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Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Snowden Files: The Fascinating Story Behind the Fascinating Story

Posted by on Wed, Mar 19, 2014 at 2:16 PM

The Snowden Files doesn't contain any bombshells about the NSA wiretapping information that Edward Snowden delivered to The Guardian's Glenn Greenwald. Instead, it tells the story behind the story. And if you're interested in how the journalistic sausage was made, Guardian reporter Luke Harding's account is pretty fucking fascinating. It reads partly as a thriller, partly as a character study of Snowden, and partly as an informative account of what a gigantic newspaper has to go through in order to publish a story that could bring the full force of the federal government's wrath raining down upon it.

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There are revelations on every page. Some of them are banal (Harding opens the book with comments that an 18-year-old Snowden published on Ars Technica under the commenter handle TheTrueHOOHA) and others are ridiculous. Here's the passphrase that Greenwald was to use to identify himself to Snowden the first time:

Greenwald: What time does the restaurant open?
[Snowden]: At noon. But don't go there, the food sucks...

A good portion of the book is devoted to the immediate aftermath of Snowden's revelations: The US Government aimed as many thinly veiled threats at The Guardian as possible during the initial publication of the story; the Indian government started using typewriters again in response to the news that their computers were not secure; Putin's Russia was initially nervous about accepting Snowden, but they soon took great pleasure in embracing him and adopting an antagonistic stance.

But the portrait of Snowden is interesting, as well. As commenter TheTrueHOOHA, Snowden railed against The New York Times's 2009 revelation of a "secret Israeli plan to attack Iran," claiming that the Times was endangering national security. He also argued against government benefits for older people, citing his grandmother's willingness, at age 83, to financially support herself as a hairdresser ("...maybe when you grow up and actually pay taxes, you'll understand.") And on several occasions, people coming into contact with Snowden are surprised by his obvious youth and inexperience. But Harding never once disputes the importance of Snowden's revelations, or the courage that it took to bring them to light. The Snowden Files is a snappy, affordable paperback that will bring late-comers and journalism junkies up to speed on the world we live in now, which many people rightfully describe in shorthand as a "post-Snowden world."

 

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