Espionage or Journalism? After the Snowden NSA Leaks


snowden news

It became a running joke among U.S. officials that Bart Gellman should watch his back. In May 2014, I appeared on a panel alongside Robert Mueller, the former FBI director, to talk about Snowden. Mueller cross-examined me: Were the NSA documents not lawfully classified? Were they not stolen? Did I not publish them anyway? I held out my arms toward him, wrists together, as if for handcuffs. The audience laughed. Mueller did not. … Then came the day I found my name in the Snowden archive. Sixteen documents, including the one that talked about me, named firstfruits as a counterintelligence database that tracked unauthorized disclosures in the news media. According to top-secret briefing materials prepared by Joseph J. Brand, a senior NSA official who was also among the leading advocates of a crackdown on leaks, firstfruits got its name from the phrase the fruits of our labor. ‘Adversaries know more about SIGINT sources & methods today than ever before,’ Brand wrote. Some damaging disclosures came from the U.S. government’s own official communications, he noted; other secrets were acquired by foreign spies. But ‘most often,’ Brand wrote, ‘these disclosures occur through the media.’ He listed four ‘flagrant media leakers’: the Post, The New York Times, The New Yorker, and The Washington Times. The firstfruits project aimed to ‘drastically reduce significant losses of collection capability’ at journalists' hands.

Espionage or Journalism? After the Snowden NSA Leaks - The Atlantic, Barton Gellman in The Atlantic