Journalists Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras and Jeremy Scahill founded The Intercept in February 2014 to "provide a platform and an editorial structure in which to aggressively report on the disclosures provided to us by our source, NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden," which revealed to the American public and the rest of the world the incredible extent of the US government's domestic surveillance program.
Now, however, that era has come to an end.
"The Intercept is proud of its reporting on the Snowden archive, and we are thankful to Laura Poitras and Glenn Greenwald for making it available to us," First Look CEO Michael Bloom said in an email Wednesday announcing the changes.
"It is our hope that Glenn and Laura are able to find a new partner — such as an academic institution or research facility — that will continue to report on and publish the documents in the archive consistent with the public interest," Bloom wrote.
Radio Sputnik's Loud and Clear spoke Wednesday about the turn of events with Paul Wright, the founder and executive director of the Human Rights Defense Center and editor of Prison Legal News (PLN), and Kevin Gosztola, a writer for Shadowproof.com and co-host of the podcast Unauthorized Disclosure.
Indeed, in emails obtained by The Daily Beast, Poitras blasted Bloom's decision, which he simply described in an email as a decision "to focus on other editorial priorities."
"I am sickened by your decision to eliminate the research team, which has been the beating heart of the newsroom since First Look Media was founded, and has overseen the protection of the Snowden archive," Poitras wrote. "I am also sickened by your joint decision to shut down the Snowden archive, which I was informed of only yesterday — a decision made without consulting me or the board of directors."
Laura Poitras criticized First Look CEO Michael Bloom’s all-staff email today, replying in an email to employees that she was “sickened” by the decision to lay off the research staff and shut down the Snowden archive. https://t.co/JwbzA8Bfee pic.twitter.com/zJoYWYntxf— Max Tani (@maxwelltani) March 13, 2019
"Your email's attempt to paper over these firings is not appropriate when the company is presented with such devastating news," Poitras said.
First Look Media CEO Michael Bloom sent this note to staff this evening, confirming The Intercept is no longer working on its archive of leaked Snowden documents and has "decided to focus on other editorial priorities."https://t.co/8j8S4J5xyr pic.twitter.com/LHohBscaUJ— Max Tani (@maxwelltani) March 14, 2019
Gosztola also noted that First Look had laid off 4 percent of its workforce.
"Is this the actions of their billionaire funder, Pierre Omidyar? Or who, exactly, is making this decision is not all that clear," Gosztola told Sputnik hosts Brian Becker and John Kiriakou.
"But I do acknowledge that there's been a controversy out there" since Snowden surrendered the documents to Poitras and Greenwald in 2013 "about the fact that they have full control of these documents," Gosztola said. "There are so many of them that have not been published yet, and although there's highly classified information in them, and you probably want to take care [in handling them], there's no open access for researchers, and there's just a small group of people making decisions about these documents, and there may be information in there that's in the public interest."
"At a certain point the stories about those documents just stopped, and people were no longer writing anything about them. And as much as they have may have to reveal about the mass surveillance state that's being constructed by the NSA worldwide, there are still many questions about how The Intercept is handling these documents," Gosztola told Sputnik.
"This probably just fuels the controversy even more: the claim that has been made is that they've privatized the documents from some of the most fierce critics," Gosztola said. "So, I don't know; I think it's up to Glenn and Laura to find a way to get this into the hands of some place of academia so they can show they weren't just out for money."
That allegation was made by MintPress News last month in a story documenting Omidyar's massive and diverse investments, particularly in media and media verification firms.
Indeed, MintPress noted that another Omidyar-funded publication, the arch-neocon outlet The Weekly Standard, published a hit piece on Snowden calling him a "traitor," and the eBay founder employs Snowden's former boss (no, really) from defense firm Booz Allen Hamilton at his Omidyar Fellows Program.
And Greenwald has collected no small amount of cash for his efforts. IRS tax filings show his salary at The Intercept to be a cool $518,000 a year — a price some have noted could hire "at least 10 crack journalists and fact checkers on an average salary higher than Vice's."
From IRS filings we know that in the year of its founding, @theintercept paid Greenwald a salary of $518,000 (through a shell company). For the price of one Greenwald it could have retained at least 10 crack journalists and fact checkers on an average salary higher than Vice's. https://t.co/2CBtXFuTlF— Idrees Ahmad (@im_PULSE) March 13, 2019
By his account, Snowden furnished Greenwald and Poitras with between 9,000 and 10,000 documents in the spring of 2013, while Greenwald was a journalist at the Guardian, a publication that carried the first articles on Snowden's disclosures. However, the US government has claimed he stole as many as 1 million documents.
"I think the number of NSA documents that have been published is in the hundreds and not the thousands," Snowden's lawyer, Ben Wizner, told AP last year.
Indeed, Greenwald has said there are "thousands upon thousands of documents" they've chosen not to publish because they would expose what he called "legitimate surveillance programs," or harm people's reputations or privacy rights.
The great bombshell of the Snowden files was PRISM, a massive internet data collection program run by the NSA since 2007, ostensibly authorized by FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) court rulings that didn't require warrants, gathering information and communications by both Americans and non-Americans in a massive database searchable by NSA staff.
According to Greenwald, the database, which was formed based on specific keywords the NSA deemed worthy of national security attention, can be searched by even low-level analysts. They may "listen to whatever emails they want, whatever telephone calls, browsing histories, Microsoft Word documents. And it's all done with no need to go to a court, with no need to even get supervisor approval on the part of the analyst."
Wright told Sputnik, "From the outside looking in, it just looks like First Look Media's been squeezed, at some point, to not disclose the documents. But the bigger thing, I think, is the fact that people don't have free access" to the trove of documents. He said it's been long enough that the US government knows what's in the documents, and so do the people at First Look, and the government "has had time to take whatever remedial measures they need to take."
"At this point, the only people that don't know what's happening are the citizens, the people that are being spied on," Wright said.