Glenn Greenwald, one of the journalists who broke the story about the National Security Agency's secret phone and Internet surveillance program, has revealed the dramatic events surrounding the moment the identity of the infamous NSA leaker, Edward Snowden, was revealed last June.
In an extract from a new book, "No Place to Hide,"
Greenwald, the former UK Guardian newspaper journalist, talks about the hours after his name became known, triggering worldwide interest in his whereabouts, and the way he circumvented the media and worked with lawyers to maintain the secret of Snowden's location in Hong Kong, The Guardian
"On Thursday, 6 June, 2013, our fifth day in Hong Kong, I went to Edward Snowden's hotel room, and he immediately said he had news that was 'a bit alarming,'" the excerpt began.
"An Internet-connected security device at the home he shared with his longtime girlfriend in Hawaii had detected that two people from the NSA – a human resources person and an NSA police officer – had come to their house searching for him."
Greenwald recalled that his initial reaction was to be skeptical of Snowden's suspicions, and recalled telling the 29-year-old former contractor, "If they thought you did this, they'd send hordes of FBI agents with a search warrant and probably SWAT teams, not a single NSA officer and a human resources person.
"I figured this was just an automatic and routine inquiry, triggered when an NSA employee goes absent for a few weeks without explanation. But Snowden suggested that perhaps they were being purposely low key to avoid drawing media attention or setting off an effort to suppress evidence," he wrote.
Greenwald said the incident set in motion immediate plans to manage how the story would unfold, including work with filmmaker Laura Poitras, who was collaborating with him on the story, to film the now infamous video during which Snowden revealed his identity.
"We were determined that the world would first hear about Snowden, his actions, and his motives from Snowden himself, not through a demonization campaign spread by the U.S. government while he was in hiding or in custody and unable to speak for himself," Greenwald wrote.
"The relatively lighter mood we had managed to keep up over the prior few days now turned to palpable anxiety: We were less than 24 hours away from revealing Snowden's identity, which we knew would change everything, for him most of all. The three of us had lived through a short but exceptionally intense and gratifying experience. One of us, Snowden, was soon to be removed from the group, likely to go to prison for a long time – a fact that had depressingly lurked in the air from the outset, at least for me. Only Snowden had seemed unbothered by this. Now, a giddy gallows humor crept into our dealings."
Greenwald also wrote about the way he felt after the Guardian published Snowden's identity in an article headlined, "Edward Snowden: The Whistle-blower Behind the NSA Surveillance Revelations."
"The reaction to the article and the video was more intense than anything I had experienced as a writer," he wrote, noting that one of America's most consequential whistle-blowers, Daniel Ellsberg, wrote in the Guardian the following day, "There has not been in American history a more important leak than Edward Snowden's release of NSA material – and that definitely includes the Pentagon Papers 40 years ago."
Greenwald also talked about how he helped Snowden secure top human rights lawyers in Hong Kong and detailed a dramatic scene at the hotel when the media confronted him as the lawyers were trying to make their way to Snowden.
He also detailed how the lawyers and Snowden worked out a detailed logistical plan to get Snowden out of the hotel to avoid being followed by reporters and ultimately deliver him to a protected location.
"We came up with a plan: I would walk out of the hotel room with [Guardian attorney Gill] Phillips and go down to the lobby to lure the reporters, still waiting outside our door, to follow me. The lawyers would then wait for a few minutes and exit the hotel, hopefully without being noticed," he wrote.
"The ruse worked. After 30 minutes of chatting with Phillips in a shopping centre attached to the hotel, I went back up to my room and anxiously called one of the lawyers on his mobile phone. 'He got out right before journalists started swarming the floor,' he said. 'We met him in his hotel room, and then we crossed a bridge into an adjacent mall and then into our waiting car. He's with us now.'"
Greenwald said he had a big sense of relief but knew "there was a strong chance we might never see or speak to him again, at least not as a free man. Most likely, I thought, we would next see him on television, dressed in an orange prison jumpsuit and wearing shackles, inside a U.S. courtroom, being arraigned on espionage charges," he wrote.
"He was now the world's most wanted man by the world's most powerful government."
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