Much is being made today of the news that Edward Snowden told the South China Morning Post that he’d taken the job at Booz Allen — the firm contracted by the NSA — for the explicit purpose of getting access to classified documents that prove widespread surveillance. Some are even using the news to raise questions about the motives behind Glenn Greenwald’s reliance on documents leaked by Snowden.
But in an interview this afternoon, Greenwald dismissed the significance of the new revelations, saying they fit in logically with the chronology that’s already publicly known about Snowden — and he challenged critics to show proof of any wrongdoing on his part.
“Anybody who wants to accuse me or anyone at the Guardian of aiding and abetting Snowden has the obligation to point to any specific evidence to support that accusation,” Greenwald told me. “Otherwise they’re just spouting reckless innuendo.”
Snowden told the South China Morning Post: “My position with Booz Allen Hamilton granted me access to lists of machines all over the world the NSA hacked. That is why I accepted that position about three months ago.”
Some on have already highlighted a Tweet Greenwald posted in early June in which he said he’d been working with Snowden since February, and it’s likely that those enraged by Greenwald’s and Snowden’s revelations will continue amplifying this angle.
But 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 him 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.”
Asked if he saw any significance in Snowden’s latest comments, Greenwald argued that they fit in with the chronology of what is already known. Greenwald noted that Snowden had been working at the NSA since 2009 and that his public statements show he’d already concluded serious wrongdoing was going on, so he may well have gotten the job at Booz Allen in order to get documents he needed to make that case.
“I don’t see the significance of this at all,” Greenwald said. “He had said he had seen serious wrongdoing that he wanted to inform Americans about. He apparently wanted this last set of documents to present a complete picture.”
Indeed, if Snowden’s act of getting the job at Booz Allen in order to leak these documents constitutes a deliberate effort to undermine the United States, the premise of this idea is that the leaking of the documents itself constitutes that. This point, of course, is in dispute. In other words, it’s unclear what Snowden’s latest comments really tell us.
“This whole theory of aiding and abetting is nothing more than a diversionary tactic,” Greenwald said. “Every single journalist works cooperatively with sources in order to obtain evidence.”
Greenwald concludes of his and Snowden’s critics: “They are trying to shift attention away from what the U.S. government has done onto what the people who have reported it have done.”