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'I Have Been to the Darkest Corners of Government, and What They Fear is Light'

Glenn Greenwald on how the Snowden saga began.

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The shock of this initial period [after the first revelations] will provide the support needed to build a more equal internet, but this will not work to the advantage of the average person unless science outpaces law. By understanding the mechanisms through which our privacy is violated, we can win here. We can guarantee for all people equal protection against unreasonable search through universal laws, but only if the technical community is willing to face the threat and commit to implementing over-engineered solutions. In the end, we must enforce a principle whereby the only way the powerful may enjoy privacy is when it is the same kind shared by the ordinary: one enforced by the laws of nature, rather than the policies of man.

“He’s real,” I said when I finished reading. “I can’t explain exactly why, but I just feel intuitively that this is serious, that he’s exactly who he says he is.”

“So do I,” Laura replied. “I have very little doubt.”

I instinctively recognized the author’s political passion. I felt a kinship with our correspondent, with his worldview, and with the sense of urgency that was clearly consuming him.

In one of the last passages, Laura’s correspondent wrote that he was completing the final steps necessary to provide us with the documents. He needed another four to six weeks, and we should wait to hear from him.

Three days later, Laura and I met again, and with another email from the anonymous leaker, in which he explained why he was willing to risk his liberty, to subject himself to the high likelihood of a very lengthy prison term, in order to disclose these documents. Now I was even more convinced: our source was for real, but as I told my partner, David Miranda, on the flight home to Brazil, I was determined to put the whole thing out of my mind. “It may not happen. He could change his mind. He could get caught.” David is a person of powerful intuition, and he was weirdly certain. “It’s real. He’s real. It’s going to happen,” he declared. “And it’s going to be huge.”

“I Have Only One Fear”    

A message from Laura told me we needed to speak urgently, but only through OTR (off-the-record) chat, an encrypted instrument for talking online securely.

Her news was startling: we might have to travel to Hong Kong immediately to meet our source. I had assumed that our anonymous source was in Maryland or northern Virginia. What was someone with access to top-secret U.S. government documents doing in Hong Kong?  What did Hong Kong have to do with any of this?

Answers would only come from the source himself. He was upset by the pace of things thus far, and it was critical that I speak to him directly, to assure him and placate his growing concerns. Within an hour, I received an email from Verax@******. Verax means “truth teller” in Latin. The subject line read, “Need to talk.”

“I’ve been working on a major project with a mutual friend of ours,” the email began. “You recently had to decline short-term travel to meet with me. You need to be involved in this story,” he wrote. “Is there any way we can talk on short notice? I understand you don’t have much in the way of secure infrastructure, but I’ll work around what you have.” He suggested that we speak via OTR and provided his user name.

My computer sounded a bell-like chime, signaling that the source had signed on. Slightly nervous, I clicked on his name and typed “hello.” He answered, and I found myself speaking directly to someone who I assumed had, at that point, revealed a number of secret documents about U.S. surveillance programs and who wanted to reveal more.

 
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