The tale of Edward Snowden, a former NSA contractor with security clearance who decided to leave his cushy job and girlfriend in Hawaii to go on the lam and leak a massive story on domestic spying, is nearly as compelling as the news he broke (he would hate that). Barton Gellman’s Washington Post saga gave us a start, but it was incomplete. Now that The Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald has given his account to the New York Times, and filmmaker Laura Poitras has spoken with Salon, the elaborate tick-tock of how the story broke is becoming clearer. Or at least more detailed. And those details, including a secret meeting signaled by a Rubik’s Cube, could have come straight from Hollywood. Below, the DVD chapter synopses from the movie someone will inevitably make about this.
Encryption Lessons: Snowden first approached Poitras in January and Greenwald in February. He asked both to speak on an encrypted chat channel, but Greenwald didn’t have the software. “Mr. Snowden later sent him a homemade video with step-by-step instructions for installing it, which Mr. Greenwald watched but never completed.” Poitras told Salon, “I already had encryption keys but what he was asking for was beyond what I was using in terms of security and anonymity.” She would eventually lead the source back to Greenwald.
Outside Counsel: “Once I had a few pieces of correspondence, I said, let me ask a couple of people about this, people who have experience, and I sat down with a couple of people, one of whom was Bart Gellman,” Poitras told Salon. “And he said, it looks like this person could be legit.” A few months later, Snowden reached out to Gellman separately. Poitras decided “it would be good to have the Washington Post invested in the leak, so it wasn’t just us — to tie in official Washington in the leak,” Greenwald said.
Verification: In early March, Poitras said she needed to see Greenwald in person, and they met in a New York hotel room. There she shared e-mails from the source, whose name they still didn’t know. In late April or early May, Greenwald started talking with Snowden. “He sort of said, ‘My plan is, at some point, go somewhere far away, and I want you to come there and interview me and get the documents and go over them,’ ” Greenwald said. A week later, Snowden sent twenty sample documents.
Go Time: About two weeks ago, Snowden said he was ready to meet. After Guardian editors gathered to review the documents, Greenwald, Poitras, and Guardian reporter Ewen MacAskill flew to Hong Kong.
The Rubik’s Cube Meeting: Snowden “instructed his media contacts to come to Hong Kong, visit a particular out-of-the-way corner of a certain hotel, and ask — loudly — for directions to another part of the hotel. If all seemed well, the source would walk past holding a Rubik’s Cube,” according to the Times. After they met, the went to his room for a six-hour interview that Greenwald described as “going over his life from start to finish, sort of like I was conducting a deposition.”
Fallout: After Snowden’s identity was revealed over the weekend, the government started building a criminal case against him and Sen. Dianne Feinstein called his leak an “act of treason.” Snowden, meanwhile, has checked out of his hotel and has not been heard from since Sunday. Both Greenwald and Poitras said they have more material to report from their meeting with Snowden. “Mr. Snowden has now turned over archives of ‘thousands’ of documents, according to Mr. Greenwald, and ‘dozens’ are newsworthy.” This movie is definitely not over.