Pando

Pierre Omidyar's news site silent on spying scandal involving his partners at AT&T

By Paul Bradley Carr , written on August 18, 2015

From The Future of Journalism Desk

Last week, the New York Times and Pro Publica delivered a huge scoop: AT&T (slogan: delivering your world) had apparently been delivering your world directly and enthusiastically to the NSA under a program codenamed FAIRVIEW.

The story -- AT&T Helped U.S. Spy on Internet on a Vast Scale -- was bylined Julia Angwin, Charlie Savage, Jeff Larson, Henrik Moltke, Laura Poitras and James Risen and was based on documents leaked by Edward Snowden.

Amongst the many big questions raised by the story we find a slightly smaller one: Why did the story not appear on The Intercept, the publication headed by Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras, to whom Snowden delivered the documents in the first place? Why did Poitras and Greenwald not only allow the story to slip through their fingers but, in Poitras’ case, apparently actively assist a “rival” publication in besting them?

According to Poitras, it was she who first approached the Times with the story. She tells the Daily Beast today:

That was a story that I first approached the Times about a while ago, and the kudos goes to the reporting partners at ProPublica and the Times, as well as Henrik Moltke, who I work with. The story had been reported out for about six months, but it’s a story that I knew needed to be told before that. 

Weirder still, soon after the story was published, Greenwald took to Twitter to claim that -- of course! -- he’s suspected AT&T’s involvement in FAIRVIEW all along.

So why, then, is there still no mention of it on the Intercept?

Here on Pando, we’ve written plenty about how the Intercept, 100% owned by eBay billionaire Pierre Omidyar, seems to have a strange blindspot when it comes to corporate wrongdoing. In fact, Omidyar once wrote that media companies should help authorities arrest corporate whistleblowers.

But even by Omidyar’s conflicted standards, the silence over AT&T and FAIRVIEW seems particularly odd. After all, the Intercept has reported on ties between the US government and Verizon, T-Mobile and even Sprint. In fact, a search of the Intercept's archive returns precisely zero mentions of AT&T on the site, ever.

Given the famed independence of Omidyar’s reporters, there surely couldn’t be any commercial reason for the silence.

Unfortunately, the person best placed to confirm that -- Chief Revenue Officer Michael Rosen -- left the Intercept just last month. Media watchers might recall Rosen’s previous gig as a C-suite executive at… AT&T.

They might also recall this paragraph from the press release announcing Rosen’s arrival at First Look:

[H]e will identify and forge business development partnerships with innovative companies around content, distribution, social engagement and technology.

Perhaps Omidyar can set our minds at ease about the links between his executives and the only NSA-partnering cellphone company on which the Intercept remains mute. Perhaps he can also clarify that it’s just a huge coincidence that both Omidyar Network and AT&T are represented by the same PR firm, FleishmanHillard.

An email sent to Omidyar yesterday afternoon remains unanswered. Perhaps he’s busy with one of his other business interests, such as his leadership of the Mobile Alliance For Global Good, a project that “brings together the world’s best hearts and minds to solve the world’s biggest problems with mobile innovation.”

Advisors to the project include Sean Carroll, COO of the US Agency for International Development, the CIA-tied agency with which, as Pando reported here, Omidyar previously co-funded revolution groups in Ukraine.

As journalist Tim Shorrock pointed out on Twitter yesterday, there's only one major cellphone network listed as a partner on the Omidyar-led, US government linked project. Its name?

Yep.

You guessed it.

AT&T.

Shhhhhhhhh.