June 25, 2013

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On MSNBC’s “Last Word” on Tuesday night, host Lawrence O’Donnell and a pair of guests pounded on National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden, all the while raising “questions” about the conduct of Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald. After plowing through the diplomatic issues surrounding Snowden’s very recent international travel, O’Donnell made note of a news report that Snowden had taken his position with Booz Allen Hamilton with the express purpose of grabbing top-secret information.

MSNBC’s Joy Reid responded that Snowden’s Booz maneuver sounded like fraud, then turned the focus to Glenn Greenwald, the Guardian columnist who has passed along Snowden’s leaks to the public. Reid:

This answers one of the questions that I had when Glenn Greenwald tweeted that he began working with Snowden in February but Snowden only had the job for three months, meaning he would have gotten the job let’s say in May. So the question was, well, when he got the job, did the journalist Laura Poitras and Glenn Greenwald know he was going to Booz Allen with the intention of getting information and was he honest with them, did he tell them in February I’ve got information that he didn’t yet have and then take the job in order to obtain it?
There`s all sorts of questions here that haven`t been answered including by the journalists, by the way, who their whole point is transparency, but we’ve had this information sort of drip out now. We didn’t get it from those journalists in the first place saying, no, maybe he didn’t actually have this stuff when we talked to him in February.
And then I have this other question about they’re saying that — or at least Glenn Greenwald is saying he didn’t even know who the guy was, didn’t know his name until they flew to Hong Kong and transacted the leak. Well, my question is would you fly to Hong Kong and go through all of that trouble for someone you had no idea who they were and no verification of their identity? There are still so many questions about that that it has literally taken all the steam out of arguing about the actual contents of what was disclosed.

Though Reid’s words fall far short of suggesting criminal behavior on Greenwald’s part — a theme of recent news cycles — her references to unanswered “questions” come off as a synonym for suspicion. Unfounded suspicion, that is. If Reid wants answers, she should take a look at what the New York Times reported two weeks ago about the process or what my colleague Greg Sargent has reported about Greenwald’s reporting process:

Greenwald told me that when Snowden had initially contacted him, Snowden hadn’t even shared his name or where he worked — he’d simply said he had explosive documents that Greenwald (whose reporting on leak investigations and civil liberties abuses was already widely known) would want to see. At that stage, Greenwald said, their conversations only concerned how to set up an encryption system that Snowden wanted in order to facilitate private communication of documents with him. The system was not set up until several months later, Greenwald said.

It was only in May — and not before — that Snowden told [Greenwald] who he was, who he worked for (at that point he identified himself as affiliated with the NSA) and what sort of documents he had to share, Greenwald says. It wasn’t until June — when Greenwald visited Snowden in Hong Kong — that Snowden told him he worked specifically for Booz Allen, Greenwald adds.
“We had early conversations about setting up encryption, so we worked early on to set that up,” Greenwald says. “We didn’t work on any documents. I didn’t even know Edward Snowden’s name or where he worked until after he was in Hong Kong with the documents. Anyone who is claiming that somehow I worked with him to get those documents or helped him is just lying.”

And here’s an answer to Reid’s question about why Greenwald would travel to Hong Kong to meet with some mystery source: For the story!

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.