The Guardian is running a fascinating excerpt from Luke Harding's upcoming book, entitled The Snowden Files: The Inside Story of the World's Most Wanted Man
. The excerpt is entitled How Edward Snowden went from loyal NSA contractor to whistleblower
, but that's not entirely accurate. Most of that
story has already been told, and what's repeated of Snowden's thought process isn't particularly new or enlightening. What is much more
interesting are some of the details in the immediate run up and aftermath to the Guardian publishing that first story on a Wednesday evening. First, there's the way the US government tried to pressure the Guardian not to run the story:
Events were moving at speed. MacAskill had tapped out a four-word text from Hong Kong: "The Guinness is good." This code phrase meant he was now convinced Snowden was genuine. Gibson decided to give the NSA a four-hour window to comment, so the agency had an opportunity to disavow the story. By British standards, the deadline was fair: long enough to make a few calls, agree a line. But for Washington, where journalist-administration relations sometimes resemble a country club, this was nothing short of outrageous. In London, the Guardian's editor-in-chief, Alan Rusbridger, headed for the airport for the next available New York flight.
The White House sent in its top guns for a conference call with the Guardian. The team included FBI deputy director Sean M Joyce, a Boston native with an action-man resume – investigator against Colombian narcotics, counter-terrorism officer, legal attache in Prague. Also patched in was Chris Inglis, the NSA's deputy director. He was a man who interacted with journalists so rarely, he was considered by many to be a mythical entity. Then there was Robert S Litt, the general counsel to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Litt was clever, likable, voluble, dramatic, lawyerly and prone to rhetorical flourishes. On the Guardian side were Gibson and Millar, sitting in Gibson's small office, with its cheap sofa and unimpressive view of Broadway.
By fielding heavyweights, the White House had perhaps reckoned it could flatter, and if necessary bully, the Guardian into delaying publication. Gibson explained that the editor-in-chief – in the air halfway across the Atlantic – was unavailable. She said: "I'm the final decision-maker." After 20 minutes, the White House was frustrated. The conversation was going in circles. Finally, one of the team could take no more. Losing his temper, he shouted, "You don't need to publish this! No serious news organisation would publish this!" Gibson replied, "With the greatest respect, we will take the decisions about what we publish."
"Gibson" is Janine Gibson, the Guardian US's editor. But the really scary part of the story is what came next, which, as far as I know, hadn't been reported anywhere else until now:
That evening, diggers arrived and tore up the sidewalk immediately in front of the Guardian's US office, a mysterious activity for a Wednesday night. With smooth efficiency, they replaced it. More diggers arrived outside Gibson's home in Brooklyn. Soon, every member of the Snowden team was able to recount similar unusual moments: "taxi drivers" who didn't know the way or the fare; "window cleaners" who lingered next to the editor's office. "Very quickly, we had to get better at spycraft," Gibson says.
Some of those may be coincidences. When you think the world is out to get you, plenty of ordinary activity may look extra suspicious. Of course, on the flip side, as the saying goes: just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not
out to get you. The story of having diggers tearing up the sidewalk that night, both in front of the Guardian's office and in front of Gibson's home, are the ones that seem extra suspicious and extra troubling. Remember, this came right about the same time that the DOJ was getting shellacked for targeting journalists, and was in the middle of promising that it wasn't going to do that any more. But, what are promises when you have an angry surveillance state coming down on you, knowing that a bunch of their most stupid programs were about to be exposed?