An interview with Snowden would be a major coup for any news outlet, but few journalists have access to the 30-year-old former government contractor, who fled the United States and has been granted asylum in Russia.
Greenwald, who works for the Guardian newspaper, is one of the few journalists who conceivably could land such an interview. Snowden contacted him anonymously earlier this year, and they built a relationship that led him to disclose details of the NSA’s massive and secret data-collection program known as PRISM.
Snowden also contacted Barton Gellman, who reported on the PRISM program for The Washington Post. Gellman’s Post story was published a few minutes before Greenwald and the Guardian released their own.
Greenwald said via e-mail that he spoke with NBC, and “very preliminarily” with ABC, about a Snowden interview.
He wrote: “The reason we didn’t do it is three-fold: 1) I don’t want to distract attention away from NSA spying and the substance of the disclosures by re-focusing attention on Snowden; 2) Snowden agreed with my suggestion that doing an interview at this time was not productive for the same reason: he wants media attention on NSA spying, not on himself; and 3) I saw no real value in the interview — it would be used just as crass entertainment — and so didn’t want to be involved right now.”
Greenwald said the only fees ever discussed were $25,000 if he was hired as a correspondent to do the interview or a $50,000 “licensing” fee. The latter would mean that whoever produced the interview — Greenwald himself, most likely — would bear all the expenses including travel, hotels, hiring film crews, editing and lighting.
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Greenwald and documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras are the only journalists who have conducted a video interview with Snowden previously. They interviewed him in Hong Kong shortly after Greenwald’s Guardian article appeared in June.
“Like many, many people, Edward Snowden doesn’t trust many media figures,” Greenwald said. “He’s not willing to give an interview to journalists he doesn’t trust. I’m one of the journalists he trusts. Therefore, he is willing to give an interview to me, but not, for instance, to you.”
Snowden, who grew up in the Baltimore area, apparently gained access to the PRISM program through his work for the contractor Booz Allen Hamilton. He lived in Hawaii at the time, but subsequently went to Hong Kong after his involvement became public. He then went to Moscow, where he spent more than a month in an airport transit area before he was granted temporary asylum for a year on Aug. 1.
The United States has repeatedly asked Russia to extradite Snowden, but Russia has declined, causing a rift in relations between the two nations.