Glenn Edward Greenwald (born March 6, 1967) is an American journalist and author, best known for his role in a series of reports published by The Guardian newspaper beginning in June 2013, detailing the United States and British global surveillance programs, and based on classified documents disclosed by Edward Snowden. Greenwald and the team he worked with won both a George Polk Award and a Pulitzer Prize for those reports. He has written several best-selling books, including No Place to Hide.
Greenwald's work on the Snowden story was featured in the documentary Citizenfour, which won the 2014 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. Greenwald appeared on-stage with director Laura Poitras and Snowden's girlfriend, Lindsey Mills, when the Oscar was given. In the 2016 Oliver Stone feature film Snowden, Greenwald was played by actor Zachary Quinto.
Before the Snowden file disclosures, Greenwald was widely considered one of the most influential opinion columnists in the United States. After working as a constitutional lawyer for 10 years, he began blogging on national security issues before becoming a Salon contributor in 2007 and then moving to The Guardian in 2012. He currently writes for and co-edits The Intercept, which he founded in 2013 with Laura Poitras and Jeremy Scahill.
Greenwald was born in New York City to Arlene and Daniel Greenwald. Greenwald's family moved to Lauderdale Lakes, Florida when he was an infant. His parents are Jewish and raised him in the faith, but he did not become a bar mitzvah and does not consider himself religious. He received a BA in Philosophy from George Washington University in 1990 and a JD from New York University School of Law in 1994.
Greenwald practiced law in the Litigation Department at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz (1994–1995); in 1996 he co-founded his own litigation firm, called Greenwald Christoph & Holland (later renamed Greenwald Christoph PC), where he litigated cases concerning issues of U.S. constitutional law and civil rights. One of his higher-profile cases was the representation of white supremacist Matthew F. Hale.
About his work in First Amendment speech cases, Greenwald told Rolling Stone magazine in 2013, "to me, it's a heroic attribute to be so committed to a principle that you apply it not when it's easy...not when it supports your position, not when it protects people you like, but when it defends and protects people that you hate".
Later, according to Greenwald, "I decided voluntarily to wind down my practice in 2005 because I could, and because, after ten years, I was bored with litigating full-time and wanted to do other things which I thought were more engaging and could make more of an impact, including political writing."
In October 2005, he began his blog Unclaimed Territory focusing on the investigation pertaining to the Plame affair, the CIA leak grand jury investigation, the federal indictment of Scooter Libby and the NSA warrantless surveillance (2001–07) controversy. In April 2006, the blog received the 2005 Koufax Award for "Best New Blog".
In February 2007, Greenwald became a contributing writer for the Salon website, and the new column and blog superseded Unclaimed Territory, although Salon prominently features hyperlinks to it in Greenwald's dedicated biographical section.
Among the frequent topics of his Salon articles were the investigation of the 2001 anthrax attacks and the candidacy of former CIA official John O. Brennan for the jobs of either Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (D/CIA) or the next Director of National Intelligence (DNI) after the election of Barack Obama. Brennan withdrew his name from consideration for the post after opposition centered in liberal blogs and led by Greenwald. Brennan took up the leadership position at the CIA again, in March 2013.
Greenwald left Salon on August 20, 2012, for the American off-shoot of Britain's Guardian newspaper, citing "the opportunity to reach a new audience, to further internationalize my readership, and to be re-invigorated by a different environment" as reasons for the move.
On June 5, 2013, Greenwald was first to report on the top-secret United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court order requiring Verizon to provide the National Security Agency with telephone metadata for all calls between the US and abroad, as well as all domestic calls. He was a columnist until October 2013.
On October 15, 2013, Greenwald announced and The Guardian confirmed that he was leaving to pursue a "once-in-a-career dream journalistic opportunity that no journalist could possibly decline". Financial backing for the new venture was provided by Pierre Omidyar, the eBay founder. Omidyar told media critic Jay Rosen that the decision was fueled by his "rising concern about press freedoms in the United States and around the world". Greenwald, along with his colleagues Laura Poitras and Jeremy Scahill, were initially working on creating a place online to support independent journalism, when they were approached by Omidyar who was looking to start his own media organization. That news organization, First Look Media, launched its first online publication, called The Intercept on February 10, 2014. Greenwald serves as editor, alongside Laura Poitras and Jeremy Scahill. The organization is incorporated as a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt charitable entity.
Greenwald has appeared as a round table guest on ABC's Sunday morning news show This Week, HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher, Comedy Central's The Colbert Report, NPR's All Things Considered, C-SPAN's Washington Journal; Pacifica Radio's syndicated series Democracy Now! with Amy Goodman; on Public Radio International's To the Point; MSNBC's Rachel Maddow Show, Morning Joe, The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell, Up with Chris Hayes, Dylan Ratigan's Morning Meeting; and Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume, Tucker Carlson Tonight.
Greenwald's first book, How Would a Patriot Act? Defending American Values From a President Run Amok was published by Working Assets in 2006. It was a New York Times bestseller, and ranked #1 on Amazon.com both before its publication (due to pre-orders based on attention from 'UT' readers and other bloggers) and for several days after its release, ending its first week at #293.
A Tragic Legacy, his second book, examines the presidency of George W. Bush. Published in hardback by Crown (a division of Random House) on June 26, 2007, and reprinted in a paperback edition by Three Rivers Press on April 8, 2008, it was a New York Times Best Seller.
His third book, Great American Hypocrites: Toppling the Big Myths of Republican Politics, was published by Random House in April 2008, the same month that Three Rivers Press reissued A Tragic Legacy in paperback.
His fourth book, With Liberty and Justice for Some: How the Law Is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the Powerful, was released by Metropolitan Books in October 2011.
Greenwald's fifth book, No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State, was released in May 2014. It spent 6 weeks on the New York Times Bestseller List, and was named one of the 10 Best Non-Fiction Books of 2014 by The Christian Science Monitor.
Greenwald was first contacted by Edward Snowden, a former contractor for the U.S. National Security Agency, in late 2012. Snowden contacted Greenwald anonymously and said he had "sensitive documents" that he would like to share. Greenwald found the measures that the source asked him to take to secure their communications too annoying to employ. Snowden then contacted documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras about a month later in January 2013.
According to The Guardian, what originally attracted Snowden to both Greenwald and Poitras was a Salon article penned by Greenwald detailing how Poitras' controversial films had made her a "target of the government". Greenwald began working with Snowden in either February or in April, after Poitras asked Greenwald to meet her in New York City, at which point Snowden began providing documents to them both.
As part of the global surveillance disclosure, the first of Snowden's documents were published on June 5, 2013, in The Guardian in an article by Greenwald. According to him, Snowden's documents exposed the "scale of domestic surveillance under Obama".
In August 2013, the Metropolitan Police detained Greenwald's partner David Miranda at London's Heathrow Airport under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000, after he had flown in from Berlin and was changing to a plane bound for home in Rio de Janeiro. His belongings were seized, including an external hard drive said to be containing sensitive documents relevant to Greenwald's reporting which was encrypted with TrueCrypt encryption software.
Greenwald described his partner's detention as "clearly intended to send a message of intimidation to those of us who have been reporting on the NSA and GCHQ". Miranda was detained for nine hours and his laptop and other items were seized. He has since attempted to sue the Metropolitan Police for misuse of their powers. According to The Guardian, the claim, "challenging controversial powers used under schedule 7 to the Terrorism Act 2000, maintains that Miranda was not involved in terrorism and says his right to freedom of expression was curtailed".
According to a later article in The Guardian, Miranda was found to have been carrying an external hard drive containing 58,000 highly classified UK intelligence documents, and his detention was ruled lawful by the UK High Court, which accepted that Miranda's detention and the seizure of computer material was "an indirect interference with press freedom" but said this was justified by legitimate and "very pressing" interests of national security.
Members of the Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) in the British Parliament said that allowing police to stop and search suspects at airports without suspicion was “not inherently incompatible” with human rights. MPs and peers said they agreed anti-terror officers should be able to “stop, question, request documentation and physically search persons and property” even when they did not have reasonable suspicion that an offence had been committed, but urged the government to introduce new restrictions on powers such as strip-searches, detentions and searches of the contents of electronic devices such as laptops and smart phones, and said that these "more intrusive" measures should take place only when officers had reasonable suspicion that someone was involved in terrorism.
In December 2013, Greenwald and Miranda advocated for asylum in Brazil for Edward Snowden in exchange for the fugitive leaker's cooperation in investigating the NSA. Brazil's government indicated it was not interested in investigating the NSA.
In a statement delivered before the National Congress of Brazil in early August 2013, Greenwald testified that the U.S. government had used counter-terrorism as a pretext for clandestine surveillance in order to compete with other countries in the "business, industrial and economic fields".
On December 18, 2013, Greenwald told the European Union's Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs that "most governments around the world are not only turning their backs on Edward Snowden but also on their ethical responsibilities". Speaking via a video link, Greenwald asserted that "It is the UK through their interception of underwater fibre optic cables, that is a primary threat to the privacy of European citizens when it comes to their telephone and emails". According to a statement given to the European Parliament by Greenwald:
The ultimate goal of the NSA, along with its most loyal, one might say subservient junior partner the British agency GCHQ – when it comes to the reason why the system of suspicion of surveillance is being built and the objective of this system – is nothing less than the elimination of individual privacy worldwide— Glenn Greenwald
Greenwald is critical of actions jointly supported by Democrats and Republicans, writing: "The worst and most tyrannical government actions in Washington are equally supported on a fully bipartisan basis." In the preface to his first book, How Would a Patriot Act? (2006), Greenwald opens with some of his own personal political history describing his 'pre-political' self as neither liberal nor conservative as a whole, voting neither for George W. Bush nor for any of his rivals (indeed, not voting at all).
Bush's election to the U.S. presidency "changed" Greenwald's previous uninvolved political attitude toward the electoral process "completely", and in 2006 he wrote:
Over the past five years, a creeping extremism has taken hold of our federal government, and it is threatening to radically alter our system of government and who we are as a nation. This extremism is neither conservative nor liberal in nature, but is instead driven by theories of unlimited presidential power that are wholly alien, and antithetical, to the core political values that have governed this country since its founding"; for, "the fact that this seizure of ever-expanding presidential power is largely justified through endless, rank fear-mongering—fear of terrorists, specifically—means that not only our system of government is radically changing, but so, too, are our national character, our national identity, and what it means to be American."
Believing that "It is incumbent upon all Americans who believe in that system, bequeathed to us by the founders, to defend it when it is under assault and in jeopardy. And today it is", he says: "I did not arrive at these conclusions eagerly or because I was predisposed by any previous partisan viewpoint. Quite the contrary."
Resistant to applying ideological labels to himself, he emphasizes that he is a strong advocate for U.S. constitutional "balance of powers" and for constitutionally-protected civil and political rights in his writings and public appearances.
Greenwald frequently writes about the War on Drugs and criminal justice reform. He is a member of the advisory board of the Brazil chapter of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. Greenwald was also the author of a 2009 white paper published by the Cato Institute titled Drug Decriminalization in Portugal: Lessons for Creating Fair and Successful Drug Policies, exploring the role of drug policy of Portugal.
He criticized the policies of the Bush administration and those who supported it, arguing that most of the American "Corporate News Media" excused Bush's policies and echoed the administration's positions rather than asking hard questions.
Regarding civil liberties during the Obama presidency, he elaborated on his conception of change when he said, "I think the only means of true political change will come from people working outside of that [two-party electoral] system to undermine it, and subvert it, and weaken it, and destroy it; not try to work within it to change it." He did, however, raise money for Russ Feingold's 2010 Senate re-election bid, Bill Halter's 2010 primary challenge to Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln, as well as several Congressional candidates in 2012 described as "unique".
Greenwald is critical of Israel's foreign policy and influence on U.S. politics, a stance for which he has in turn been the subject of criticism, which successively elicited some criticism towards those authors.
According to Greenwald, the emergence of ISIS is a direct consequence of the Iraq War and NATO-led military intervention in Libya. Greenwald has criticized U.S. and U.K. involvement in Saudi Arabian-led intervention in Yemen. He wrote in October 2016: "The atrocities committed by the Saudis would have been impossible without their steadfast, aggressive support."
Greenwald criticized the prison conditions in which U.S. Army Private Chelsea Manning, the convicted WikiLeaks whistleblower (then known as Bradley), was held after her arrest by military authorities. As a supporter of Manning, Greenwald described her as "a whistle-blower acting with the noblest of motives" and "a national hero similar to Daniel Ellsberg."
Greenwald has been placed on numerous "top 50" and "top 25" lists of columnists in the United States. In June 2012, Newsweek magazine named him one of America's Top 10 Opinionists, saying that "a righteous, controlled, and razor-sharp fury runs through a great deal" of his writing, and: "His independent persuasion can make him a danger or an asset to both sides of the aisle."
According to Nate Anderson, writing in Ars Technica, around 2010/2011 Aaron Barr of HBGary and Team Themis planned to damage Greenwald's career as a way to respond to a potential dump of Bank of America documents by WikiLeaks, saying that "Without the support of people like Glenn WikiLeaks would fold."
Josh Voorhees, writing in slate.com, reported that in 2013 congressman Peter King (R-NY) suggested Greenwald should be arrested for his reporting on the NSA PRISM program and NSA leaker Edward Snowden. Journalist Andrew Ross Sorkin said "I would arrest [Snowden] and now I'd almost arrest Glenn Greenwald", but later made an apology for his statement, which Greenwald accepted.
In a 2013 interview with Martha Raddatz of ABC News, Greenwald said that members of Congress are being "blocked" from getting "the most basic information about what NSA is doing... and what the FISA court has been doing....", and specifically referenced Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-MD), a ranking member of the United States House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence ("House Intelligence Committee"). Ruppersberger, who was a guest on the show, responded, "We have rules as far as the committee and what you can have and what you cannot have. However, based on that, that statement I just made, is that since this incident occurred with Snowden, we've had three different hearings for members of our Democratic Caucus, and the Republican Caucus.... And we will continue to do that because what we're trying to do now is to get the American public to know more about what's going on." Rep. King, who was also a guest on This Week as a ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, stated: "[T]o me it's unprecedented to have all of these top people from an administration during this time of crisis still come in and answer question after question after question. So anyone who says that Congress is somehow being stonewalled is just wrong and [the question] is generally, I think, raised by people who are trying to make a name for themselves."
In a February 2014 interview Greenwald said he believed he risked detention if he reentered the U.S., but insisted that he would "force the issue" on principle, and return for the "many reasons" he had to visit, including if he won a prestigious award of which he was rumoured to be the winner. Later that month, it was announced that he was, in fact, among the recipients of the 2013 Polk Awards, to be conferred April 11, 2014 in Manhattan. In a subsequent interview, Greenwald stated he would attend the ceremony, and added: "I absolutely refuse to be exiled from my own country for the crime of doing journalism and I'm going to force the issue just on principle. And I think going back for a ceremony like the Polk Awards or other forms of journalistic awards would be a really good symbolic test of having to put the government in the position of having to arrest journalists who are coming back to the US to receive awards for the journalism they have done." On April 11, Greenwald and Laura Poitras accepted the Polk Award in Manhattan. Although their entry into the United States was trouble-free, they traveled with an ACLU lawyer and a German journalist "to document any unpleasant surprises". Accepting the award, Greenwald said he was "happy to see a table full of Guardian editors and journalists, whose role in this story is much more integral than the publicity generally recognizes". On April 14, the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service was awarded jointly to The Guardian and The Washington Post for revelation of widespread secret surveillance by the NSA. Greenwald, along with Laura Poitras and Ewen MacAskill, had contributed to The Guardian′s reporting.
Greenwald, who is gay, lives in Rio de Janeiro, the hometown of his partner, David Miranda. Greenwald said in 2011 that his residence in Brazil was a result of the Defense of Marriage Act, an American law barring federal recognition of same-sex marriages which was overturned by the US Supreme Court two years later. The law had prevented his partner from receiving a visa to reside in the United States with him.
Greenwald comes from a Jewish background, albeit largely non-practicing, and was never Bar Mitzvahed, stating that "My parents tried to inculcate me a little bit into organized Judaism, but they weren't particularly devoted to that, and my grandparents were, but it just never took hold." He says that he does believe in "the spiritual and mystical part of the world", including practicing yoga, but his moral precepts "aren't informed in any way by religious doctrine or, like, organized religion or anything."
In March 2017, Greenwald announced plans to build a shelter for stray pets in Brazil that would be staffed by homeless people.
Greenwald has received many awards, the Park Center I.F. Stone Award for Independent Journalism in 2008.
He then received the first Izzy Award for independent journalism, in 2009, and the 2010 Online Journalism Award for Best Commentary for his investigative work on the conditions of Chelsea Manning.
His reporting on the National Security Agency (NSA) won numerous other awards around the world, including top investigative journalism prizes from the George Polk Award for National Security Reporting, the 2013 Online Journalism Awards, the Esso Award for Excellence in Reporting in Brazil for his articles in O Globo on NSA mass surveillance of Brazilians (becoming the first foreigner to win the award), the 2013 Libertad de Expresion Internacional award from Argentinian magazine Perfil, and the 2013 Pioneer Award from the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The team that Greenwald lead at The Guardian was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service for their reporting on the NSA. Foreign Policy Magazine then named him one of the top 100 Global Thinkers of 2013.
There's been no advertising for "How Would a Patriot Act". Didn't need any. It was more important to get love from a handful of key bloggers, who plugged the 144-page book on their sites, leading to a virtually overnight advance sales bump this week — and a second printing of 20,000 copies. Patriot remained at the peak of the Amazon charts for days. … While Patriot parachuted to 293rd place by week's end after hitting No. 1, the book's publisher, the San Francisco phone company and liberal benefactor Working Assets, has been encouraged to continue its fledgling program of plucking sharp bloggers to write politically pointed books.
Exclusive: Top secret court order requiring Verizon to hand over all call data shows scale of domestic surveillance under Obama
Who's the most popular? We developed a highly [sic] scientific formula to measure their star power, counting blog, newspaper, magazine, and TV-news mentions so far this year, Google hits, and how many presidential debates (in the primaries or planned for the general election) they moderated. Then, each pundit's popularity in each category was calculated as a percentage of the highest score, and those five percentages were averaged. (So, theoretically, a dominating pundit who topped each tally would end up with a popularity score of 100.) Here's the top 40. …
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