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Ackerman reports: "A senior US legislator has accused the former Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald of illegally selling National Security Agency documents."

Glenn Greenwald. (photo: AP)
Glenn Greenwald. (photo: AP)

Congressman Calls Greenwald a Thief, Greenwald Calls Him a Liar

By Spencer Ackerman, Guardian UK

05 February 14


  • Rogers accused journalist of illegally selling NSA documents

  • Congressman is chairman of the House intelligence committee

  • Greenwald denounces Rogers for 'fabrications and lies'

senior US legislator has accused the former Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald of illegally selling National Security Agency documents provided to him by the whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Representative Mike Rogers, chairman of the House intelligence committee, suggested Greenwald was a "thief" after he worked with news organizations who paid for stories based on the documents.

"For personal gain, he's now selling his access to information, that's how they're terming it … A thief selling stolen material is a thief," Politico quoted Rogers as saying after a committee hearing on Tuesday. Rogers said his source for the information was "other nations' press services".

Since leaving the Guardian in October, Greenwald has worked on a freelance basis with news organizations worldwide on stories based on Snowden's surveillance documents. But he told the Guardian he has "never, never, ever" sold the documents themselves to anyone "Mike Rogers is literally just fabricating and lying when he says that," Greenwald said.

"I have never, ever sold a document, where I get money and I say 'here's a document, go off and do whatever you want with it.'," Greenwald said, calling the claim foolish, unfounded, and designed to intimidate journalists.

Asked for clarification after the hearing, a spokeswoman for Rogers, Susan Phalen, said: "The chairman believes anyone selling stolen US government property for personal financial gain is committing a crime."

Greenwald was not named specifically during the hearing – in which the US director of national intelligence, James Clapper, reiterated a statement he made last week criticizing "accomplices" of Snowden, an apparent reference to the journalists who have published articles based on the material he took from the NSA.

Rogers, a Michigan Republican, pressed agency chiefs at the hearing to say that reporters "selling the access of material that was stolen from the United States government … for personal gain and profit" was a criminal act.

FBI director James Comey said that a reporter "hawking stolen jewelry" was a crime, but it was "harder to say" journalism based off the Snowden leaks was criminal, since such a determination had "first amendment implications."

"It's an issue that can be complicated if it involves a news-gathering or a news promulgation function," Comey said.

Rogers asked: "Entering into a commercial enterprise to sell stolen material is acceptable to a legitimate news organization?"

Corney replied: "I'm not sure I'm comfortable answering that in the abstract."

The attorney general, Eric Holder, said in November he did not plan to prosecute Greenwald.

Theft of government material is one of the three charges brought against Snowden, but it would be unheard of for it to be applied to journalists who handled the same material since they are ordinarily protected under the first amendment for "reporting true, newsworthy information".

Alternatively, prosecutors could seek to use the Espionage Act, which makes it a crime to disseminate harmful information and is not subject to the same defence, but that law – which dates to 1917 – has never successfully been used against journalists. However, it has long been a fear among press freedom campaigners that this precedent could be reversed in the future.

Almost as soon as Greenwald, one of two journalists in possession of the entire set of documents Snowden took from the NSA, began publishing Snowden's revelations, a largely-online whispering campaign began about his motives.

A more recent permutation of the accusation is that Greenwald is selling access to the Snowden trove, either to the new journalism organization he left the Guardian to help found, First Look, or to the variety of news outlets he has partnered with worldwide to publish information about controversial surveillance programs.

Greenwald has repeatedly batted the accusation down as foolish, and treated the typical act of publishing journalism on a freelance basis as nefarious and potentially criminal. "It's completely idiotic," Greenwald told Fox News in December.

Greenwald has said he receives the same sort of freelance rate from his partner outlets that other freelancers receive, when he is contracted to write stories based on Snowden documents.

"Every single media organization with which I've dealt has been in the context of the very standard and familiar freelance arrangement, where I come to them with a story idea, based on things I know from documents and otherwise. I then help draft the story, I edit it, I work within an editorial context. I produce a news article based on it," Greenwald told the Guardian.

"Every single contract that I've ever entered into specifies that I'm required to do work on the story itself, and that I have ultimate editorial authority over the story that will bear my byline, and I do substantial work on every single article that does bear my byline or that in anyway reports on the documents that I bring on these news outlets."

At the House hearing, the chairman of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Mike Flynn, an army lieutenant general, said the organization's investigation into the impact of the NSA leaks operated off the presumption that Snowden took every document he ever had access to as an IT contractor – a potential clue into the unsubstantiated claim from the government that Snowden took 1.7m documents. "Everything he touched, we assume he took, stole," Flynn said.

"What we do have is the 200 or so news articles that have been published around the world that give us some insight into what was taken," Clapper said.

Both Flynn and Clapper said they "absolutely" believed the Russian intelligence services had an interest in exploiting Snowden, who was granted a year-long asylum in Russia after the Obama administration revoked his passport.

But Flynn said he did not "have any information" that Snowden was under the influence of Russian intelligence. Clapper said he would find it "incredulous" if Russian intelligence had not already had conversations with Snowden.

Snowden has said for months that he acted alone in exfiltrating data from the NSA, without any internal or external help, a claim US officials have not provided evidence to contradict. your social media marketing partner
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