Snowden archives at great risk,
As alarming as Assange’s arrest Andrew Kreig
Justice Integrity Project Editor’s Introduction: Guest columnists Cathleen McGuire and her twin sister Colleen McGuire address below the vital and timely topic of recent controversy between leading investigative reporters regarding the fate of the massive archive of classified U.S. national security documents stolen in 2013 by former NSA and CIA whistleblower Edward Snowden.
Snowden worked initially with freelance journalists Laura Poitras and Glenn Greenwald, who published blockbuster stories (most notably via The Guardian and the Washington Post) disclosing massive secret surveillance by U.S. intelligence services such as the NSA (National Security Agency), which had hired Snowden as a Booz Allen Hamilton contractor after his previous work at NSA and the CIA.
In early June 2013, the first stories based on Snowden’s huge trove of documents revealed the massive complicity of major U.S. communications companies in warrantless surveillances of Americans and others. NSA’s charter supposedly prevented surveillance of Americans except incidentally via surveillance of foreigners or via probable cause documented in a warrant application.
Snowden, then 29 (and shown at right), said that he was releasing the materials as an act of conscience because of what he regarded as the unconstitutional scope of privacy invasions. Following a global, U.S.-led manhunt, he landed in Russia, where he remains under political asylum.
Poitras, a film maker, the journalist/attorney Greenwald and author/journalist Jeremy Scahill later that year co-founded The Intercept, a web-based investigative news site funded by a reported $250 million from Internet billionaire Pierre Omidyar, an eBay and PayPal founder.
Poitras, Greenwald and their colleagues, such as Ewen MacAskill of the Guardian and Barton Gellman of the Washington Post, received great recognition in terms of prizes, books, film treatments and other career advancement for their work. Others sharing in recognition included the New York Times and Germany’s Der Spiegel.
In the column below, Cathleen McGuire, a truth activist based in New York City, and her sister Colleen, an attorney living in Greece, explore the recent controversy arising after The Intercept announced last month that it no longer planned to release investigative stories based on the Snowden documents and that it would be laying off most of its research staff associated with those documents.
The authors — and the sources they cite, including Poitras (shown at left) — allege that The Intercept and its parent company, First Look Media, are essentially privatizing and suppressing the fruits of Snowden’s whistleblowing in a dubious manner threatening the public, whistleblowers and journalists elsewhere unless all become aware of the dangers of supposedly philanthropic funding of investigative journalism.
They assess the threat “as alarming as” the arrest this month of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in London at Ecuador’s embassy.
With Ecuador’s permission, police arrested Assange (shown in a screenshot from a Ruptly video at right) on a charge of failure to comply with his bond conditions.
Looming in the background for him is a recently unsealed U.S. charge of conspiracy to help whistleblower Chelsea Manning expose war crimes with classified documents in 2010 and a Swedish request to face a claim (not a formal charge) that he committed sexual misconduct during his 2010 speaking trip to Sweden.
A lawyer for a woman who had invited him to sleep with her has said that his conduct during the night while she was asleep constitutes “rape” under Swedish law. Those definitions are quite different than under American law, as are Sweden’s adjudication method in secret, non-jury trials that arguably pose a considerable threat to a defendant being selectively prosecuted, as Assange’s defenders have alleged.
Our project is among those describing both the U.S. and Swedish probes as highly political reactions to WikiLeaks publication of classified documents and, more generally, assaults on free press protections.
The co-authors cite as sources for their column today five recent reports — shown in a long appendix below — by prominent investigative journalists expressing similar dismay regarding the Snowden documents.
By Cathleen McGuire & Colleen McGuire
Billionaire Pierre Omidyar (right), the owner of the Snowden archives through his company, First Look Media, has shut down the analysis, release, and custodial care of the archives claiming lack of funds. Since 2013, only 10% of the documents have been published.
The decision was made just this past March, 2019, with the full participation of Glenn Greenwald and Jeremy Scahill, star journalists with The Intercept, one of First Look Media’s various properties, as reported by MintPress News.Laura Poitras — who with Glenn Greenwald was originally given custody of the documents by Edward Snowden in 2013 and works for Field of Vision, a First Look film company — was purposefully excluded from the decision, as was the company’s board of directors.
In 2014, Greenwald, Poitras, and Scahill launched The Intercept, an online publication whose initial raison d’etre was the reporting of the Snowden material. In short order, the effort of responsibly overseeing the security protocols and the analysis and release of the Snowden documents were turned over to a research group within First Look. (As planned, The Intercept went on to become the full news operation it is today.)
Aware of the historical significance of the Snowden cache, on March 13, Poitras went public informing the Daily Beast of the shutdown. On March 27, she released a series of emails which dramatically memorialized the play-by-play timeline. Poitras was basically screaming bloody murder as the research team investigating the valuable treasure trove was being eighty-sixed.
On March 14, Greenwald (shown at left in a file screenshot from 2013) released a statement embedded in a tweet in which he represented that he, Poitras, and “other individuals and institutions” possess “full copies” of the archives. Who else has “full copies”? Snowden? Booz Allen Hamilton (Snowden’s employer at the time)? The CIA (Snowden’s one-time employer and NSA rival)?
Greenwald further represented that four media outlets — the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Guardian, and der Spiegel — “have possessed large parts” of the Snowden archives since 2013. He noted that these media companies have “budgets and newsrooms far larger” than The Intercept, implying that they are in a better position to take over the herculean effort of releasing and analyzing the remaining 90% of the unpublished documents.
However, it is disingenuous of Greenwald to insinuate that the four media companies who possess “large parts” of the archives have commensurate access to the archives as the alleged individuals and institutions who have “full” access. Furthermore, it is not clear if those “large parts” consist simply of the 10% of the archives already released.
With Omidyar in control of the goods, only a trickle of the Snowden archives has seen the light of day. Although technically the documents are not in danger of disappearing, now that the entire archives research staff has been eliminated, the risk of the archives being publicly memory-holed has significantly increased, as Poitras so urgently tried to publicize.
Greenwald claims he is looking for the right partner with ample funds to maintain and publish the archives. Yet, Columbia Journalism Review reports that Omidyar’s net worth is $11.2 billion. Poitras’ asserts that the alleged budget concerns are a smokescreen since only a mere 1.5% of The Intercept budget was allocated to the research team. Greenwald’s sob story about the company’s “financial constraints” rings hollow.
Recall that from June, 2013, when Snowden appeared on the world stage, through at least 2015, for weeks on end the Snowden docs were a viral topic both in the mainstream and alternative media. Major and prolonged public debates ensued between those denouncing publication of the docs as a threat to national security versus First Amendment advocates who championed a journalist’s right to publish a whistleblower’s assets.
So now that First Look has shuttered the priceless Snowden archives, why is this alarming debacle not a viral topic among critical thinkers, be they left, right, or center? Why is Snowden — the man who risked his career, if not his life, and remains in exile in Russia — likewise strangely silent?
Since the very beginning, various alt-media analysts have raised serious questions about Snowden, Greenwald, Poitras, and Scahill, often to the ire of indignant supporters intolerant of criticism of their celebrated heroes. However, regarding the demise of the archives, at this juncture Pierre Omidyar is the strategic person of interest.
Omidyar is said to be one of the world’s most politically sophisticated data monarchs. In addition to proactively shaping the media landscape, Omidyar is also responsible for a legion of dubious activities that beg massive exposure, including:
As a financial stakeholder in PayPal, Omidyar shut down WikiLeaks’ PayPal account, and in 2011 supported the criminal prosecution of 14 Anonymous defendants when they attacked PayPal’s servers in retaliation. See more on the PayPal 14 here.
• Omidyar attempted to steal Craigslist’s trade secrets for his company, eBay, in which, in an unusual decision against a corporate principal, a Delaware judge all but called Omidyar a thief in his effort to “learn the ‘secret sauce’ of Craigslist’s success.” See more on Omidyar’s corporate spying scandal here.
• With the U.S. government, Omidyar co-invested in opposition NGOs in Ukraine. His substantial funding was pivotal to the country’s neo-Nazi coup d’etat in 2014.
• Omidyar engaged in preferential insider trading with eBay, resulting in the payment of a $3 million settlement to shareholders.
• After establishing The Intercept and poaching star reporters and staff (e.g., Ken Silverstein, Matt Taibbi, Marcy Wheeler, Betsy Reed), on Omidyar’s watch a virtual freeze on publishing took effect. (See Ken Silverstein’s Where Journalism Goes to Die: Glenn Greenwald, Pierre Omidyar, Adnan Syed and my battles with First Look Media.)
The recent development of Omidyar’s shuttering of the Snowden docs is an unprecedented violation of the public trust. No matter how cunningly Omidyar purloined the Snowden documents, they belong to the American public.
Given his track record, Omidyar should be one of the last persons entrusted with the archives, particularly given the claim by former NSA whistleblowers that the Snowden docs contain extensive documentation of PayPal’s partnership and cooperation with the NSA.
Glenn Greenwald’s reporting is by and large superb, often speaking out on unpopular issues. He voiced strong opposition to Julian Assange’s April 11 arrest in an email to The Intercept’s readers. Yet, demonstrating unseemly opportunism, Greenwald then asked readers to support free speech by donating — not to Assange’s legal defense — but rather to The Intercept, an already richly-endowed organization.
Worth noting further is Greenwald’s interview with NPR on April 11 in which he claims in a tweet that the interview “became contentious” when NPR characterized him as a “colleague of Julian Assange.” Why on earth would being a colleague of Julian Assange offend Greenwald?
International outrage erupted over the kidnapping and rendition of Julian Assange. Yet, why aren’t those who are enraged by this egregious violation of press freedom not up in arms that the Snowden archives are privatized, and that the preeminent owners, Pierre Omidyar and Glenn Greenwald, have conspired to withhold their contents from the public. The kidnapping and rendition of the Snowden cache demands a similar hue and cry!