NEW YORK -- Edward Snowden, the NSA whistleblower who revealed his identity Sunday, first approached The Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald in February and, by the journalist’s account, said he had information "that would be of great interest.”
But there was a problem. Snowden only wanted to communicate securely using PGP encryption, for which Greenwald didn’t have the proper software installed at the time. In an interview with The Huffington Post, Greenwald acknowledged that he's no expert in using such technology and said that Snowden even provided a step-by-step email and video to help secure their communication. At that point, however, Greenwald didn't know what his would-be source had (or didn't have) and continued to prioritize other stories instead.
Snowden also approached Laura Poitras, a filmmaker who is working on a trilogy about post-9/11 America and last year published a short documentary featuring NSA whistleblower William Binney on The New York Times' website. Both Poitras and Greenwald serve on the Freedom of the Press Foundation, an organization that supports independent journalism. Greenwald had written last year about the difficulties Poitras faced after she was put on a government watch list.
A few months ago, Poitras met Greenwald at a New York hotel and informed him that the source in question was working for an NSA contractor and had "documents showing serious government wrongdoing." Greenwald set up the encryption software and began speaking directly with Snowden in late March or early April, he said.
Questions about the length of time Greenwald communicated with Snowden have arisen since Barton Gellman suggested in The Washington Post on Sunday that the source approached Greenwald only in recent weeks -- and only after he had approached the Post with materials related to the NSA's top-secret PRISM program and the paper refused to guarantee their full publication.
Gellman revealed the existence of PRISM in the Post on Thursday evening, roughly 20 minutes before The Guardian published its own story on the vast Internet surveillance program. Gellman shared a byline with Poitras on the Post's story.
He did not mention Poitras in a Sunday night article on the sequence of events involving Snowden. In the first-person piece, Gellman wrote that the Post declined to make Snowden any guarantees regarding publishing leaked slides from a PowerPoint presentation about PRISM. "Shortly afterward he made contact with Glenn Greenwald of the British newspaper the Guardian," Gellman wrote.
On Monday morning, Greenwald tweeted that “Gellman's claims about Snowden's interactions with me -- when, how and why -- are all false,” but did not elaborate.
Greenwald told HuffPost that Snowden was communicating with him for months on what would become a series of stories. Since May 16, he had apparently also been speaking to Gellman for what would become the Post's PRISM story. Greenwald said they expected an article in The Washington Post would “invest official Washington in the leak," so they brought in Gellman, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, for that particular story. He said it was Poitras who introduced Snowden to Gellman.
Poitras has not responded to HuffPost’s requests for comment about her involvement with both The Guardian and The Washington Post. Gellman declined to comment on Poitras' role in the Post's story.
Greenwald said Snowden provided him the documents on PRISM, too, “because The Washington Post dragged its feet for so long," adding that it was “totally false” for Gellman to suggest that Snowden came to the Post first as a source.
Gellman did not immediately respond to requests for further comment.
In addition, Greenwald said Snowden “never once made any demands about how we publish and never once complained about what we published.” The Guardian, like the Post, did not publish dozens of the PowerPoint slides related to PRISM.
Greenwald is currently in Hong Kong, where he and Poitras recently interviewed Snowden for a story and a video The Guardian published on Sunday. He signaled that there will be more scoops to come based on the materials Snowden provided.
“We’re going to be working on this for a long time to come,” he said.
UPDATE: 6:35 p.m. -- In an interview with Salon, Poitras said she was originally contacted anonymously by someone who may have been Snowden in January, but declined to discuss details of exactly how the correspondence with the NSA source proceeded. She confirmed speaking to Greenwald in the spring about information from the source, and learned that the same person had also approached him.
Poitras said she brought in Gellman in February, but again declined to go into details of the decisions about how and where stories resulting from the NSA source's information would be published.
As for Greenwald's and Gellman's differing accounts of the chronology, she said:
"In a situation like this, this is a confidential source and has been until very, very recently, actually has been a person whose identity I did not know. To actually go on the record and talk about — it seems to be a violation of a lot of relationships with someone who’s trusted you. There’s partly that, so I’ve been hesitant. I’ve asked you know, like, Bart, don’t go try and tell my story. I’ll tell my story, you know, about my reporting. I don’t need reporters reporting on my reporting. So maybe that stuff contributed to different timelines."