Snowden has been an undeniable boon for WikiLeaks, which has been struggling financially since 2011 (last year, it reportedly received just $93,000 in donations, barely making a dent in its 2012 annual budget of $530,000). After Snowden went public, donations to the group began to pour in at around $1,300 per day. WikiLeaks now sells T-shirts, mugs and tote bags with Snowden's face on them (Bradley Manning's visage, which once adorned similar paraphernalia, has all but disappeared).
Greenwald has a complicated relationship with WikiLeaks and Assange, whom he considers an ally, though given Assange's controversial reputation in the United States, he admits that "Julian stepping forward and being the face of the story wasn't great for Snowden." But he credits Assange with having helped save Snowden from almost certain extradition to the U.S. Snowden, however, never wanted to go to Russia, which Assange acknowledges. "Snowden believed that in order to most effectively push for reform in the U.S., Latin America would be the better option," Assange tells me. "He did not want to invite a political attack that he'd 'defected.'"
Assange, however, disagrees. "While Venezuela and Ecuador could protect him in the short term, over the long term there could be a change in government. In Russia, he's safe, he's well-regarded, and that is not likely to change. That was my advice to Snowden, that he would be physically safest in Russia." Assange also claims that Snowden has proved "you can blow the whistle about national security and not only survive, but thrive."
But how much Snowden is thriving in Russia is unknown. According to his Russian lawyer, Anatoly Kucherena, he has been learning the language and reading Russian literature. (He recently finished Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment.) Snowden also reportedly took a job not long ago at a Russian Internet company. Greenwald, who says he talks with Snowden regularly via encrypted chat, maintains that he knows very few details of Snowden's daily life. "For both his and my own protection, there are questions I stay away from," he says. Radack and Drake recently visited Snowden as part of a whistle-blower delegation; they were whisked to a secret meeting and dinner with him at a stately mansion in or near Moscow. That they were taken in a van with darkened windows, at night, meant they had no idea where they were going. Radack nevertheless insists that Snowden is not being controlled by the Russian intelligence service, the FSB, nor has he become a Russian spy. "Russia treats its spies much better than leaving them trapped in the Sheremetyevo transit zone for over a month," Radack recalled Snowden darkly joking to her.
Perhaps though, just because he's not a spy, says Andrei Soldatov, one of Russia's leading investigative journalists, doesn't mean he's free. "It is quite clear that Snowden is being protected by the FSB," says Soldatov, co-author of The New Nobility: The Restoration of Russia's Security State and the Enduring Legacy of the KGB (2010). What this means is that every facet of Snowden's communications, and his life, is likely being monitored, if invisibly, by the Russian security services. "The mansion where he met those whistle-blowers? Rented on behalf of the government. All of the safe houses, apartments and dachas where we've traditionally kept defectors are owned by the Russian security services. No one has been able to figure out where he works, if he actually has this job. The FSB would never let him do anything where they couldn't monitor his communications." Even if Snowden were to decide he wanted to go to the U.S. Embassy and turn himself in, "it would be difficult for him to find a completely uncontrolled way of communicating with the Americans," Soldatov says.
Soldatov believes that Snowden might underestimate how closely he's being watched, suggesting somewhat of a Truman Show-like existence. "To what degree has he been turned into a different person?" he says. "Snowden is not a trained intelligence agent. But those who are can tell you, if you live in a controlled environment, you cease to be truly independent-minded because everyone and everything around you is also controlled. It doesn't matter if you have your laptop."
As for Greenwald, he's become an international celebrity in the past six months, and I meet him while he is cresting a wave of fame unlike any he's ever known. Since Snowden, he's been interviewed by virtually every form of media known to humankind, broken huge stories in both the English-speaking and foreign media, and has won the Brazilian equivalent of the Pulitzer Prize (for a story he did with Brazil's Globo newspaper that exposed the scale of the NSA spying in the country).
In order to protect their material – and avoid serious legal entanglements – Greenwald and Poitras agreed that no one other than they would ever have access to the full set of documents (The Washington Post's Gellman has his own set). Instead, they've doled out information on a story-by-story basis, with their bylines always attached, to "keep media organizations on a leash," as Greenwald puts it. Though some critics maintain that Snowden, who carried four laptops with him to Hong Kong, must have shared the information with either the Russians or the Chinese, Snowden insists this isn't true. Not only did he not carry any documents with him to Russia – "it wouldn't serve the public interest," he's said – he can't even access the material any longer. "He has built these encryption cells, and made sure that he doesn't have the passwords to them – other people have the passwords," says Greenwald, who has also said the "insurance" archive will only be accessed if something happens to Snowden. Greenwald doesn't say who those "other people" are. U.S. officials have ominously referred to this archive, likely stored on a data cloud, as a "doomsday" cache.
In August, Greenwald's partner, David Miranda, was detained at London's Heathrow Airport over the Snowden matter. Miranda was on his way home to Rio after a week's vacation in Berlin, where he had visited Poitras, who'd given him some of the Snowden documents to bring back to Greenwald. As he was entering the transit lounge, he was stopped by British police. The authorities seized the materials, as well as Miranda's laptop, cellphone and other electronic devices, and demanded passwords for the encrypted electronics. They detained and interrogated him for nine hours, before finally allowing him to continue on to Brazil.
Greenwald, who'd asked Miranda to bring him the materials, was outraged. "It was a fucking attack on press freedom," he says. "Journalism is not a crime, and it's not terrorism. For every journalist not to be infuriated by this aggressive attack was insane."
Many were stunned by the harassment, but Greenwald's methods, and his unabashed denunciation of those who criticize them, have raised questions about his own agenda. "This is a carefully constructed narrative," says James Lewis of CSIS. "They've got documents pertaining to foreign spying against the U.S., but not a single one of those has been released. Instead, this is scripted to lead you to a certain outcome, that it's just the U.S. doing this. The fact that they haven't released these documents makes me very suspicious. They're spinning as much as the U.S. government is."
The question is whether Greenwald is considered a threat by the U.S. government. While he is certainly doing better than Snowden, Greenwald too, as Radack says, is "free but not free," living comfortably in Rio, but unsure when he will be able to come home. Though Attorney General Eric Holder recently said that "I'm not sure there is a basis for prosecution," Greenwald isn't reassured. He believes it unlikely that he'd be hauled off a plane and arrested at immigration – if only for the negative press that would cause – but there's no way to know. "They could indict you in secret and just seal it, but there's no way to ever make them tell you one way or the other if they intend to arrest you. So you could theoretically be in legal limbo forever."
This is the situation, at least for the moment, that Edward Snowden faces. His coordinating attorney, Ben Wizner of the ACLU, has put together a team that he says is hoping to facilitate some form of agreement so Snowden can find asylum in a more open country, like Germany, and possibly "someday, when the climate is right," return to the U.S. without fear of prosecution. But that day has not yet come, Wizner admits. "It's not going to happen overnight," he says.
For now, Snowden is in Russia, living in an apartment or a house that so far, no one has been able to find; maybe employed, shielded from the public by the state-security apparatus and communicating through encrypted e-mail or chat with just a handful of people, none of whom know the full extent of his daily life. "He is much more than just a mere source to me," Greenwald says. "I consider him heroic and brave. I care about him and do not want to see him imprisoned – that would be a horrific travesty as well as a profound waste."
Snowden, Greenwald says, has become "a huge celebrity" in Russia, where people muse about his whereabouts, wondering about his next move. Russian paparazzi, frustrated in their attempts to find him, have taken to selling fake pictures of Snowden shopping at the supermarket. "He's like Elvis," Greenwald says. But he's still in Russia. "I think the U.S. actually wants him in Russia because that's what lets them demonize him." And demonizing him is important, he adds. "If a whistle-blower becomes a hero, people start thinking, 'Wow, the stuff he saw must have really been awful for him to go and risk his life and blow the whistle.' But if you get to say, 'He's crazy, he's unstable, he's a Russian spy,' it de-legitimizes the premise of the whole act, which is that he saw something so fundamentally wrong that his conscience demanded that he do it."
Right now, Greenwald, who says he remains "infected" by Snowden's heroism, is determined to work in his stead. His first step has been to take the remaining documents, which exceed 10,000 in number, and start a new media enterprise with Poitras and investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill, funded by a $250 million investment from tech billionaire Pierre Omidyar, the founder of eBay – who came to Greenwald specifically because of the Snowden leaks. The venture – currently dubbed "NewCo" – will be dedicated to investigative journalism and will purposely seek conflict with the government. "So we'll do the journalism, and then be like, 'OK, government, come get us,'" Greenwald says, clearly delighted at the prospect.
How the venture will take shape is still unknown. Greenwald, who left The Guardian in October, says he plans to have bureaus in New York and Washington, as well as what may be his own bureau of one in Brazil. "I'm not going to allow myself to be exiled from my own country because I did journalism, but as long as there's a meaningful chance that I'd be arrested and prosecuted for my journalism, I can't gamble with it," he says. "And that, itself, is such a powerful indictment."
This story is from the December 19th, 2013 - January 2nd, 2014 issue of Rolling Stone.
To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here
MUSIC 9 Classic Devo Videos
OLYMPICS 18 Epic Opening Ceremonies
Picks From Around the Web
blog comments powered by Disqus