where people who want to challenge the U.S. government feel the need to hide and scamper under the couch in the fear of what might happen to them. He wasn’t going to hide and he stood behind the actions he took. So once I saw that he was far more exposed than I was – was going to be that brave about it – the idea of me hiding never occurred to me. I also knew that this story needed more than the documents. It needed someone to be the public voice explaining and arguing for the public why these things are so menacing and why the government’s defenses were false. I wasn’t going to pass up that opportunity out of fear.
DO YOU HAVE A HARD TIME BALANCING BETWEEN REPORTING THE NEWS AND BEING A SUBJECT OF THE NEWS?
Glenn Greenwald: A little bit. I feel like many of the ways in which I have become part of the news have not been my own choosing. I didn’t choose to have my partner detained as Heathrow Airport. I didn’t choose to have national security officials threaten me with criminalization and imprisonment. I didn’t choose for critics of my reporting to personalize it and make it about me. Ultimately, if you look at how whistleblowers are treated, or how their advocates are treated – looking at Chelsea Manning, Wikileaks and now Edward Snowden – this is just a common tactic that is used that is meant to demonize the messenger and destroy the message. If you look at your candidacy – both times – there were all kinds of attempts to make it about him as opposed to the arguments that you were making. This is a millennial old tactic. It doesn’t bother me and what I try to do is use it to my advantage because I do think that I have a lot of things to say that don’t get said in a lot of places and they are things that people in the world need to hear. I’m not one of these journalists who have one of these archaic, stagnant perspectives of how if you’re a journalist you can’t be part of the story. To me, it’s about getting the information and the facts out to the public.
WE HAVE A FACEBOOK QUESTION FROM SAMIR GHAFFER: “WHY DON’T YOU UPLOAD ALL THE DOCUMENTS YOU HAVE ONLINE (ALL AT ONCE) SO THE WORLD CAN SEE ALL THE INFORMATION YOU HAVE?”
Glenn Greenwald: Because for one thing, that would be a profound violation of the agreement that I entered into with my source who never wanted all the documents uploaded. If he wanted all the documents uploaded he could have easily done that himself. He’s an expert in how the internet works and you don’t even need the expertise to do that. He wouldn’t have needed to come to me, or any journalist, if all he wanted was a mass uploading of these documents. He wanted a lot of these documents to be withheld and to be reported one-by-one and that is what I agreed to do when I took the documents. Secondly, if were to just upload all the documents to the internet it would expose him and everyone who has worked with him to massively increased legal risks because there’s a difference between disclosing the documents journalistically… and just dumping it all. He didn’t want to take those legal risks and neither did the people involved that were working with him and I’m not just going to override their autonomy as individuals to satisfy some kind of entertainment impulse. Thirdly, I don’t think all the documents should be published. I don’t think people who have been targeted by the NSA and accused of terrorism should have their identities exposed and have their reputations smeared. I don’t want to publish things that will help other states replicate what the NSA is doing and subject their own citizens to heightened forms of surveillance. There’s a lot of material in there that would be incredibly reckless to publish that would harm innocent people, destroy their reputations and would even subject them to physical danger and I’m just not going to do it.