Glenn Greenwald’s Letter to Walter Pincus

Glenn Greenwald responds to Walter Pincus’s outrageous and inaccurate article in the Washington Post.

Glenn Greenwald. (photo: Salon)Glenn Greenwald. (photo: Salon)

By Glenn Greenwald  09 July 13  Guardian UK via RSN.org

hat you decided to write an entire column grounded solely in baseless innuendo is between you and your editors. But your assertion of several factually false claims about me, Laura Poitras, and others is not:

(1) “On April 10, 2012, Greenwald wrote for the WikiLeaks Press’s blog about Poitras and WikiLeaks being targeted by U.S. government officials.”

I have no idea what you’re talking about here, and neither do you. I never wrote anything “for the WikiLeaks Press’s blog”. How you decided to pull that fact out of thin air is a genuine mystery.

The April 10, 2012, article of mine you seem to be referencing – about the serial border harassment of the filmmaker Laura Poitras – was written for Salon, where I was a Contributing Writer and daily columnist. Neither it, nor anything else I’ve ever written, was written “for the WikiLeaks Press’s blog”.

(2) “In that same interview, Assange previewed the first Greenwald Guardian story based on Snowden documents that landed a week later.”

This claim is not just obviously false, but deeply embarrassing for someone who claims even a passing familiarity with surveillance issues.

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The sentence you quoted from Assange’s May 29 interview about the collection of phone records was preceded by this: “The National Security Agency – and this has come out in one court case after another – was involved in a project called Stellar Wind to collect all the calling records of the United States.”

Stellar Wind, as you rather amazingly do not know, is the code name for the 2001-2007 Bush NSA spying program. As part of that program, the NSA (as you also rather amazingly did not know) engaged in the bulk collection of Americans’ phone records.

Back in April, 2012, NSA whistleblower William Binney went on Democracy Now and detailed how, under Stellar Wind, the NSA argued that the Patriot Act “gives them license to take all the commercially held data about us” and has thus “assembled on the order of 20 trillion transactions about U.S. citizens with other U.S. citizens.”

When “Assange described how NSA had been collecting ‘all the calling records of the United States, every record of everyone calling everyone over years'”, he was not “preview[ing] the first Greenwald Guardian story based on Snowden documents that landed a week later” (a story that revealed for the first time that a radical interpretation of section 215 of the Patriot Act was being used by the FISA court and the Obama DOJ to justify the bulk collection of Americans’ communications record and that this indiscriminate domestic surveillance program was active under the Obama administration).

Instead, Assange was describing – explicitly – a Bush program from 8 years earlier, one that was widely reported at the time and thus known to the entire world (except, apparently, to you and your editors).

(3) “He [Snowden] worked less than three months at Booz Allen, but by the time he reached Hong Kong in mid-May, Snowden had four computers with NSA documents.”

Edward Snowden has worked more or less continuously at the NSA for various contractors since 2009 – not since March, 2013. See this July 4, 2013, New York Times article on Snowden’s four-year history at the NSA as a sophisticated cyber-operative: “In 2010, while working for a National Security Agency contractor, Edward J. Snowden learned to be a hacker. . . .By 2010, he had switched agencies and moved to Japan to work for Dell as an N.S.A. contractor, and he led a project to modernize the backup computer infrastructure, he said on the résumé. That year also appears to have been pivotal in his shift toward more sophisticated cybersecurity.”

By the time he contacted us, he had already been working at the NSA with extensive top secret authorization for almost four years. To conceal this vital fact from your readers – in order to leave them with the false impression that he only began working at the NSA after he spoke with me, Laura Poitras and your Washington Post colleague Bart Gellman – is deceitful and reckless.

(4) “Was he encouraged or directed by WikiLeaks personnel or others to take the job as part of a broader plan to expose NSA operations to selected journalists?”

Although you also conceal this from your readers, both Poitras and I have repeatedly, publicly and in great detail addressed all of these questions. I did so in a newspaper called “the Washington Post” (“It was only in May – and not before – that Snowden told [Greenwald] 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”), as well as in the New York Times.

Poitras did so in an interview with Salon: “I didn’t know where he worked, I didn’t know he was NSA, I didn’t know how – nothing. There was no like, Oh do you think you …, no nudging. It’s like the crazy correlations that the NSA does. There’s no connection here. We were contacted, we didn’t know what he was up to, and at some point he came forward with documents”.

You’re free to disbelieve those answers in pursuit of your frenzied conspiracy theorizing. But you should not feel free to pretend those answers haven’t been provided and thus hide them from your readers.

Apparently, some establishment journalists have decided that the way to save a discredited and dying industry is to fill articles and columns speculating about the news-gathering process on a significant story in which they had no involvement, and thus traffic in innuendo-laden “questions” designed to imply elaborate and nefarious conspiracy theories. So be it: I don’t think that will work – I think what readers want are fact-based revelations about those in power – but feel free to try.

But making up facts along the way, as you’ve done, should still be deemed unacceptable. At the very least, they merit a prominent correction.

All of this is independent of the fact that the conspiracy theory you’ve concocted is just laughable on its own terms. The very notion that Julian Assange would have masterminded this leak from the start, but then chose to remain demurely and shyly in the background so that others would receive credit for it, would prompt choking fits of laughter among anyone who knows him. Your suggestion that Assange would refrain from having WikiLeaks publish these documents, and instead direct these news-breaking leaks to The Guardian of all places – with which he has a bitter, highly publicized and long-standing feud – is even more hilarious.

Our NSA stories have been published and discussed in countless countries around the world, where they have sparked shock, indignation and demands for investigation. So revealingly, it is only American journalists – and them alone – who have decided to focus their intrepid journalistic attention not on the extremist and legally dubious surveillance behavior of the US government and serial deceit by its top officials, but on those who revealed all of that to the world.

This is an important news story and journalists should be free to ask all sorts of questions about who was involved and how. That’s why we’ve been so forthcoming – unusually so – about addressing all these questions. Read your Washington Post colleague Erik Wemple as he explains that to you: “In response to various questions going back to the days just after his first NSA stories, Greenwald has delivered a remarkable amount of disclosures about how he got the story, how he executed it and how he plans to continue pursuing it.”

But when those questions are posed by fabricating events that never happened and ignoring the answers that have already been provided, it strongly suggests that something other than truth-seeking is the objective.

Glenn Greenwald

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