After five straight days of revelations, a three-day gap in new NSA leaks from The Guardian and Glenn Greenwald seems like an eternity. The last major revelation from the paper was the identity of Edward Snowden himself, on Sunday. The reason for the delay isn't clear, but two other things are: There's more to come, and some of it — if not all — could come directly from Snowden, who re-emerged today. Greenwald, who is also set to re-emerge after a full day of travel, tells The Atlantic Wire that Snowden "might" have a contingency plan.
Greenwald has repeatedly indicated that there are more shoes still to drop. He told The New York Times that the former NSA contractor "turned over archives of 'thousands' of documents," including "dozens" worth reporting on. Shortly after Snowden went public, Greenwald suggested that some of those dozens of documents would soon come to light.
We'll be putting the focus back where it belongs very shortly: on the conduct of the US Government— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) June 10, 2013
As of Wednesday morning, The Guardian hasn't done so. The reason why may relate to how Snowden and the reporting outlets first began to interact.
What we know about how the leaks to The Guardian and the Washington Post occurred comes from a series of articles, including that one in the Times, one in Salon, and another in the Post itself. (The Guardian has a tick-tock of sorts as well.) While the details differ — Greenwald declared the Post story by Barton Gellman to be "false," for example — the basics are largely the same. Snowden reached out to Greenwald and Gellman some point earlier this year. Greenwald, deterred by the process of ensuring secure communications, delayed his interactions with Snowden. Gellman claims that Snowden went back to Greenwald after the Post balked on sharing a key document in its entirety.
Snowden asked for a guarantee that The Washington Post would publish — within 72 hours — the full text of a PowerPoint presentation describing PRISM, a top-secret surveillance program that gathered intelligence from Microsoft, Facebook, Google and other Silicon Valley giants. He also asked that The Post publish online a cryptographic key that he could use to prove to a foreign embassy that he was the document’s source.
I told him we would not make any guarantee about what we published or when.
In a later tweet, Gellman indicated one line the paper drew.
BTW the Guardian didn't publish whole PRISM brief either; chose ~same slides the WP did. There are things in there that should stay secret.— Barton Gellman (@bartongellman) June 10, 2013
But the Gellman-Snowden exchange is an interesting interaction into which it's particularly easy to read a lot given the events of this morning. Snowden, who remains in Hong Kong, conducted an extensive interview today with the South China Morning Post. By going public, Snowden can now attract broad media attention himself, without the filter of the Post or The Guardian. It's not clear if Snowden still has the documents he gave to those outlets, but there's no reason to think that he doesn't.
In light of that, it's interesting to note a CBS report that the Washington Post may still be in talks with the government about the possibility of releasing more of the PRISM slides.
"So there’s a 41-slide deck," [CBS' John] Miller said. "The Washington Post has four—we’ve seen those in the paper. The Guardian has published some different slides and some the same. But there’s the wildcard of what’s in the rest of that presentation. The Washington Post has run that by the U.S. government and said, 'What in here could do damage? To be responsible, we still have to cover the story, but what would do damage that we would be asked to hold back?' And that conversation goes on, less so with The Guardian."
This is a vague assertion by Miller. But it suggests two things: that the government asked the outlets not to publish the full deck originally, and that the outlets are still seeking to do so. There is news value in the full deck, of course. But there may also still be negotiation value with Snowden, particularly if those thousands of documents he has remain solely in his possession.
In a longer version of the Morning Post interview, Snowden says:
“People who think I made a mistake in picking HK as a location misunderstand my intentions. I am not here to hide from justice; I am here to reveal criminality,” Snowden told the Post earlier today.
So far those revelations have been moderated by news outlets. It's not clear why they'd need to be from this point forward. If he wanted to post the full PRISM slide deck at this point, he could.
Snowden clearly feels some level of comfort. He plans to stay in Hong Kong until "he is asked to leave," he says, and feels enough personal security to grant interviews with local media. (It's not clear if today's interview was conducted in person or by telephone.) As a lawyer interviewed by the Morning Post notes, his public profile makes it harder for the United States to step in. On Sunday, for example, Hong Kong residents will hold a march in support of Snowden.
In a few hours, we may see another big revelation from The Guardian or even the Morning Post. (We're reaching out to Greenwald for comment.) Or it's possible that there isn't much left, that the "dozens" of newsworthy items aren't that newsworthy after all. It is also possible that Snowden's revelations can now exist without having to originate in the mainstream media. If the Post or The Guardian won't or can't release the files in the way Snowden wants, he has all of the platform he needs to do it himself.
Update, 2:34 p.m. Eastern: Greenwald, touching down, writes in an email to The Atlantic Wire, responding to questions about Snowden releasing documents on his own, and about The Guardian's next steps for publishing more PRISM slides:
Snowden was clear from the start that he didn't want indiscriminate document dumping, but only disclosures that passed a careful and judicious journalistic test weighing public interest versus harm. I have no idea if he has a contingency plan to protect himself — he might — but everything I've heard from him has been opposed to gratuitous disclosures.
As for the Guardian, I've been flying the last 24 hours so am not updated on what they may have done in that regard.
Photo: Snowden appears on a television screen in Hong Kong. (AP)