n May 20, 2013, he packed four laptops and such a large number of classified documents that no one still knows exactly how many. The only thing we can be sure of, is that the British authorities’ guess was too low when they, after the revelations, went to The Guardian saying: ”We are pretty aware of what you have got… We believe you have about 30 to 40 documents. We are worried about their security”.
Not even the NSA currently knows how many documents we’re talking about. Estimates claim that Edward Snowden had access to a total of 1.7 million documents and that he gave 50,000 to 200,000 documents to the journalists, Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras.
Experiences from previous whistleblowers had taught him that he needed documents to prove his claims, so that no one would dismiss them as lies. He’d also come to some other important insights:
He’d have to flee the country prior to the publications.
He’d have to be transparent in his operations, so that it would be clear that he was acting on his own and that he wasn’t funded by any foreign power.
He’d not publish anything on his own, but leave it to journalists to do the selection.
He’d choose journalists who had demonstrated that they would not allow themselves to be silenced by the White House.
He’d proactively make his name public, in order for his co-workers not to become subject to suspicion.
Laura Poitras was a journalist and an Academy Award and Emmy nominated documentary filmmaker who, like Thomas Drake, had experienced the totalitarian methods that can be accommodated in a democracy.
After her documentary on the war in Iraq ”My country, my country” from 2006, she was constantly harassed. She was stopped more than 40 times, when returning to the US after travelling abroad. Each time they held her, often three or four hours, and interrogated her about who she’d met and where she’d been. Her computer, camera and cell phone were confiscated and not returned for weeks. They copied her credit card and receipts at several of the occasions. They even took her reporter notebook.
Poitras developed her own methods. She stopped travelling with electronic devices. She became an encryption expert. And she avoided talking on the phone about work related matters.
After she’d been detained and threatened with handcuffs at Newark Airport, she contacted the journalist Glenn Greenwald, who wrote an article about her in April 2012.
For Edward Snowden, she and Glenn Greenwald were the perfect choices.
Laura Poitras, who had eventually moved to Berlin to protect her material. Glenn Greenwald, a former lawyer, who now was a journalist living in Rio de Janeiro, and writing for The Guardian.
The problem was that Glenn Greenwald didn’t have an encryption program, nor did he succeed in installing one. The months passed. Edward Snowden kept emailing him under the code name ”Cincinnatus”.
You never thought of giving up?
– The biggest problem for me was to get him to take me seriously. I don’t blame him. I mean, if some random person on the internet is like ”Hey, I got something you need to see, random journalist. It’s about government mass surveillance whatever, they’re just going to go, ”Ah…man, here’s another person thinking aliens are beaming signals through people’s teeth.”
He smiles, saying that it didn’t bother him particularly. Instead, he kept sending encrypting instructions. For months.
– Trying to get Glenn Greenwald to do it was a little bit like trying to teach a cat how to dance. But I can understand that. The problem is the language they use in the encryption programs, to teach it to people. They talk about public keys and asymmetric keys and nobody knows what the hell that means. But I’ve always enjoyed the process of teaching. When I was young, I wanted to do a lot of things, and teaching was one of them.