Will The Government Go After Greenwald?

Glenn will return to America, despite the risk:

Greenwald believes he and his reporting partner Laura Poitras face unique threats for four reasons.

1) Greenwald and Poitras went to Hong Kong to meet with Snowden and discuss the documents, “for almost two weeks — six days before the first story came out and every day after that until he went into hiding.”

2) They were in contact with Snowden, and perhaps under surveillance themselves, at the time that he went into hiding and have remained in very regular contact with him since then.

3) Greenwald has paired his reporting with forceful advocacy: “vehemently condemning the U.S. government, defending Snowden.”

4) Unlike U.S.-based reporters, he and Poitras have been freelancing stories at publications all around the world.

“Everybody I’ve talked to, including experienced lawyers — nobody has said ‘this is crazy,’” Greenwald added, stipulating that he doubts he’d actually be charged with anything — less than 50 percent chance of that in his mind. Nevertheless, “Everybody recognizes that there’s some risk.”

It’s great to see the new site, Intercept, launch. It’s simple, well-organized and the lead story is fascinating. It reveals how electronic data – and electronic data alone – have been integral in the targeting of drone strikes. Money quote:

The NSA often locates drone targets by analyzing the activity of a SIM card, rather than the actual content of the calls. Based on his experience, this former drone operator has come to believe that the drone program amounts to little more than death by unreliable metadata. “People get hung up that there’s a targeted list of people,” he says. “It’s really like we’re targeting a cell phone. We’re not going after people – we’re going after their phones, in the hopes that the person on the other end of that missile is the bad guy.”

For me, this is an important piece of information, because it shifts the morality of such acts. I disagree with Glenn on this question in principle, since I believe it is morally defensible to target terrorists actively attempting to launch attacks – but only if innocent life is spared as far as is humanly possible, and the intelligence is rock-solid. But if you’re targeting drone strikes by SIM cards, all of that goes distinctly wobbly. As the piece notes:

Some top Taliban leaders, knowing of the NSA’s targeting method, have purposely and randomly distributed SIM cards among their units in order to elude their trackers. “They would do things like go to meetings, take all their SIM cards out, put them in a bag, mix them up, and everybody gets a different SIM card when they leave,” the former drone operator says. “That’s how they confuse us.” As a result, even when the agency correctly identifies and targets a SIM card belonging to a terror suspect, the phone may actually be carried by someone else, who is then killed in a strike.

From this launch, I’d say the rationale for a super-blog like the Intercept is solid. It’s particularly smart to revive Glenn’s blog.

I miss it – even though he really can go on at times – because it bristles with his energy, fanaticism, mastery of the hyper-link, and gob-smacking attention to detail. Starting a general site without that critical personal touch would not have had the same alchemy – and I suspect Glenn is best suited to pursuing his passion than in managing a newsroom. Poitras, Scahill and Wheeler are also, to my mind, all superb at what they do, whatever Screen Shot 2014-02-10 at 12.17.58 PMyour view of their respective politics.

My one reservation is that the site inherently leverages vital public information – the NSA docs – to help fund and launch a website. If your sole goal is to responsibly air the documents you have, then you simply release them (with rigorous redactions) as soon as possibe and let the web do its best. You don’t withhold them, threaten to embarrass governments with them, and then reveal them in stages, while launching a new website based on their news-worthiness. And if you do, you’re running the risk of appearing too much like the NSA itself. You’re withholding critical information from the public and releasing it in a way that benefits you financially. That’s not exactly entirely public interest journalism.

Of course, that’s true of most newspapers, which already have an economic interest in securing and publishing vital public information. But it gets a bit more troublesome when you are launching a website originally devoted primarily to disseminating the information in those docs. Still, if it means more accessible and clear stories about those very docs, it can be justified. And today’s lead story does just that. If more arrive that are as well-done as that one, three cheers for Glenn.