Friday provided one of the most unusual developments in the Edward Snowden saga, as the former NSA contractor and leak source accused the UK government of leaking secrets to a newspaper and falsely attributing the information to him.
The Independent published a story on Friday that surprised Glenn Greenwald, the journalist to whom Snowden has leaked much of his material involving NSA surveillance activities. It also surprised Snowden, who has carefully picked and chosen who he has released his information.
The Independent’s story — about a secret UK surveillance base in the Middle East — comes from “documents obtained from the NSA by Edward Snowden,” according to the story.
Snowden accused the UK government of leaking the documents and falsely attributing them to him. But some media watchers wondered whether The Guardian, which The Independent reported agreed not to publish any information harmful to national security, passed along the information to The Independent.
Snowden released a statement to Greenwald Friday morning, in which he accused the UK government of leaking the information to reinforce their claims that Snowden’s disclosures to The Guardian and Washington Post have been harmful.
Here’s the statement from Snowden:
“I have never spoken with, worked with, or provided any journalistic materials to the Independent. The journalists I have worked with have, at my request, been judicious and careful in ensuring that the only things disclosed are what the public should know but that does not place any person in danger. People at all levels of society up to and including the President of the United States have recognised the contribution of these careful disclosures to a necessary public debate, and we are proud of this record.
“It appears that the UK government is now seeking to create an appearance that the Guardian and Washington Post’s disclosures are harmful, and they are doing so by intentionally leaking harmful information to The Independent and attributing it to others. The UK government should explain the reasoning behind this decision to disclose information that, were it released by a private citizen, they would argue is a criminal act.”
Greenwald also pushed back against any notion that he was being limited in his reporting on the subject:
I’m not aware of, nor subject to, any agreement that imposes any limitations of any kind on the reporting that I am doing on these documents. I would never agree to any such limitations. As I’ve made repeatedly clear, bullying tactics of the kind we saw this week will not deter my reporting or the reporting of those I’m working with in any way.
He also accused the UK government of employing a tactic “constantly used” by the U.S. government — leaking classified information when it suits their political interests. But that doesn’t quite mesh with the fact that the disclosures were harmful to national security.
All of this comes as the UK government has launched an investigation into material found on the computer of David Miranda, Greenwald’s partner who was held for nine hours at London’s Heathrow Airport last Sunday.
So, the question: Who is the source of these documents? Journalist and former intelligence analyst Joshua Foust lays out the three options well:
- Glenn Greenwald, Edward Snowden, Laura Poitras, or David Miranda handed them to the Independent.
- The UK leaked its own compartmented espionage program, exposing and thus nullifying its effectiveness, to “discredit” somehow a guy who has already leaked and therefore damaged other programs.
- A new party, unknown to us, also has control of said documents and is spreading them to new outlets. This would also imply that, contrary to their constant public assertions, Team Greenwald-Poitras has lost control of their cache of source material.
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