Q. & A.: Edward Snowden Speaks to Peter Maass
Interview by PETER MAASS
Published: August 13, 2013
In the course of reporting his profile of Laura Poitras, Peter Maass conducted
an encrypted question-and-answer session, for which Poitras served as
intermediary, with Edward J. Snowden. Below is a full transcript of that
Peter Maass: Why did you seek out Laura and Glenn, rather than journalists
from major American news outlets (N.Y.T., W.P., W.S.J. etc.)? In particular,
why Laura, a documentary filmmaker?
Edward Snowden: After 9/11, many of the most important news outlets in America
abdicated their role as a check to power — the journalistic responsibility
to challenge the excesses of government — for fear of being seen as
unpatriotic and punished in the market during a period of heightened nationalism.
From a business perspective, this was the obvious strategy, but what benefited
the institutions ended up costing the public dearly. The major outlets are
still only beginning to recover from this cold period.
Laura and Glenn are among the few who reported fearlessly on controversial
topics throughout this period, even in the faceof withering personal criticism,
and resulted in Laura specifically becoming targeted by the very programs
involved in the recent disclosures. She had demonstrated the courage, personal
experience and skill needed to handle what is probably the most dangerous
assignment any journalist can be given — reporting on the secret misdeeds
of the most powerful government in the world — making her an obvious
P.M.: Was there a moment during your contact with Laura when you realized
you could trust her? What was that moment, what caused it?
E.S.: We came to a point in the verification and vetting process where I
discovered Laura was more suspicious of me than I was of her, and I’m
famously paranoid. The combination of her experience and her exacting focus
on detail and process gave her a natural talent for security, and that’s
a refreshing trait to discover in someone who is likely to come under intense
scrutiny in the future, as normally one would have to work very hard to get
them to take the risks seriously.
With that putting me at ease, it became easier to open up without fearing
the invested trust would be mishandled, and I think it’sthe only way
she ever managed to get me on camera. I personally hate cameras and being
recorded, but at some point in the working process, I realized I was
unconsciously trusting her not to hang me even with my naturally unconsidered
remarks. She’s good.
P.M.: Were you surprised that Glenn did not respond to your requests and
instructions for encrypted communication?
E.S.: Yes and no. I know journalists are busy and had assumed being taken
seriously would be a challenge, especially given the paucity of detail I
could initially offer. At the same time, this is 2013, and a journalist who
regularly reported on the concentration and excess of state power. I was
surprised to realize that there were people in news organizations who
didn’t recognize any unencrypted message sent over the Internet is being
delivered to every intelligence service in the world. In the wake of this
year’s disclosures, it should be clear that unencrypted journalist-source
communication is unforgivably reckless.
P.M.: When you first met Laura and Glenn in Hong Kong, what was your initial
reaction? Were you surprised by anything in the way they worked and interacted
E.S.: I think they were annoyed that I was younger than they expected, and
I was annoyed they had arrived too early, which complicated the initial
verification. As soon as we were behind close doors, however, I think everyone
was reassured by the obsessive attention to precaution and bona fides. I
was particularly impressed by Glenn’s ability to operate without sleep
for days at a time.
P.M.: Laura started filming you from nearly the start. Were you surprised
by that? Why or why not?
E.S.: Definitely surprised. As one might imagine, normally spies allergically
avoid contact with reporters or media, so I was a virgin source — everything
was a surprise. Had I intended to skulk away anonymously, I think it would
have been far harder to work with Laura, but we all knew what was at stake.
The weight of the situation actually made it easier to focus on what was
in the public interest rather than our own. I think we all knew there was
no going back once she turned that camera on, and the ultimate outcome would
be decided by the world.
A version of this article appeared in print on August 18, 2013, on page MM22
of the Sunday Magazine with the headline: Snowden’s People.