Espionage or Journalism? After the Snowden NSA Leaks
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