Snowden: American media ‘abdicated their role as check to power’
NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden has gone on the offensive against his critics in the US, accusing the mainstream media there of failing their audiences “for fear of being seen as unpatriotic and punished in the market.”
In a rare interview, Snowden explained why he chose a UK journalist and a documentary filmmaker for his leaks.
In an encrypted e-mail correspondence with journalist Peter Maass, the former NSA contractor-turned-whistleblower presented his candid opinion of the US media and what finally persuaded him to go public on the NSA’s worldwide surveillance program.
The heightened level of nationalism prevalent in the United States following the attacks of 9/11 precluded US media from engaging in any serious discussion on the excesses of government behavior for fear of seeming “unpatriotic,” Snowden argued in the interview published in The New York Times – his first since gaining temporary asylum in Russia.
“After 9/11, many of the most important news outlets in America abdicated their role as a check to power — the journalistic responsibility to challenge the excesses of government — for fear of being seen as unpatriotic and punished in the market during a period of heightened nationalism,” the NY Times reported Snowden as saying.
The former CIA employee said this strategy by the American media establishment had “ended up costing the public dearly.”
Snowden then revealed what led him to divulge his explosive information to Laura Poitras, the documentary filmmaker who served first as an intermediary between Snowden and Glenn Greenwald, an investigative journalist with The Guardian, and now with Maass.
“Laura and Glenn are among the few who reported fearlessly on controversial topics throughout this period, even in the face of withering personal criticism, and resulted in Laura specifically becoming targeted by the very programs involved in the recent disclosures,” Snowden said.
Poitras “demonstrated the courage, personal experience and skill needed to handle what is probably the most dangerous assignment any journalist can be given — reporting on the secret misdeeds of the most powerful government in the world,” Snowden said in the NY Times interview, adding that those qualifications made her “an obvious choice.”
The interview then focused on what made Snowden, who arrived on May 20 in Hong Kong with details of the NSA’s PRISM program, confident that he could place his trust in Poitras.
Snowden told Maass that he discovered Poitras was “more suspicious of me than I was of her, and I’m famously paranoid.”
The former CIA employee continued: “The combination of her experience and her exacting focus on detail and process gave her a natural talent for security, and that’s a refreshing trait to discover in someone who is likely to come under intense scrutiny in the future, as normally one would have to work very hard to get them to take the risks seriously.”
Snowden revealed that working with Poitras allowed him to “open up without fearing the invested trust would be mishandled.”
He then spoke at length on the subject of encrypted communications, specifically for journalists.
“I was surprised to realize that there were people in news organizations who didn’t recognize any unencrypted message sent over the Internet is being delivered to every intelligence service in the world,” he said.
In the wake of this year’s disclosures, it should be clear that unencrypted journalist-source communication is “unforgivably reckless,” Snowden added.
Snowden, 30, landed in Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport on June 23, prompting President Vladimir Putin to describe the American’s sudden presence in Russia as an “unwanted Christmas gift.” After initially applying for asylum to some 20 countries, Snowden eventually accepted temporary asylum in Russia on the condition that he “not further harm US interests.”
Moscow’s decision to grant one-year temporary asylum to Snowden has caused consternation in the United States, even prompting President Barack Obama to cancel a meeting with Putin in Moscow scheduled for September.
The Kremlin, in turn, expressed its disappointment with the White House’s decision, while reminding Washington that it had declined extradition requests on the part of Russia in the past.
“We are disappointed by the US administration’s decision to cancel the visit of President Obama to Moscow that was planned for the beginning of September,” Russia’s presidential aide Yury Ushakov told reporters. “It is clear that the decision is related to the situation around the former intelligence agency employee Snowden – something that was created not by us.”
According to Ushakov, the US has “for many years dodged entering into an extradition treaty” with Russia and “invariably refused” Moscow’s extradition requests, citing the absence of such a treaty.
“This situation shows that the US is still not ready to build relations with Russia on an equal footing,” Ushakov said.
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