Sunday, December 1, 2013

Snowdon’s secrets sold; eBay founder to invest $250M in Greenwald, Poitras media start-up

When you’re a journalist on the story of a lifetime, with the mother load of government intelligence, and someone offers to invest $250 million to hire you, your partner and your super-secret stash of intel and launch a new for-profit media venture, what do you do?

If you’re Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras – the two reporters whom Edward Snowdon had entrusted full access to his cache of NSA files – you take the deal.

According to a post on, eBay founder Pierre Omidyar invested a quarter of a billion dollars to hire the two journos for a new media venture.

In the piece, ‘Keeping Secrets: Pierre Omidyar, Glenn Greenwald and the privatization of Snowden’s leaks,’ which published on Nov. 27, author Mark Ames seems to be firing more of a disclosure warning shot, preemptively stressing the importance of fair and accurate reporting.

It’s lengthy, but is worth a read for a bit more background on the parties’ financial interests. It also raises some interesting questions as to the legality of the deal, and the choice these writers made not to make the documents public, like Wikileaks.

Greenwald posted a response this morning on his site, UT Documents. In it he addresses the points raised in the Pando piece, at length, and raises some questions of his own.

But it’s not a denial.

Greenwald writes:

“I consider the opportunity to help build this new media venture to be a once-in-a-career dream opportunity. That's because the organization is being built from the start to support, sustain and encourage truly independent, adversarial journalism.”
“The people we have hired and will continue to hire - and, ultimately, the journalism we produce - will speak volumes about exactly the reasons we're doing this and why I'm so excited about it.”

As to the legality, Greenwald writes:

“The UK government is formally equating our journalism with "terrorism" and "espionage" and has said there are criminal investigations pending. Eric Holder's recent statements about whether I'd be prosecuted if I tried to enter the US was so riddled with caveats and uncertainties that it raised more questions than it answered.
 One of the few protections you have when you're reporting on classified materials is that you're doing it as a journalist. It's therefore vital that we never act as a source or distributor of the materials, which is what the DOJ would eagerly claim if - as individuals - we just started handing out massive amounts of documents to media organizations around the world, rather than doing what we've been doing: reporting on them on a story-by-story basis with those outlets.”

According to the UT Documents post, both Greenwald and Poitras began covering the Snowdon files under freelance contracts with the Guardian, NYT, Washington Post, and der Spiegel. They’ve partnered with media outlets all over the world strategically offering information to individuals whose privacy has been invaded.

The former freelancers have now been offered a very lucrative, and exclusive contract, (in addition to a pending book deal) all built upon their full access to what are estimated as between 50,000 and 200,000 classified NSA documents.

It will be very exciting to watch what kind of work a couple of dedicated writers and an Internet mogul can produce.

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