Last week, Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras flew to New York City, to accept a George Polk award for journalism, along with The Guardian’s Ewen MacAskill and The Washington Post’s Barton Gellman (here). Greenwald and Poitras went through JFK Airport, accompanied by an ACLU lawyer; and, here’s the rub: they weren’t hassled at all by the authorities. Remember, during the initial Snowden revelations, Republican Peter King called for Greenwald’s arrest and prosecution, and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper obliquely referred to journalists who helped Snowden as “accomplices”. Also, David Miranda, who’s Greenwald’s boyfriend, was detained and questioned for nine hours last summer as he was transiting through Heathrow Airport. Miranda was returning from a visit to Laura Poitras, who to all intents and purposes lives in exile in Berlin. Documentary maker and activist Poitras has long been a thorn in the side of the US authorities (she filmed the now famous first appearence of Snowden). This describes a previous trip to the United States: In Vienna, Poitras was eventually cleared to board her connecting flight to New York, but when she landed at J.F.K., she was met at the gate by two armed law-enforcement agents and taken to a room for questioning. It is a routine that has happened so many times since then – on more than 40 occasions – that she has lost precise count. On one occasion, Poitras says, they did seize her computers and cellphones and kept them for weeks (from this New York Times piece). Now, given this background it perhaps seems a bit strange that Greenwald and Poitras were able to breeze through JFK Airport last week. This might be because the Snowden stuff is now much more mainstream (or at least, it is in the US; in the UK it’s still barely talked about), and the US authorities didn’t want to risk the ensuing media coverage if they hassled Greenwald and Poitras.
The last post I made about Greenwald was back in early March, when, amongst other things, I was talking about the new media group that he had joined, which puts out a publication called The Intercept, and the controversy around it (here). With Greenwald as the main contributor, The Intercept got off to a flying start in February, publishing a lot of Snowden related stuff. Then, this month, it’s all come to a complete halt. The new editor, John Cook, says that this halt in publication is so that The Intercept can be turned into “a full-bore news operation” (here). Cook is quite vague about when they will be publishing again. Also, as well as Greenwald, the other founders of The Intercept are Jeremy Scahill and Laura Poitras. In the two and a half months since its inception, Scahill has only been involved in one article for The Intercept, whilst Poitras hasn’t published any. Whatever’s going on at The Intercept, let’s hope they manage to overcome it, becuse they were doing excellent journalism, the sort of stuff that really annoys the authorities.
This brings me on to Edward Snowden, who this week appeared live on Russian television and asked Vladimir Putin whether his government conducts mass surveillance. This was during Putin’s annual love-fest, when he takes questions from the populace. The two obvious things here are: A) it was Putin’s decision to allow Snowden to question him, and B) Putin knew what the question was going to be and gave the usual get-out answer. Snowden has received a lot of flak for playing along with Putin and wrote a piece defending himself.
So, we have three recent events – Greenwald and Poitras in New York, The Intercept ceasing publication and Snowden’s question to Putin – which are connected, but what does it all mean..? On this Easter Sunday here in middle-of-nowhere France I’m going to pour myself a glass of vin rouge and mull over things. In the meantime I’ll leave you with a quote:
Once you’ve lived the inside-out world of espionage, you never shed it. It’s a mentality, a double standard of existence.
John le Carre