Snowden: I Probably Wouldn't Have Revealed Quite As Much As Reporters Did

from the journalism-choices dept

People who have followed the Snowden story closely know that he gave all of the documents over to a small group of reporters, and then got rid of his own copies, telling the reporters to make their own choices about what to reveal and what to keep secret. He also claimed that he had gone through the files he had to make sure that he wasn’t handing over any really damaging stuff — but of what he was giving them he wanted the reporters to make their own journalistic choices about what to report on. And yet, some people (often those in the “string up Snowden” cabal) keep insisting that Snowden himself is directing the various reports and deciding what reports should reveal what information. However, over the weekend in an interview with the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer, Snowden actually notes that he probably would have been “more conservative” in choosing what to reveal:

Snowden, who worked with the journalists Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras, and Bart Gellman to bring highly classified materials about N.S.A. surveillance programs to the public eye, also responded to a Mayer question that he summarized by saying, ?do I agree with all of the stories that the journalists have presented??

?I don?t,? he went on. ?I would draw those lines a little differently, and I think much more conservatively than some of the journalists have,? without naming which reporters? stories he disagreed with.

In earlier stories, Snowden has more or less admitted that part of the reason he went to trusted journalists like those three above was that he was too close to the story and the NSA himself to make fair, journalistic decisions on which of the documents deserved to be public. Otherwise, he could have just dumped all of the documents publicly. It appears to reinforce the idea that — contrary to the claims of some — Snowden was exceptionally careful in getting this information out there, not even trusting his own judgment to make the final calls on what should and should not be released.

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Comments on “Snowden: I Probably Wouldn't Have Revealed Quite As Much As Reporters Did”

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That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

And in this moment he crystallizes what went wrong with the whole system.
They are far to close to the issues at play, and can not see any path other than the one they are on. They hire people who agree with them, and are getting paid, to hasten the trip down the path.

I think the stories so far are really damning, but at the same time there are not many people screaming for it to stop yet. We all focus on the problem that means to most to us, and ignore that in the wider view you can connect all of these ills back to a common source.

David says:

I think he did pretty well

He was operating under tight time constraints since he had to hand off the stuff before it could be swatted along with his person.

Given those constraints, I think that the ratio of stuff that the American Public needs to be aware of in order to exert their admittedly minuscule amount of influence on their representatives is rather high.

It may be true that other secret services are not accountable to their respective electorates either and that there is an international conspiracy of lawlessness and unaccountability in that area.

But the U.S. public deserves to be involved in the decision whether they want to be the worst of the worst.

jsn (profile) says:

Apologists for the government and spy agencies will (are) spinning his admission back around on him to basically say, “Then why give any of this information to journalists at all?”

And, in doing so, they are once again misleading the public. They are willfully ignoring what he didn’t say in order to spin this as some sort of vindication for their willfully ignoring our constitution so they can spy on all of us with no oversight. He didn’t say, “I would have reported less because some of what was reported lacked journalistic merit.” He recognized that he needed outsiders (journalists) to make the decision of what to report and what to hold on to because he was too close to it all.

Anonymous Coward says:

Issues I have are the media themselves , They haven’t shown themselves to be trustworthy, they’ve been dropping the ball left and right choosing sensationalism over truth, Part of the reason our country is in the state it is , Is due to bad media and lazy reporting the freedom of the press and it’s limits should be pushed with every report.
If they would push and report on the money that’s being poured In our congress including the favors we may see some real change.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I think it comes back to watching the watcher. Journalists usually pride themself with being the watcher of government.

In this case the subject matter (intelligence gathering methodology) is a secret buried so deep in spin, “necessary” lies and misdirection that even journalists are pretty clueless on the subject. Journalists with insufficient knowledge in an area seek help from other sources. In this case NSA/DOJ have stonewalled journalists and things that are worse.

The politicians have a room for making policy without public interferrence historically. They are unwilling to give it up, under the disguise of “counter-terrorism”. The problem is that any story that questions the angelic, patriotic and prudent story of these organs, will raise demand for more openness and eventually lead to quite the headache for the politicians. Particularly since foreign powers may have an interest in knowing the methods used and even worse, abusing the openness for industrial espionage, political extortion (or counter-extortion as it were) or even pushing military/sphere interests.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

“Issues I have are the media themselves , They haven’t shown themselves to be trustworthy”

We’re lucky that Snowden released his load to individual reporters –not media corporations. It’s an important dictinction. Remember when NBC News immediately yanked a veteran reporter off his post after he witnessed Israel’s killing of several young boys on a beach a few months ago?

What gets passed off as “news” today by the MSM is a highly filtered, highly propagandized version of current events, carefully crafted to please the “powers that be” — rather than letting slip the kind of unbiased reporting that might actually inform the citizenry and give them the tools to –God forbid– think for themselves..

OldMugwump (profile) says:

Re: "think of the children"

I am thinking of the children.

I’m thinking that I don’t want my children, and all the other children in the world, to grow up enslaved by “the greatest weapon for oppression in the history of man”.

(quote from Ed Snowden’s first email to Laura Portias; see

Anonymous Coward says:

the most bang for the buck

Let’s examine what would have happened if Snowden had gone the DIY route:

** If Snowden dumped his stash all at once, it would have made an immediate big splash in the press, but would have soon been off the front pages and largely forgotten by the public.

**If he had kept everything to himself and chosen to release the documents little by little in order to keep the headlines warm, he would have almost certainly died an early death. (and probably mysterious, like Yasser Arafat)

But by releasing to journalists, and letting them sift through it at their leasure and do additional investigative work as journalists are known to do, Snowden insured not only his own life, but a long life of news headlines.

Roger Strong (profile) says:

Re: the most bang for the buck

Just so. I know someone joined a charity in Alaska, just as it was discovered that an employee had embezzled and spent a VERY large amount of their money.

This was just after the Exxon Valdez disaster, and they found themselves talking to Exxon’s PR firm. The advice, to minimize the PR damage: Release ALL information, all at once.

No matter how much information they released, it would only get so much space in the papers on day one. With no new information leaking out, it would cease to be a story. Only if there was new, fresh information leaking out, would it remain in the news.

A slow but steady trickle of revelations from Snowden’s data insures that every revelation gets covered.

Mark Noo (profile) says:

Re: Re: the most bang for the buck

That is a good tactic. It makes sense. Nothing more to hide and nothing more to be dug up. Dead issue.

On the other hand,

Those must be pretty lazy journalists. Look what CNN has done with the video of World Trade Center Towers coming down. They have been using that footage for a decade to get ratings.

Ever watch Fox News cover some minor slip of the tongue by a liberal. It is impressive. Their ability to blow something all out of proportion is legendary.

Anonymous Coward says:

“During an audience Q&A, Snowden that people should “search for encrypted communication services” because they “enforce your rights.” He advised the public to be wary of online services that are “hostile to privacy,” specifically Facebook and Google and cloud storage service Dropbox. Snowden suggested using high-security alternative storage services like SpiderOak, which encrypts files, although he was careful to mention that much of the technology the public needs hasn’t been invented or popularized yet. “

It’s hard to determine the extent Snowden is going overboard vs the extent he is pointing out serious issues. More and more Google traffic is being encrypted by default so is Snowden suggesting Google and others are secretly cooperating with the govt in ways we still don’t know? Or is he beginning to make vague statements to ask for attention?

Michael J. Evans (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

There is also a distinction between what normal people would consider ‘dragnet surveillance’ and what normal people expect and what Snowden’s revelations suggest various government agencies consider actual ‘surveillance’ to be.

After various corrections (trusting infrastructure isn’t eavesdropped upon) I would be willing to trust Google and similar parties to respond only to lawful, adversarial reviewed, court orders for data /provided they are able to disclose said requests publicly/ for accountability (no less than one year after the cases go to trial or are dropped).

As recent lawsuits have revealed, we do not yet have the conditions that would allow any consumers, my self included, to trust /any/ corporation in that manor.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

but I can evaluate the risks based on what I do already know … I guess I don’t need Snowden for that. I suppose the point is that his recommendations benefit me little if they’re not based on what I don’t already know … unless he’s trying to ‘advertise’ himself as someone that makes recommendations as an expert based on his expertise of publicly available knowledge (ie: how Bruce Schneier would give his opinion based on his expertise on publicly available information of cryptography with the intent of teaching people about the subject and getting them more aware of the publicly available information. Same thing with Steve Gibson’s Security Now podcast or any grade school teacher for that matter. I just don’t really see Snowden as trying to be a ‘teacher’).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Or how Techdirt takes a bunch of information from different places and gives its opinion … but again, Snowden doesn’t seem like he’s trying to start his own news/opinion blog or whatever. If he’s just gonna keep harping on old information that we already know I guess I just see it as pointless.

Just Another Anonymous Troll says:


So Snowden filtered out the really damaging stuff, and wouldn’t have released as much stuff as the reporters did? Does this mean he’s not a terrorist-loving demon from hell?
NSA: He’s still a traitor, because reasons that are classified because if we told you they would tell the terrorists how to circumvent our twisted logic.

Anonymous Coward says:


What, did anybody expect humans to suddenly become incapable of making mistakes just because this is an important issue?

While I, personally, would have made slightly different choices in what to release, such discussion is a distraction. After all, none of this should have been necessary in the first place; if the NSA had respected the rule of law under the Constitution, there would be no need of whistleblowers to point out their criminal activity.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: mistakes

Their should still always be in the job description that one can blow the whistle just in case scam mostly put together for money (quoting William Binney here, the NSA does this not because they want to spy on Joe Blow, but because exagerating threats and saying they need to record everything and forcing politicians’ hands gives them more money so bigger pay cheques so they can be the rock star agency with a database so huge as to be rendered useless, but it doesn’t matter, just make politicians believe you can actually do something useful with all the yottabytes of communication accumulated, when no, they don’t, and don’t even necessarily want to, it’s all about money and projecting a power clout that is mostly a Potemkin village.

Anonymous Coward says:

Snowden, is entitled to state his own opinions freely. But I can’t help feel his words are a little insulting to the journalists who risked their lives and careers getting these stories out.

After all, if these journalists had just sat on the information Snowden turned over to them. All the risks and sacrifices Snowden took would have been in vain.

It just sounds a little regretful to me.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Why would they be insulted?
It is fairly common for people to disagree with media coverage, what angles they play up which ones they play down.
He gave an honest answer, he would have selected differently.
As he had stated elsewhere, he really is to close to the issue to have a clear view.
We’ve seen other ‘public figures’ taking the media to task, in much harsher terms, when they fail to cover a pet cause the “right” way.
Snowden selected people and left the decisions to them, when asked to play monday morning quarterback he said he would have called a different play order.
I don’t think it is insulting, but yet another honest answer from him.

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