The events that led to the publication of claims about the NSA by Edward Snowden have become clearer with Snowden’s admission that he intentionally took a job at NSA contractor Booz Allen Hamilton for the express purpose of gathering information about U.S. surveillance programs.
Although the accusations were originally published by left-wing, anti-military activist journalist Glenn Greenwald on June 5th, Snowden had been working with Greenwald and leftist filmmaker Laura Poitras for months prior to publication.
According to an interview with Poitras in Salon, Snowden first reached out to her anonymously in January, requesting an encryption key so they could talk privately. Laura Poitras is an award-winning filmmaker who had worked with Greenwald previously on other stories involving claims against the NSA.
Greenwald’s opposition to the military and intelligence gathering is longstanding and well-known. Liberal Time magazine columnist Joe Klein said of Greenwald in 2009:
He is a mean-spirited, graceless bully. During that time, I have never seen him write a positive sentence about the US military, which has transformed itself dramatically for the better since Rumsfeld’s departure (indeed, he ridiculed me when I reported that the situation in Anbar Province was turning around in 2007). I have never seen him acknowledge that the work of the clandestine service–performed disgracefully by the CIA during the early Bush years–is an absolute necessity in a world where terrorists have the capability to attack us at any time, in almost any place. Nor have I seen [him] acknowledge that such a threat exists, nor make a single positive suggestion about how to confront that threat in ways that might conform to his views.
Greenwald’s sometimes-partner Laura Poitras’s history is even more disturbing and involves her being put on a government terror watch list after she was accused of having foreknowledge of an attack on U.S. soldiers in Iraq and doing nothing to give them warning. Greenwald has written sympathetically about how Poitras has been detained at the border, but failed to explain what she had been accused of that led to such treatment. The story has been covered by The Weekly Standard:
During a patrol of Adhamiya early in the morning of November 20, two soldiers in (leader Brandon) Ditto’s platoon noticed a woman standing on a rooftop next to a man while holding a camera. They found that very odd. “Usually when you see someone planted on a rooftop with a camera, they’re waiting for something, and right after that is when we got ambushed just down the road,” Ditto told me Tuesday night. “So it seems that she had pre-knowledge that our convoy, or our patrol, was going to get hit.”
By February, Snowden was in touch with both Greenwald and Poitras–all before he went to work as an NSA contractor for Booz Allen Hamilton for the express purpose of gathering information about U.S. surveillance programs. Greenwald did not have the encryption software that Snowden wanted to use, which delayed things.
According to Michael Calderone wrote at the Huffington Post:
…Poitras met Greenwald at a New York hotel and informed him that the source in question was working for an NSA contractor and had “documents showing serious government wrongdoing.” Greenwald set up the encryption software and began speaking directly with Snowden in late March or early April, he said.
It was after Snowden began communicating with Greenwald and Poitras that he started accessing classified documents, after taking the job that required written oaths that he would not reveal the classifed information as a condition of getting access to that information.
The documents he divulged to the Post were obtained at Booz Allen Hamilton in April, he said. He intends to leak more of those documents later.
“If I have time to go through this information, I would like to make it available to journalists in each country to make their own assessment, independent of my bias, as to whether or not the knowledge of US network operations against their people should be published.”
On May 20th, Snowden left Hawaii and flew to Hong Kong with four laptops that give him access to highly classified information. On June 1st, Poitras, Greenwald, and another Guardian journalist flew from New York to Hong Kong to meet Snowden. On June 5th, stories about the NSA program by Poitras and Greenwald begin to appear.
The timing is important because on Monday, June 3rd, a separate but related event began thousands of miles away; the WikiLeaks trial of Private Bradley Manning
Manning stands accused of 21 counts related to giving information to WikiLeaks, the site founded by Julian Assange, who is currently avoiding extradition for accusations of rape. Manning has confessed to turning over thousands of documents and faces a possible life sentence.
Both Greenwald and Poitras are Bradley Manning supporters; Greenwald has attempted to cast Manning’s release of classified information as heroic:
…if Bradley Manning did what he is accused of doing, then he is a consummate hero, and deserves a medal and our collective gratitude, not decades in prison.
As the New York Times reported, Snowden sees himself as the same type of hero as Manning:
While some lawmakers in Washington accuse Mr. Snowden of treason, he casts himself as a truth teller. Like Pfc. Bradley Manning and Daniel Ellsberg, whom he says he admires for disclosing troves of government secrets, Mr. Snowden explained his actions in a Guardian interview by saying the American people have a right to know about government abuses that were kept hidden from them.
After Snowden revealed his identity on June 10th, Booz Allen released a statement on June 11th that read:
Booz Allen can confirm that Edward Snowden, 29, was an employee of our firm for less than 3 months, assigned to a team in Hawaii. Snowden, who had a salary at the rate of $122,000, was terminated June 10, 2013 for violations of the firm’s code of ethics and firm policy. News reports that this individual has claimed to have leaked classified information are shocking, and if accurate, this action represents a grave violation of the code of conduct and core values of our firm. We will work closely with our clients and authorities in their investigation of this matter.
Snowden told the South China Morning Post in an interview on June 12th:
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.
It is not coincidental that the same week as the Manning trial began, Greenwald and Poitras created a media narrative about Snowden as a heroic whistle blower; Greenwald made frequent references to Manning in interviews about Snowden.