At their best, Reddit’s Ask Me Anything threads (AMA’s) are a form of cultural discourse that would make Socrates proud, and today we witnessed one of the most enlightening entries to the series yet.
Glenn Greenwald, the Guardian reporter who helped Edward Snowden reveal classified NSA documents, took to Reddit to answer questions about the details of the ongoing story and the editorial process in putting it out. Janine Gibson, Editor in Chief of the Guardian US, also appears on the thread.
The conversation was a fascinating look at how one of the most talked-about and important stories of the year unfolded. From slogging through impossibly large amounts of data and documents to learning state-of-the-art encryption techniques to protect yourself, this is the real future of journalism.
Here were some of the highlights:
Why didn’t the Guardian release all the files at once?
Many reasons: 1) It’s irresponsible to dump documents without first understanding them and the consequences of publication.
2) It’s 100% contrary to the agreement we made with our source [Edward Snowden] when he came to us and talked about how he wanted us to report on them (if he wanted them all dumped, he wouldn’t have needed us: he could have done it himself).
3) It would be impossible for the public to process a huge, indiscriminate dump, and media outlets would not care enough to read through them and report them because they’d have no vested interest in doing so (that’s what WikiLeaks learned long ago, which is why they began partnering with media outlets on an exclusive basis for its releases).
4) The debate that we should be having would get overwhelmed by accusations that we were being irresponsible and helping the Terrorists; in other words, it would be strategically dumb to do.
5) There are already lots of risks for people reporting on these documents; there would be seriously heightened risks for anyone involved if they were just indiscriminately dumped.
Are there any documents the Guardian wouldn’t publish?
I personally would not publish documents that could help other states learn how better to spy on their own citizens. I also would not publish the names of covert agents or agency employees (except for publicly identified high-ranking political officials), or documents that could unfairly smear/defame someone.
Guardian US editor Janice Gibson also jumped in for this one:
There are plenty of opportunities for both governments [UK and US] to give us input on our stories and they do, on each story individually. We take their advice/response into consideration before we publish. And this may not endear us to the more libertarian of our readers, but we take that process very seriously.
What’s one NSA revelation that’s been largely overlooked by the mainstream media?
The document we recently published showing NSA gives unminimized (emphasis his) communications of US persons to Israel with very few binding safeguards.
On keeping the leaked files secure
We use highly advanced means of encryption. Remember, the only ones whose op sec has proven horrible and who has lost control of huge numbers of documents is the NSA and GCHQ. We have lost control of nothing. All of the documents we have remain secure.
How can journalists protect themselves from surveillance and intimidation?
One of the most gratifying things I’ve seen since this all started is how many journalists now communicate using PGP, Pidgen, OTR, TOR and similar instruments of encryption. Just as was true for me, so many national security journalists — including some of the most accomplished ones at large media outlets, the ones who work on the most sensitive materials — had no idea about any of that and used none of it. Now they do. In this age of a War on Whistleblowers and sources and ubiquitous surveillance, it’s absolutely vital that journalists learn advanced encryption methods and use it.
The most “upvoted” question was about the report on how the NSA undermines common encryption techniques. In the article, the names of two compromised encryption chips were redacted. Why?
There are hundreds of encryption standards compromised by the program the Guardian, NYT and PP [ProPublica] all reported on. I have never seen any list of those standards and don’t have it. If I did have it, I would publish it immediately. As a result, the reasoning went (as I understand it), publishing one or two examples would be unhelpful if not misleading as those are tiny fractions of the overall compromised standards.
On the characterization of Edward Snowden as a “fame-whore”
Almost every day for four months, I’ve had the biggest TV shows and most influential media stars calling and emailing me, begging to interview Snowden for TV. He has refused every request because he does not want the attention to be on him, but rather on the disclosures that he risked his liberty and even his life to bring to the world. He could easily have been the most famous person in the world, on TV every day and night. But he chose not to, selflessly, so that he would not distract from the substance of the story.
Why are these revelations so important?
The internet is primarily responsible for enabling a massive diversification of media voices and democratization of our political discourse. That’s one big reason I consider the cause of defending internet freedom from state control to be such a vital political priority.
Can the NSA be stopped?
I have zero doubt that it can be. All institutions built by human beings can always be restrained, or even torn down and replaced, by other human beings, when the right will and strategy are found.