30-year-old American Edward Snowden, a contract employee at the National Security Agency, is the whistleblower behind significant revelations that surfaced in June 2013 about the US government's top secret, extensive domestic surveillance programmes. Snowden flew to Hong Kong from Hawaii in May 2013, and supplied confidential US government documents to media outlets including the Guardian.
Reporter turns down US$50,000 to set up Edward Snowden interview
Glenn Greenwald, who disclosed US surveillance, says TV interview would have been crass entertainment
Glenn Greenwald, one of two reporters to disclose the existence of a massive US National Security Agency surveillance programme, held preliminary talks with American TV networks to conduct an interview with his chief source, fugitive whistle-blower Edward Snowden.
But Greenwald said he decided not to do the interview, despite discussing a licensing fee of up to US$50,000 for landing an interview with Snowden.
An interview with Snowden would be a major coup for any news outlet, but few journalists have access to the 30-year-old former government contractor, who fled the United States to Hong Kong, and then to Russia where he was granted asylum.
Greenwald, who works for The Guardian newspaper, is one of the few journalists who conceivably could land such an interview. Snowden contacted him anonymously earlier this year, and they built a relationship that led him to disclose details of the NSA's massive and secret data-collection programme known as Prism.
Snowden also contacted Barton Gellman, who reported on the Prism programme for The Washington Post. Gellman's story was published a few minutes before Greenwald and The Guardian released their own.
Greenwald said via e-mail that he spoke to NBC, and "very preliminarily" to ABC, about a Snowden interview.
He wrote: "The reason we didn't do it is threefold: I don't want to distract attention away from the NSA spying and the substance of the disclosures by refocusing attention on Snowden; Snowden agreed with my suggestion that doing an interview at this time was not productive for the same reason in that he wants media attention on the NSA spying, not on himself; and I saw no real value in the interview - it would be used just as crass entertainment - and so didn't want to be involved right now."
Greenwald said the only fees ever discussed were US$25,000 if he was hired as a correspondent to do the interview or a US$50,000 "licensing" fee. The latter would mean that whoever produced the interview - Greenwald himself, most likely - would bear all the expenses including travel, hotels, hiring film crews, editing and lighting.
Greenwald and documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras are the only journalists who have conducted a video interview with Snowden previously. They interviewed him in Hong Kong shortly after Greenwald's article appeared in The Guardian in June. While in Hong Kong, Snowden disclosed to the South China Morning Post details of the NSA's spying programmes in China.
"Like many, many people, Edward Snowden doesn't trust many media figures," Greenwald said. "He's not willing to give an interview to journalists he doesn't trust. I'm one of the journalists he trusts."
Snowden, who grew up in the Baltimore area, apparently gained access to the Prism programme through his work for the contractor Booz Allen Hamilton. He lived in Hawaii at the time, but subsequently went to Hong Kong, where he made his involvement in the leaks public. He then went to Moscow, where he spent more than a month in an airport transit area before he was granted temporary asylum.
The US repeatedly asked Russia to extradite Snowden, but Russia declined.