[Marxism] Snowden’s Story, Behind the Scenes

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Tue May 13 06:16:54 MDT 2014

NY Times MAY 12, 2014
Snowden’s Story, Behind the Scenes
‘No Place to Hide,’ by Glenn Greenwald

Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State
By Glenn Greenwald
Illustrated. 259 pages. Metropolitan Books. $27.

The title of the journalist Glenn Greenwald’s impassioned new book, “No 
Place to Hide,” comes from a chilling observation made in 1975 by 
Senator Frank Church, then chairman of a select committee on 
intelligence. The United States government, he said, had perfected “a 
technological capability that enables us to monitor the messages that go 
through the air.” That capability, he added, could at any time “be 
turned around on the American people, and no American would have any 
privacy left, such is the capability to monitor everything: telephone 
conversations, telegrams, it doesn’t matter. There would be no place to 

That was nearly 40 years ago, and as the documents leaked last year by 
the former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden revealed, 
the N.S.A.’s ability to spy on our daily lives has grown exponentially 
to Orwellian proportions. The documents provided by Mr. Snowden revealed 
that the agency has an ability to monitor or collect information from 
hundreds of millions of people around the globe, that it has broken into 
the communications links of major data centers across the world, that it 
has circumvented or cracked much of the encryption that protects 
sensitive data on the Internet, and that, according to its own records, 
it has broken privacy laws or exceeded its authority thousands of times 
a year. The first journalist Mr. Snowden approached by email was Glenn 
Greenwald, a columnist for The Guardian and former constitutional lawyer 
who had frequently written about civil liberties, the dangers of 
enhanced executive power, and surveillance abuses in post-Sept. 11 
America. (Mr. Greenwald has since left The Guardian to work with Pierre 
Omidyar, the founder of eBay, on building a new media venture, which 
includes the news site The Intercept, of which Mr. Greenwald, Laura 
Poitras and Jeremy Scahill are founding editors.)

In “No Place to Hide,” Mr. Greenwald recounts the story of how he and 
Ms. Poitras, a documentary filmmaker, traveled to Hong Kong to meet with 
Mr. Snowden and the race to publish articles based on the documents he 
provided, all the while fearful of authorities’ closing in. The outlines 
of this story will be familiar to readers who followed it in real time 
last year, and to readers of the recent book “The Snowden Files” (by the 
Guardian reporter Luke Harding), just as much of the material here about 
the N.S.A. will be familiar to readers of articles that have appeared in 
The Guardian (many with Mr. Greenwald’s byline), The Washington Post and 
The New York Times.

“No Place to Hide” is enlivened by reproductions of dozens of 
fascinating documents from the Snowden archive that help illustrate the 
N.S.A.’s methodology and that showcase its strange corporatelike 
boosterism (complete with sometimes corny graphics). And Mr. Greenwald 
fleshes out his portrait of Mr. Snowden with fresh observations from 
their exchanges. He amplifies our understanding of the N.S.A.’s sweeping 
ambitions, methods and global reach, and provides detailed insights into 
what he calls the agency’s “corporate partnerships,” which “extend 
beyond intelligence and defense contractors to include the world’s 
largest and most important Internet corporations and telecoms.”

For instance, the agency’s Stormbrew program, Mr. Greenwald writes, 
“gives the N.S.A. access to Internet and telephone traffic that enters 
the United States at various ‘choke points’ on U.S. soil. It exploits 
the fact that the vast majority of the world’s Internet traffic at some 
point flows through the U.S. communications infrastructure — a residual 
by-product of the central role that the United States had played in 
developing the network.” According to the N.S.A., he says, Stormbrew “is 
currently comprised of very sensitive relationships with two U.S. 
telecom providers (cover terms ARTIFICE and WOLFPOINT)”; the identity of 
such corporate partners, he adds, “is one of the most closely guarded 
secrets in the N.S.A.”

Mr. Greenwald portrays Mr. Snowden — regarded by some as a heroic 
whistle-blower, by others as a traitor — as a courageous idealist who 
felt he needed to act on his beliefs. That outlook, Mr. Greenwald 
suggests, was partly shaped by books Mr. Snowden read growing up — Greek 
mythology and “The Hero With a Thousand Faces” by Joseph Campbell, which 
convinced Mr. Snowden that, in his own words, “it is we who infuse life 
with meaning through our actions and the stories we create with them.”

Mr. Snowden also confided “with a hint of embarrassment,” Mr. Greenwald 
writes, that video games had taught him certain lessons. As Mr. Snowden 
put it: “The protagonist is often an ordinary person, who finds himself 
faced with grave injustices from powerful forces and has the choice to 
flee in fear or to fight for his beliefs. And history also shows that 
seemingly ordinary people who are sufficiently resolute about justice 
can triumph over the most formidable adversaries.”

In the course of this book, Mr. Greenwald describes how he received his 
first communication from Mr. Snowden on Dec. 1, 2012, though he had no 
idea who it was from. The email came from someone calling himself 
Cincinnatus and urged Mr. Greenwald to begin using PGP encryption so 
that Cincinnatus could communicate with him securely. Busy with other 
projects, Mr. Greenwald procrastinated about installing the encryption 
program, and Mr. Snowden was only able to make contact with him months 
later, through Ms. Poitras.

According to Mr. Greenwald, Mr. Snowden would later describe his 
frustration: “Here am I ready to risk my liberty, perhaps even my life, 
to hand this guy thousands of Top Secret documents from the nation’s 
most secretive agency — a leak that will produce dozens if not hundreds 
of huge journalistic scoops. And he can’t even be bothered to install an 
encryption program.”

The most gripping sections of “No Place to Hide” recount Mr. Greenwald 
and Ms. Poitras’s 10-day trip to Hong Kong, where they and The 
Guardian’s veteran correspondent Ewen MacAskill met with Mr. Snowden in 
his hotel room. Mr. Greenwald describes the tradecraft they employed 
(removing batteries from their cellphones, or placing the phones in the 
minibar refrigerator) to avoid detection; his initial five-hour, 
litigatorlike grilling of Mr. Snowden; and the “giddy gallows humor” 
that later crept into their conversations (“I call the bottom bunk at 
Gitmo,” Mr. Snowden reportedly joked).

Mr. Greenwald writes that Mr. Snowden said one turning point in his 
decision to become a leaker came in 2010, when he was working as an 
N.S.A. contractor in Japan. “The stuff I saw really began to disturb 
me,” Mr. Snowden recalled. “I could watch drones in real time as they 
surveilled the people they might kill.” He added: “I watched N.S.A. 
tracking people’s Internet activities as they typed. I became aware of 
just how invasive U.S. surveillance capabilities had become. I realized 
the true breadth of this system. And almost nobody knew it was happening”

Substantial sections of this book deal not with Mr. Greenwald’s 
relationship with Mr. Snowden and the N.S.A., but with his combative 
view of “the establishment media,” which he has denounced for “glaring 
subservience to political power” and to which he condescends as inferior 
to his more activist kind of journalism.

In “No Place to Hide,” Mr. Greenwald is critical of the process by which 
publications like The Washington Post, The New York Times and The 
Guardian speak with government officials before publishing sensitive 
articles dealing with national security issues; he contends that this 
process allows the “government to control disclosures and minimize, even 
neuter, their impact.” He also makes self-dramatizing boasts about his 
own mission: “Only audacious journalism could give the story the power 
it needed to overcome the climate of fear the government had imposed on 
journalists and their sources.”

In one passage, Mr. Greenwald makes the demonstrably false assertion 
that one “unwritten rule designed to protect the government is that 
media outlets publish only a few such secret documents, and then stop,” 
that “they would report on an archive like Snowden’s so as to limit its 
impact — publish a handful of stories, revel in the accolades of a ‘big 
scoop,’ collect prizes, and then walk away, ensuring that nothing had 
really changed.” Many establishment media outlets obviously continue to 
pursue the Snowden story. Further, many of Mr. Greenwald’s gross 
generalizations about the establishment media do a terrible disservice 
to the many tenacious investigative reporters who have broken important 
stories on some of the very subjects like the war on terror and 
executive power that Mr. Greenwald feels so strongly about.

When Mr. Greenwald turns his fervor to the issue of surveillance and its 
implications for ordinary citizens’ civil liberties, he is far more 
credible. Sometimes eloquent. He places the N.S.A.’s current activities 
in historical perspective with the F.B.I.’s Cointelpro program to target 
political groups and individuals, begun in 1956 and ended in 1971. And 
he delivers a fierce argument in defense of the right of privacy, 
quoting the Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis’s famous dissent in the 
1928 case Olmstead v. United States, of the founding fathers’ efforts 
“to protect Americans in their beliefs, their thoughts, their emotions 
and their sensations.”

The makers of our Constitution, Brandeis argued, conferred “the right to 
be let alone.”

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