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Dec 2, 2013

Greenwald: the spying, not the media, is the story

NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden is not finished with revelations of spying -- and Australia could end up with even more egg on its face.

Be afraid, Prime Minister, very afraid. According to The Australian‘s Greg Sheridan, the Abbott government is “bracing” for another wave of damaging revelations about Australian espionage from documents leaked by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden. The details are sketchy, but this time our snooping on China, as well as Indonesia, is expected to come under scrutiny.

There were more revelations today on sharing data: the Defence Signals Directorate offered to share information about ordinary Australians with overseas spy agencies. Each new Snowden bombshell heightens debate about the rights and wrongs of reporting on the secretive world of surveillance.

In North America, the discourse is getting so fierce that Glenn Greenwald, the former Guardian reporter who has broken some of the biggest NSA stories, published a lengthy blog post yesterday responding to his critics. Greenwald argues there is a growing number of commentators who “evince zero interest” in the substance of the spying revelations, but “are instead obsessed with spending their time personally attacking the journalists, whistleblowers and other messengers who enable the world to know about what is being done”.

In Australia a bevy of conservative commentators have played this role, with former ABC director Janet Albrechtsen calling on ABC managing director Mark Scott to resign over the broadcaster’s partnership with The Guardian on Indonesian spying stories. Albrechtsen alleged the leak’s timing was “highly political”, was “designed to damage Tony Abbott” and “showed a blatant political preference” — even though this argument had been debunked a week earlier. The Guardian insists its Australian team only received the documents days before publishing their stories, as did the ABC.

As Greenwald shows in his post, criticism of reporters and media outlets covering the Snowden leaks can be seen around the world. The latest example is the argument that Greenwald — who left The Guardian to establish a new website backed by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar — is “profiteering” from the leaks. In Canada, commentators have attacked the national broadcaster CBC for paying Greenwald for a collaboration on Snowden stories. Greenwald argues this line of thinking is especially pernicious, and not just because investigative journalists publishing classified information have always been paid for their work. In the US “buying and selling” state secrets, as opposed to reporting them, can land you in jail.

Amid all the noise about the Snowden leaks, its worth going back to basics on how they became public.

Snowden initially shared his cache of documents with four journalists: Greenwald, video journalist Laura Poitras (who will work on his new website), Guardian reporter Ewan MacAskill and The Washington Post’s Barton Gellman. Gellman was brought on board to “tie in” Washington with the leak.

Today, the only reporters with access to the complete Snowden stockpile are Greenwald and Poitras. Until their new website is launched, they are operating as freelance journalists, teaming up with media outlets around the world — including Der Spiegel and The Huffington Post — to publish their stories. But other media outlets are also ploughing their way through hundreds of thousands of documents.

The Guardian has the biggest collection of documents. They are currently being sifted and sorted by the site’s US team because of the protections offered by the US constitution’s first amendment on free speech. The Guardian estimates it has published stories on less than 1% of the documents it has in its possession. The paper has also shared 50,000 documents with The New York Times and non-profit site ProPublica to share the reporting load and create maximum impact.

With so many top-secret documents still to be analysed, there is one certainty: some of the biggest Snowden stories are yet to come.

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8 comments

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8 thoughts on “Greenwald: the spying, not the media, is the story

  1. klewso

    If this was a Labor government being embarrassed, do you reckon the take on these revelations would be different, from the Conservative commentariat – with their long-time editorial Con-troll over what news we voters get to see?

  2. Andybob

    There seems to be a ‘unity ticket’ between the Coalition and the ALP on Intelligence matters. They won’t discuss it and reserve the right to do whatever they want. The only reason the Coalition hasn’t pointed the finger at the former govt is because they want to be able to carry on doing exactly the same.

  3. klewso

    They also had nearly 12 years, before Rudd, running the same “Haunted House”?

  4. a_swann

    The Australian is just sore because they didn’t get any of the loot. But the Greenwald article I think doesn’t completely establish the moral high ground for those who profit from the business of leaking, even if it is an old business. There moral authority comes from the nature of the revelations alone, if they are in the public interest. Whatever the public interest is, obviously Albrechtsen thinks it is in our interest to know zip..

  5. Rod Marr

    Andybob – “There seems to be a ‘unity ticket’ between the Coalition and the ALP on Intelligence matters. ”

    Correct, exactly the same approach in intelligence matters as their complicity and bi-partisanship in their approach to Iraq and Afghanistan.

    The “unity ticket” exists because the puppets will never challenge the puppeteers on matters of blanket Global policy. Intelligence matters fit this bill.

    Or, who in their right mind would bite the hand that feeds them? ..ie..elite politicians owe their positions to who ever owns the MSM etc etc.

  6. zut alors

    Abbott’s handling of SBY was a master class in diplomacy and, having been through the entree, Xi Jinping as the main course should be a cinch. Nothing to sweat on here…

  7. klewso

    Leave msm to edit/decide what is the “public interest”?
    …. Like they’ve done publicising/advertising Conservative/Abbott’s shortcomings?

  8. Harry Makris

    Nope…they won’t let this one slide…..