NEW YORK –- Edward Snowden revealed himself Sunday as The Guardian's National Security Agency source, capping a frenetic five days of blockbuster stories detailing vast U.S. government surveillance of phone and Internet activity at home and abroad.
The rapid succession of scoops has helped raise the profile of The Guardian's U.S. edition, which launched online in September 2011 and is part of the 192-year-old British newspaper's strategy to compete as a global news destination online.
Janine Gibson, editor-in-chief of Guardian US, told The Huffington Post on Sunday that her outlet has found success in breaking stories on this side of the Atlantic because "there is a lack of skepticism on a whole in the media on the issue of national security." In the U.S., she said, there can be "a sense that it is unpatriotic to question the role that the security services play."
Gibson said the balance between security and civil liberties, along with how technology can prove both liberating and restricting, are “clearly issues The Guardian, as whole, has really cared about."
And it’s vital, Gibson added, to “have a public debate” over where the lines are in striking that balance.
A traditionally left-leaning voice in the U.K. media, The Guardian tried capitalizing on its existing U.S. readership during the Bush years with the 2007 launch of Guardian America. But the standalone site didn't take off and was shuttered a few years later. In 2011, The Guardian launched a U.S.-facing edition that remains part of the worldwide Guardian brand rather than a separate site.
The U.S.-focused portal appears to be a better strategy, not only in garnering scoops but in reporting U.S. traffic at 13 million unique visitors in April -- a number sure to increase this month.
The Guardian US has 57 employees in the country, 29 of whom are in editorial. Though a relatively small operation compared with the outlets typically vying for national security stories -- such as the New York Times, Washington Post and Associated Press -- The Guardian has shown an ability to compete. Indeed, The Guardian and Post were neck-and-neck Thursday in publishing documents related to the NSA's PRISM program.
Last month, The Guardian hired Spencer Ackerman as the first national security editor for its U.S. operation. A former senior writer for Wired's "Danger Room" blog, Ackerman had built a reputation in Washington for aggressive national security coverage and won a 2012 National Magazine Award for his reporting on Islamophobic training materials used by the FBI.
In hiring Ackerman –- who started in the newsroom just this past Monday -- The Guardian announced in a release that he'd join colleagues such as Glenn Greenwald in helping to "shape and grow its independent coverage on a broad range of national and international civil liberty and security issues." The Guardian US' reputation certainly grew Wednesday, when Greenwald reported that the NSA reviewed phone records for millions of Verizon customers.
"If you were waiting for the coming out party for the beefed-up @GuardianUS operation, it was last night," tweeted Matt Apuzzo, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter at AP, the following day. "They set the US news agenda today."
Greenwald joined The Guardian in July 2012 from Salon, where he had built a large following and proved to be a persistent critic of both the Bush and Obama administrations over civil liberties. Greenwald, who has led the charge through his reporting, suggested to The New York Times that his past writing helped land the NSA source. He described the source as "a reader of mine" who "knew the views that I had and had an expectation of how I would display" the documents.
Gibson told HuffPost that Guardian editors “wanted to make sure that we could try to help the source achieve his aims of getting attention for the documents and the issues that needed to be brought out before the inevitable chase and hunt.” Gibson also pointed out that the Guardian is experienced in dealing with classified documents, such as in the WikiLeaks disclosures, and its editors are equipped to handle the pressures and responsibility of judging when to publish and when not to.
The Guardian's editors held back some details in recent days, including dozens of PowerPoint slides, but still published top-secret documents that other news outlets might have been skittish about posting. The Huffington Post has reported four instances in the past year in which U.S. outlets have not published certain details when the government cited potential national security concerns. The Guardian, however, has proven less willing in the past to hold back information when asked by the U.S. government.
In February 2011, The Guardian reported that Raymond Davis, who U.S. media outlets had identified as a contractor in Pakistan at the time of his arrest involving a shooting, was actually working for the CIA. Several outlets, including the Times, Post and AP, initially held back that detail and then published after The Guardian did so first. Greenwald, who has repeatedly questioned news organizations' willingness to hold information at the government's request, criticized "those self-censoring, obedient media outlets."
Gibson said "there's an inherent bravery to The Guardian," which is owned by a trust and has no purpose other than to produce journalism. She noted that The Guardian's record -- from publishing classified documents alongside WikiLeaks to revealing rampant phone hacking within Rupert Murdoch's powerful News Corp. -- showed that it's "not easily cowed."
This article has been updated with additional information from Gibson's interview.