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Is Edward Snowden blackmailing America?
Glenn Greenwald says the NSA secret-spiller is sitting on information that could destroy the U.S., calling it an "insurance policy"
Edward Snowden could easily and swiftly damage the U.S. government, Glenn Greenwald says.
Edward Snowden could easily and swiftly damage the U.S. government, Glenn Greenwald says. David von Blohn/NurPhoto/NurPhoto/Corbis
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lenn Greenwald, the Guardian journalist who has spent the last several weeks disseminating Edward Snowden's revelations about National Security Agency eavesdropping practices, caused a stir this weekend with an interview he gave to Argentina's La Nación.

"Snowden has enough information to cause more damage to the U.S. government in one single minute than any other person has ever had in the history of the United States," Greenwald told La Nación's Alberto Armendariz (my translation). He goes on to talk about how Snowden has to avoid landing in the custody of the "vengeful" U.S. at all costs, how Russia is a good place for him for now, and how Snowden's objective is letting the world know how the NSA is violating privacy rights. Snowden is not out to destroy the U.S., Greenwald says. If Snowden dies, however, Greenwald adds, watch out:

He has already distributed thousands of documents and made sure that various people around the world have his complete archive. If something happens to him, these documents would be made public. This is his insurance policy. The U.S. government should be on its knees everyday praying that nothing happens to Snowden, because if anything should happen, all the information will be revealed and this would be its worst nightmare. [La Nación, my translation]

In an interview with The Associated Press, Greenwald elaborated on what Snowden is sitting on: "In order to take documents with him that proved that what he was saying was true he had to take ones that included very sensitive, detailed blueprints of how the NSA does what they do." These documents, Greenwald added, "would allow somebody who read them to know exactly how the NSA does what it does, which would in turn allow them to evade that surveillance or replicate it."

Greenwald's interview with La Nación reached the U.S. largely through a Reuters article that reported the quotes in English. Greenwald was annoyed enough by this act of translational journalism that he responded in a blog post at The Guardian:

Like everything in the matter of these NSA leaks, this interview is being wildly distorted to attract attention away from the revelations themselves. It's particularly being seized on to attack Edward Snowden and, secondarily, me, for supposedly "blackmailing" and "threatening" the US government. That is just absurd. That Snowden has created some sort of "dead man's switch" — whereby documents get released in the event that he is killed by the US government — was previously reported weeks ago, and Snowden himself has strongly implied much the same thing....

That has nothing to do with me: I don't have access to those "insurance" documents and have no role in whatever dead man switch he's arranged. I'm reporting what documents he says he has and what precautions he says he has taken to protect himself from what he perceives to be the threat to his well-being. That's not a threat. Those are facts.... The only people who would claim any of this was a "threat" or "blackmail" are people with serious problems of reading comprehension or honesty, or both. [Guardian]

That explanation didn't impress Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein, who said on MSNBC's Morning Joe on Monday that the comments from Greenwald (or "that reporter", as he calls him) about the U.S. getting on its knees are "out of line." Despite the considerable respect he has for The Guardian, Bernstein added, "that's an awful statement, and the tone in which he made it."

It's one thing to say that Mr. Snowden possesses some information that could be harmful, and that could be part of the calculation that everybody makes here. It's another to make that kind of an aggressive, non-reportorial statement [that] a reporter has no business making. [Bernstein on Morning Joe]

That, too, prompted a response from Greenwald: "I realize Carl Bernstein hasn't done any actual reporting for a couple decades now, but he should nonetheless take the time to read what he's opining on." Reuters gave "a complete distortion of what I actually said," Greenwald told Politico. "The point I made is the opposite one: That Snowden has been as responsible as a whistleblower can be in ensuring that only information the public should know is revealed."

Let me get this straight, said Elaine Radford at The Inquisitr. Snowden is sitting on the documents that would cause the worst damage to the U.S. in its entire history, and he'll unleash them if anything happens to him — nice government there, pity if anything should happen to it — but it's not blackmail?

First, "considering that the United States wouldn't go on its knees to Nazis, Nikita Khrushchev, or Osama bin Laden, Greenwald seemed to be expecting a bit much," Radford said. Second, if he's trying to make Snowden more sympathetic to Americans, asking America to get on its knees is pretty counterproductive — "most of us think we settled that one sometime around 1776." But the big point, is "I don't see how you can take the claim as anything other than a threat of blackmail."

Like any other reporter, Greenwald is entitled to report what his source has claimed. Greenwald may even have a duty to report it if Snowden is in fact trying to blackmail the United States into dropping its criminal case against him. That in itself seems perilously close to the crime of extortion to me....

The Snowden "worst damage" dead man's switch threat seems to suggest that Snowden has plans to destroy America by some sort of hacker attack or release of harmful information if he doesn't get his way. You know, I don't want to hang a guy because a reporter gave a bad interview. But c'mon. If the Snowden "worst damage" comment actually reflects how Edward Snowden thinks, it's way past time to stop calling this man any kind of hero. [Inquisitr]

Peter Weber is a senior editor at TheWeek.com, and has handled the editorial night shift since 2008. A graduate of Northwestern University, Peter has worked at Facts on File and The New York Times Magazine. He speaks Spanish and Italian, and plays in an Austin rock band.

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