All articles are written by YJDP Student Correspondents and edited by mentors from The Washington Post prior to publishing.
Since making public secret National Security Agency practices, Glenn Greenwald spends most of his time in the public arena relentlessly defending his disclosures and the source who made it possible: Edward Snowden, a former government contractor who blew the whistle on questionable information gathering practices, fled the United States and is now living in Russia. Many are grateful for these disclosures, and others label Snowden as a traitor and would like to see Greenwald also charged with a crime.
But when Greenwald recently walked onto a stage in Washington to promote a book he wrote about the NSA, he received a standing ovation from the audience of more than 400. Away from the cameras and choreographed media interviews, Greenwald showed his lighter side, opening with jokes and frequently interrupted by applause.
For about half an hour Greenwald candidly spoke about the U.S. media, Snowden and his newly released book, “No Place to Hide,” before the event opened up to questions from audience members. Local independent bookstore Politics & Prose and Sixth and I Synagogue collaborated to host the event on May 14, held at the downtown synagogue
The book contains new NSA documents, revelations and older stories put together in a broader context. Greenwald said the more extensive book was needed because “so much of what has been said [about the NSA] events have been wildly false.”
“Much of what the media churns out is misleading in all sorts of ways,” said Greenwald, adding that he was shocked to have read some of the things that have been said – such as reports that claimed Snowden was a Chinese spy – given the first-hand knowledge he had.
A media narrative on U.S. television and in newspapers arose “almost overnight,” Greenwald said, charging Snowden as a “fame-seeking narcissist” and distracting from the revelations.
Snowden's leaks shine light on an otherwise top secret program, allowing an opportunity for public debate. And Greenwald has been a vocal part of that debate, fervent in his defense of Snowden, press freedoms and the importance of privacy.
But some view Snowden’s leaks and Greenwald’s journalism as severely harmful to U.S. security and anti-terrorism efforts, as the information exposes to the world the inner workings of a previously top secret worldwide surveillance program created by the U.S. government.
Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) called for “legal action” to be taken against Greenwald for his reporting in June 2013, and when Greenwald and other journalists who published NSA stories won the Pulitzer Prize in April, King tweeted “Awarding the Pulitzer to Snowden enablers is a disgrace.” Host of Meet the Press David Gregory famously asked Greenwald during an interview why he shouldn’t be charged with a crime.
Greenwald said the main conflict in the debate has been the NSA and others insisting that the surveillance practices are a “discriminate, targeted and careful form of surveillance that is only interested in monitoring the communications of people who are engaged in terrorist plotting or other threats to national security.”
On the other side of the debate, Greenwald and others say the exact opposite: that the NSA has created an unprecedented indiscriminate and ubiquitous surveillance program.
Greenwald defended Snowden’s leaks and said Snowden did the right thing by contacting journalists so that they could use their judgement to publish documents they believe will inform the public while not harming U.S. security – instead of selling the documents for millions of dollars to foreign adversaries or uploading it all on the Internet.
“[Snowden] gave us categories of documents that he didn’t want published, such as things that would reveal the communications of innocent people … or disclosing the surveillance methods that the U.S. government uses on al-Qaida or actual adversaries of the U.S. government,” said Greenwald.
Much of the public’s opinion on Snowden is shaped by his leaks and by what he has said – or hasn’t said. During the event in Washington, Greenwald delved into Snowden’s past, revealing someone who grew up in a lower-middle class home, didn’t finish high school and then enlisted in the U.S. Army at 20 years old with the intention of volunteering to fight in the Iraq war. A war Greenwald says Snowden believed to be “noble and just.”
“The reason he enlisted in the U.S. Army was because he genuinely believed it was his obligation as a human being to risk his own interest, even his life, if it meant going to liberate people,” Greenwald said. “And that was really the same moral framework that led him to do his whistle blowing, putting himself in a position of going to jail for the rest of his life.”
“[Snowden] was this incredibly ordinary, common, powerless person,” Greenwald said. “He had no prestige, no power, and yet simply through an act of conscious and courage through his convictions, he literally changed the world. He revolutionized how people all over the world think about a very wide array of profound issues.”