In Talk, Greenwald Blames Government, Media for Distorting Snowden's Intentions

Glenn Greenwald, the journalist who helped publish Naational Security Administration documents leaked by Edward J. Snowden in The Guardian and other news outlets last year, discussed Snowden's misportrayal in the aftermath of the the documents' publication in a talk at the First Parish Church Thursday.

Greenwald blamed both the government and the media for distorting Snowden’s intentions while debuting his book, “No Place to Hide.”

Speaking about the motives behind writing the book, Greenwald said that he felt an obligation to reveal the information it contains and spur debate about privacy issues and the threats of surveillance agencies.

“Ever since I got these documents, I felt a very cumbersome obligation to my source, who unraveled his existence to bring this information to the public...and also to the material and to the public which had a right not only to see it but to understand and interact with it,” Greenwald said.

Greenwald also commented on the media’s dissemination of false claims regarding Snowden. He said he was not surprised that the news outlets distorted Snowden's story.

“So much of [what has been said] has been completely untrue,” Greenwald said. “I really wanted to take the opportunity to present the cumulative set of events as I saw them, and furthermore, to correct them.”

Greenwald argued that the media was complicit in coordinating an effort to diffuse attention from the release of the documents to the state of Snowden’s mental health, saying that the media was guilty of “clinically diagnosing [Snowden].”

“They all somehow settled on this incredibly coordinated strategy that he was a fame-seeking narcissist,” the author added.

Voicing his respect for Snowden’s actions and comparing them to those of key figures in the Civil Rights Movement, Noam Chomsky, an MIT professor who was also present at the event, said that “almost every significant change has often been created by an isolated individual.”

Greenwald, who spent months reporting from Hong Kong on the leaked documents, noted the United States’ role in obstructing Snowden’s search for political asylum. He recalled how the United States revoked Snowden’s passport in a Russian airport.

Describing his first conversations with Snowden, Greenwald shared how Snowden wanted to identify himself as the source of the disclosures and explain his actions in order to prevent false deductions from the media. After revealing himself, Snowden had planned on retiring from the public arena, according to Greenwald.

“He knew that the objective of the national security state apologists and defenders would be to try and shift the focus from the substance of the revelation to...talk about his mental afflictions,” Greenwald said.

Cate Mingoya, a student at MIT who was present at the event, voiced her surprise concerning the statements made during the discussion. After the talk, she said that she had a much deeper understanding of Snowden, but was surprised by Greenwald's portrayal of “the media’s attempts to cloud the intent behind the release of the documents.”

The event was sponsored by the Harvard Book Store.

—Staff writer Carolina I. Portela-Blanco can be reached at cportelablanco@college.harvard.edu.

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