Next week, The Guardian is publishing a book titled The Snowden Files: The Inside Story Of The World’s Most Wanted Man, by Luke Harding. The book tells the story of how The Guardian acquired the Snowden NSA documents and how the publication went about the process of reporting on the story. Over the weekend, Harding published an excerpt of the book online and it was a harrowing and bizarre read.
Here are the 13 most bizarre things from the excerpt.
1) As a commenter on the Ars Technica website, Edward Snowden, who used the online pseudonym “TheTrueHOOHA,” would sometimes accuse commenters who disagreed with him of being “fucking retards.”
2) Edward Snowden didn’t think very highly of Muslims, but he loved him some guns:
…his negative impressions of multiracial Britain (he was shocked by the number of “Muslims” in east London and wrote, “I thought I had gotten off of the plane in the wrong country… it was terrifying”), the joys of gun ownership (“I have a Walther P22. It’s my only gun but I love it to death,” he wrote in 2006).
3) Snowden voted for Ron Paul in 2008 even though he said back in June that he “believed in Obama’s promises.” He also liked John McCain.
At the time, the figure who most closely embodied Snowden’s rightwing views was Ron Paul, the most famous exponent of US libertarianism. Snowden supported Paul’s 2008 bid for the US presidency. He was also impressed with the Republican candidate John McCain.
4) Snowden thought Obama was coming for his guns.
Once Obama became president, Snowden came to dislike him intensely. He criticised the White House’s attempts to ban assault weapons.
For the record, the White House didn’t attempt to ban any assault weapons.
5) Snowden’s views on affirmative action?
He was unimpressed by affirmative action.
See also item #2, regarding his views on Muslims.
6) Snowden’s views on leakers of national security secrets?
“WTF NYTIMES. Are they TRYING to start a war?”
“They’re reporting classified shit”
“moreover, who the fuck are the anonymous sources telling them this? those people should be shot in the balls”
“that shit is classified for a reason”
“it’s not because ‘oh we hope our citizens don’t find out’ its because ‘this shit won’t work if iran knows what we’re doing'”
7) The government is in your everything, watching you personally. Snowden is quoted as saying:
“They are intent on making every conversation and every form of behaviour in the world known to them.”
8) Be glad you weren’t on Greenwald and Poitras’ red-eye flight from New York to Hong Kong. Greenwald described their behavior like so as they read the documents:
“We would just cackle and giggle like schoolchildren. We were screaming and hugging and dancing with each other up and down,” he says. Their celebrations woke up some of their neighbours; they didn’t care.
9) From the “Hasn’t Anyone Ever Read James Bamford’s NSA Book, Body of Secrets, from 14 Years Ago?” file:
The NSA had secretly attached intercepts to the undersea fibre optic cables that ringed the world.
Bamford wrote extensively about how NSA tapped underwater cables. But since it wasn’t presented with the drama of a trans-Asiatic manhunt and lots of internet click-bait, no one remembers.
10) Snowden flipped out when Ewen MacAskill brought an iPhone into his hotel room in Hong Kong:
Snowden agreed to meet MacAskill the next morning. The encounter went smoothly until the reporter produced his iPhone. He asked Snowden if he minded if he taped their interview, and perhaps took some photos? Snowden flung up his arms in alarm, as if prodded by an electric stick. “I might as well have invited the NSA into his bedroom,” MacAskill says.
11) In Hong Kong, and before he outed himself, Snowden thought he could thwart eavesdropping with pillows and soy sauce.
Snowden’s own precautions were remarkable. He piled pillows up against the door to stop anyone eavesdropping from outside in the corridor. When putting passwords into computers, he placed a big red hood over his head and laptop, so the passwords couldn’t be picked up by hidden cameras. On the three occasions he left his room, Snowden put a glass of water behind the door next to a bit of tissue paper. The paper had a soy sauce mark with a distinctive pattern. If anyone entered the room, the water would fall on the paper and it would change the pattern.
12) Janine Gibson, The Guardian‘s U.S. editor, only gave the U.S. government four hours to respond before publishing the first Greenwald Verizon story.
Gibson decided to give the NSA a four-hour window to comment, so the agency had an opportunity to disavow the story.
You don’t give the subject of a bombshell article about the leak of countless national security documents four hours to “disavow” a story, then publicly mock the subject when it fumbles its response. The point of informing a subject of what you’re about to publish is to correct the record — to get the story straight — not to ask them whether they deny it. Thus ends today’s Journalism 101 lesson.
12) Greenwald, while in Hong Kong, threatened to stomp off and take the story elsewhere if The Guardian didn’t hurry up and publish it. This partly explains the four-hour window for the government’s response.
Greenwald signalled that he was ready and willing to self-publish or take the scoop elsewhere if the Guardian hesitated.
13) The book alleges that as soon as the article went live, The Guardian editors were followed by weird “sidewalk diggers” and other suspicious characters.
That evening, diggers arrived and tore up the sidewalk immediately in front of the Guardian’s US office, a mysterious activity for a Wednesday night. With smooth efficiency, they replaced it. More diggers arrived outside Gibson’s home in Brooklyn. Soon, every member of the Snowden team was able to recount similar unusual moments: “taxi drivers” who didn’t know the way or the fare; “window cleaners” who lingered next to the editor’s office. “Very quickly, we had to get better at spycraft,” Gibson says.
Instead of figuring out how to evade clueless taxi drivers (??), maybe they should’ve spent more time fact checking their reporters and offering context to what they were reporting. From the beginning, The Guardian and other reporters following its example, decided to mislead the public rather than to inform them, and the debate became predicated on misunderstood information and a lack of historical framework.
Anyway, this was just one chapter of a book that will prove to be more than a little frustrating to read, if this excerpt is any indication.