14 Aug Meet the odd couple who nettle the NSA from a dog- and monkey-filled jungle retreat*
Please read journalist Peter Maass’s spellbinding account of how reporter/polemicist Glenn Greenwald and documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras collaborated in bringing to light NSA leaker Edward J. Snowden’s disclosures about massive illegal spying by the US Government.
Seriously, if you read nothing else this week, do read this richly detailed, 10,000-word account of how Snowden made contact with Poitras, how Poitras roped Greenwald into the project, and how they communicate privately when all three are targeted by the most sophisticated electronic spying in the world.
It reads alternately like a novel, a spy thriller, a quirky travelog, and most importantly, like detailed expose of the American security apparatus run amok. I am not by inclination paranoid, but this article convinced me I need to learn how to encrypt electronic communications. There’s even a Q&A Maass conducted with Snowdon over multiply encrypted links to his Moscow hideout.
Greenwald lives and works in a house surrounded by tropical foliage in a remote area of Rio de Janeiro. He shares the home with his Brazilian partner and their 10 dogs and one cat, and the place has the feel of a low-key fraternity that has been dropped down in the jungle. The kitchen clock is off by hours, but no one notices; dishes tend to pile up in the sink; the living room contains a table and a couch and a large TV, an Xbox console and a box of poker chips and not much else. The refrigerator is not always filled with fresh vegetables. A family of monkeys occasionally raids the banana trees in the backyard and engages in shrieking battles with the dogs.
Greenwald does most of his work on a shaded porch, usually dressed in a T-shirt, surfer shorts and flip-flops. Over the four days I spent there, he was in perpetual motion, speaking on the phone in Portuguese and English, rushing out the door to be interviewed in the city below, answering calls and e-mails from people seeking information about Snowden, tweeting to his 225,000 followers (and conducting intense arguments with a number of them), then sitting down to write more N.S.A. articles for The Guardian, all while pleading with his dogs to stay quiet. During one especially fever-pitched moment, he hollered, “Shut up, everyone,” but they didn’t seem to care.
Amid the chaos, Poitras, an intense-looking woman of 49, sat in a spare bedroom or at the table in the living room, working in concentrated silence in front of her multiple computers. Once in a while she would walk over to the porch to talk with Greenwald about the article he was working on, or he would sometimes stop what he was doing to look at the latest version of a new video she was editing about Snowden. They would talk intensely — Greenwald far louder and more rapid-fire than Poitras — and occasionally break out laughing at some shared joke or absurd memory. The Snowden story, they both said, was a battle they were waging together, a fight against powers of surveillance that they both believe are a threat to fundamental American liberties.
It’s a wonderful piece of reporting about a courageous pair of reporters picking up the slack left by the supine mainstream news giants.
If Maass’s 10,000 words don’t exhausted you, please also check out a much shorter piece, The NSA Is Commandeering the Internet on The Atlantic’s website. Security expert Bruce Schneier (he coined the phrase, “security theatre”) pleads with executives of giant technology company’s to fight back against US government spying.
Most of the largest Internet companies provide information to the NSA, betraying their users. Some, as we’ve learned, fight and lose. Others cooperate, either out of patriotism or because they believe it’s easier that way.
I have one message to the executives of those companies: fight.
Lastly, The Takeaway podcast has a good interview with Maass about his piece.
[*Yes, I know, Greenwald and Poitras are not a couple in the usual sense, and only Greenwald resides in Rio. Poitras, a Massachusetts native, lives in New York City when she is not in precautionary exile, as she is now. In this 2012 Salon story, Greenwald details the harassment Poitras faces in her home country.]