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‘The End of Global Privacy’: Greenwald Talks NSA


Journalist Glenn Greenwald and Guardian US editor-in-chief Janine Gibson on Tuesday afternoon participated in a 90 minute live Q&A on Reddit in which they answered questions related to the past, current, and future reporting on the NSA revelations made possible by documents released by whistleblower Edward Snowden.

On Wednesday, Greenwald posted a few highlights from that online forum—known on Reddit as an "ask me anything" session (or AMA)—on his page at the Guardian. The complete AMA can be viewed here.

According to Greenwald, the session was "largely smart and provocative" and he made special mention of two issues that surfaced during the hour and a half discussion: 1) the degree to which Snowden has aggressively tried to maintain a low profile in order to keep the spotlight off of him and on the NSA programs themselves; and 2) the role that the Democratic Party, specifically under Obama, has exposed its deep hyprocrisy on national security and surveillance issues in the wake of the disclosures.

In addition, Common Dreams scanned the AMA and picked out a few notable questions and their corresponding responses.

Will there be any more groundbreaking leaks? Also, how do you feel about the response from the American people?

Greenwald (GG): There are definitely huge new stories to come: many more. I've said that from the start every time I was asked and I think people see by now that it's true. In fact, as Janine said the other day, the documents and newsworthy revelations are so massive that no one news organization can possibly process them all.

As for public opinion, I'm incredibly gratified that Americans, and people around the world, have been so engaged by these issues and that public opinion polls show radical shifts in how people perceive that threats to their privacy/civil liberties from their own government are greater than threats to their safety from The Terrorists.

Is it too late to roll back the surveillance state?

Gibson (JG): I think this is the question we've all been asking. It's at the heart of this story. And we fundamentally think it's a debate best had in the open. It's going to come down to what citizens, users and voters think about how much they're prepared to give up in order to feel secure. It's not an easy question.

We had an event recently in NYC and the former general counsel for the NSA said this is a debate that has to be had once a generation — that each generation needs to feel it has given consent. I think that's an interesting point. It certainly feels like there are a couple of generations who have been taken aback by the sheer size and scale of surveillance.

With so many people working with these documents in so many locations, how do you keep these documents secure (in terms of both from less discerning journalistic operations and from antagonistic governments)?

(GG): 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.

Do you feel that the protections that journalists count on are disappearing? Is journalism as a whole in danger? Can we in the US trust our major publications for the true story or is there too much manipulation? Is Rupert Murdoch the Anti-Christ?

(JG): This is a critical time for journalistic freedom and there are two major shifts which are threatening important work. One is the attempt to categorise "who is a journalist" which we are in danger, as an industry, of enabling. I feel profoundly uncomfortable about any line drawn around pay, employer, hours or volume of work which will define a "real" journalist. And then only the "real" journalists will be protected.

I don't think that's how the world works anymore, so that's problematic.

The second is the attempt to define journalism as outside the national interest and the Guardian has felt the impact of that in the UK, when the government demanded we destroy some of the material we were working on. That's much less problematic here in the US where we enjoy the protection of the first amendment. Let's hope we can all continue to use that protection to do good reporting.

Is Rupert Murdoch the Anti-Christ? Is there only one?

What would you say is the single most shocking revelation that Snowden has leaked and why?

(GG): The general revelation that the objective of the NSA is literally the elimination of global privacy: ensuring that every form of human electronic communication – not just those of The Terrorists™ – is collected, stored, analyzed and monitored.

The NSA has so radically misled everyone for so long about its true purpose that revealing its actual institutional function was shocking to many, many people, and is the key context for understanding these other specific revelations.

I'm curious about the offensive cyberactions of the US. Will you write more about it? Can you tell us about aggressions made by the US?

(GG): In my view, the two most overlooked stories we've published are the one you reference (about the secret presidential directive signed by Obama to prepare for offensive cyber operations: essentially the militarization of the internet) and the document we recently published showing NSA gives unminimized communications of US persons to Israel with very few binding safeguards.

I hope we'll have more on the topic you asked about, though so far the information is limited.

Are there any documents that you personally think should remain unreleased because of National Security?

(GG): 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.

Do you ever worry about your safety?

(GG): All good journalism entails risk, by definition, because all good journalism makes someone powerful angry. It's important to be rationally aware of those risks and take reasonable precautions, but not fixate on them or, under any circumstances, allow them to deter you in doing what you thin should be done. Fearlessness can be its own form of power. 

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