WASHINGTON — Did Edward Snowden decide on his own to seek out journalists and then a job at Booz Allen Hamilton’s Hawaii facility as an IT systems administrator to gather classified documents about the National Security Agency’s worldwide surveillance activities?
Snowden told the South China Post in June that he took the Booz Allen job in late March or early April because it "granted me access to lists of machines all over the world the NSA hacked."
"That is why I accepted that position," he added.
He worked less than three months at Booz Allen, but by the time he reached Hong Kong in mid-May, Snowden had four computers with NSA documents.
Was he encouraged or directed by WikiLeaks personnel or others to take the job as part of a broader plan to expose NSA operations to selected journalists?
In the case of Pfc. Bradley Manning, the U.S. soldier on trial for disclosing thousands of classified documents to WikiLeaks, it was Julian Assange and his organization who directed the collection of documents, U.S. prosecutors have alleged. While Manning’s lawyers contend there is no evidence to support that finding, prosecutors have said there are hundreds of chats between Manning and Assange and WikiLeaks lists of desired material.
In Manning’s case, WikiLeaks and its founder, Assange, determined the news organizations that initially would receive the materials.
How did Snowden select his recipients?
In January, Snowden contacted documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras using encrypted e-mails. Without providing his name, he claimed to have information about the intelligence community. Poitras told an interviewer last month that in February, Snowden had also had a similar first contact with Glenn Greenwald, a columnist for the Guardian newspaper. Greenwald wrote on June 10, "Laura Poitras and I have been working with him [Snowden] since February."
Barton Gellman, a contributing writer for The Washington Post, wrote last month that he, too, was first contacted in February, initially by Poitras and then indirectly by Snowden. Snowden again did not disclose his real name.
How did Snowden decide on these three individuals before he went to work for Booz Allen and before he apparently had all the documents he wanted to release?
Poitras and Greenwald are well-known free-speech activists, with many prior connections, including as founding members in December of the nonprofit Freedom of the Press Foundation. One of its key goals is to support groups that engage in transparency journalism and support whistleblowers, including WikiLeaks.
Poitras had suggested Snowden contact Gellman, who had been part of a fellowship program with her at New York University’s Center on Law and Security.
Greenwald had the byline on the initial June 5 Guardian story, and Gellman and Poitras were bylined on The Post’s story on June 6.
Did Assange and WikiLeaks personnel help or direct Snowden to those journalists?
Poitras and Greenwald have had close connections with Assange and WikiLeaks. In December 2010, Greenwald said of the British arrest of Assange: "Whatever you think of WikiLeaks, they have not been charged with a crime, let alone indicted or convicted. Yet look what has happened to them. They have been removed from [the] Internet . . . their funds have been frozen . . . media figures and politicians have called for their assassination and to be labeled a terrorist organization."
In a June 2012 Guardian column, Greenwald wrote, "As a foreign national accused of harming U.S. national security, he [Assange] has every reason to want to avoid ending up in the travesty known as the American judicial system."
On April 10, 2012, Greenwald’s Salon.com article about Poitras and WikiLeaks being targeted by U.S. government officials was reprinted on the WikiLeaks Press’s blog .
Since last year Poitras has been working on a film on post-9/11 America, with a focus on the NSA and in which Assange and WikiLeaks are participating. Assange confirmed this in a May 29 interview on Democracy Now’s Web site.
Speaking from Ecuador’s embassy in London, Assange described how NSA had been collecting "all the calling records of the United States, every record of everyone calling everyone over years. . . . Those calling records already [are] entered into the national security complex."
Did he know ahead of time of that Guardian story describing the U.S. court order permitting NSA’s collection of the telephone toll records of millions of American Verizon customers and storing them for years?
Snowden’s releases reflect another WikiLeaks technique: directing materials to suit specific audiences at specific times.
While in Hong Kong, Snowden told the South China Post that the United States was targeting China’s mobile-phone systems along with Internet hubs run by two Chinese universities. That release came while U.S. officials were pushing Chinese cyberwarfare as a major issue.
On Sunday, as Snowden seeks asylum possibly in a Latin American country, Greenwald, again on Democracy Now, described an article he co-wrote in Brazil’s O Globo newspaper: "NSA is systematically tapping into the telecommunication systems of Brazil and intercepting, storing and monitoring millions upon millions of telephone calls and emails of ordinary Brazilians, the kind . . . that we reported was taking place in the United States, as well."
Meanwhile, Snowden is reportedly in Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport with WikiLeaks handling his legal representation and public relations operations.
What other roles the group played in getting Snowden to this point remain a mystery.
Walter Pincus reports on intelligence, defence and foreign policy for The Washington Post and writes the Fine Print column.
—The Washington Post