Glenn Greenwald II

Image: João Nitsche


Glenn's departure from The Intercept and TIB leaves a number of unanswered questions

The self-dismissal of Glenn Greenwald in itself is already surprising, due to the script of thriller Hollywoodian: A Pulitzer Prize-winning editor and personal courage walked out of the paper, the The Intercept, which he himself helped to create in 2013, after one of the most important exposures of US espionage in the world. Interceptions by the NSA agency on citizens, by order, of the US, Brazil and Russia (yes, Brazil in front of Russia, the biggest enemy of the US), and other countries, came to light through the leak of former spy Edward Snowden.

Also central to that process was Glenn himself, then a columnist for the prestigious The Guardian, and documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras, whom Snowden first turned to to leak information about massive NSA spying. It is assumed that, to this day, the three still hold the vast majority of files leaked seven years ago. The Intercept has not published anything from those documents for a long time.

However, the real questions behind Glenn's spectacular resignation were overshadowed by the context in which it took place – the day before the most important and radicalized US election in decades. O text that Glenn claims was censored by The Intercept editors was used in the dispute between the Democrat Joe Biden (favorite at that point) and the far-right Republican Donald Trump, who the article and Glenn's resignation on his Twitter account. Glenn's article added nothing new to the allegations that had been involving the Biden family for weeks.

Clarifying: Glenn wrote two texts. One is the article that would have been censored. The second is the long letter in which he explains his decision to leave The Intercept.

In the letter and article, Glenn pointed out the serious contradictions between the nature of the journalism he advocates and the role of the major platforms (such as Facebook, Google, WhatsApp, Twitter, etc.) where most news today is published.

Wrote Glenn: “Publication of this early story [about one of Joe Biden’s sons] from New York Post sparked a highly unusual censorship campaign on Facebook and Twitter. Facebook, through a former Democratic Party agent, promised to suppress the story pending its "fact-check," one that has yet to yield public conclusions. And while Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey apologized for Twitter's handling of censorship and reversed the policy that led to the blocking of all links in the story, the New York Post, the country's fourth largest newspaper, continues to be blocked from its Twitter account, unable to publish as elections approach, for nearly two weeks”.

He continued: “After that first burst of Silicon Valley censorship, whose workers and oligarchs donated almost entirely to the Biden campaign, it was the nation's media and former CIA and other intelligence officials who took the lead in construction of reasons why history should be disregarded, or at least treated with contempt. As is customary for the Trump era, the theme that took center stage in achieving this goal was an unsubstantiated claim about the Kremlin's responsibility for history. Numerous news outlets, including The Intercept, quickly quoted a public letter signed by former CIA officials and other state security agents claiming the documents bear the "classic hallmarks" of a "Russian disinformation" plot.

Glenn also accused the press mainstream of the USA - in particular, the New York Times: The Washington Post and CNN and The Intercept itself – of systematically leaving aside the great scandal involving one of the sons of Democratic candidate Joe Biden. The journalist also included in this omission the entire progressive field in the US, including universities and even data collection platforms.

For Glenn, this media ecosystem and the progressive field are part of a list of positions close to the Democratic Party, which maintains a privileged connection with these platforms. Glenn's text also brought to debate the limits of patronage and investments that large capitalists in the financial and internet sectors have been making in the media – including Brazil.

Here, I note: the most visible cases are those of George Soros, who through his network of philanthropic institutes supports civil society online publications; Pierre Omydiar, former owner of eBay and PayPal, who invested $250 million in The Intercept; and Jeff Bezos, the owner of Amazon and the Washington Post.

Note one detail, which makes this whole plot even more nebulous. It has always been the revolving door through which important officials from mega-data collection companies and spies from dozens of US agencies pass. The most recent turn of the revolving door came in September, when Amazon announced the hiring of its new director, General Keith Alexander. In 2013, when the Snowden/NSA files were leaked, Alexander was running… the NSA. On his Twitter account, Snowden raved.

To be understood in all its extension and implications, the imbroglio Glenn/The Intercept needs to be split into at least three parts.

The boss is censured by employees and resigns on the eve of the US election

A few days away from the most disputed American election in decades, a Pulitzer Prize winner announced on October 29 his departure from The Intercept, the flagship newspaper of journalism in times of Data Capitalism and of which Glenn was the main reference, after having been censured by its own officials. Glenn tried, and failed, to publish an article questioning the campaign of Democratic front-runner Joe Biden.

He explained his decision in a letter posted on Substack, the platform where he started writing a new blog, the Greenwald (at $150 a year to subscribe): “The final and precipitating cause is that the editors of The Intercept, in violation of my contractual right of editorial freedom, censored an article I wrote this week, refusing to publish it unless that I remove all sections critical of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, the candidate vehemently supported by all New York-based editors of The Intercept involved in this suppression effort” (emphasis mine).

Subsequently, in his letter, Glenn denounced that the entire progressive American field would be bundled in a system of ideas that, being profoundly authoritarian, would not admit dissent: “The pathologies, the lack of freedom and the repressive mentality that led me to the bizarre spectacle of being censored by my own outlet are by no means unique to The Intercept. These are the viruses that have infected virtually every major left-of-centre political organization, academic institution, and newsroom. (The emphasis is mine)

In the letter, Glenn also recalled that “When the three of us [Glenn, Jeremy Scahill, renowned war correspondent, and Laura Poitras, awarded an Oscar for the documentary citzenfour, in which she recounts how she was contacted by Snowden to leak the NSA files) as co-founders, we decided early on that we would not attempt to manage the day-to-day operations of this new outlet, so that we could focus on our journalism, we negotiate the right of approval for senior editors and especially editor-in-chief. The core responsibility of the holder of this role was to implement, in close consultation with us, the unique journalistic vision and journalistic values ​​on which we founded this new outlet.”

But, Glenn says, “The iteration [repeat to improve] The current version of The Intercept is completely unrecognizable compared to the original vision. Rather than providing a venue for dissenting, marginalized voices and unfamiliar perspectives, it is rapidly becoming just another medium of communication with obligatory ideological and party allegiances, a rigid and narrow range of permissible viewpoints (ranging from establishment liberalism to the left soft, but always anchored in support for the Democratic Party), a deep fear of offending hegemonic cultural liberalism and center-left influencers on Twitter, and a great need to secure the approval and admiration of mainstream media outlets, which The Intercept was created to oppose, criticize, and subvert.” (emphasis mine)

After accusing Glenn of presenting himself as a "victim" and as the "ultimate investigative journalist," The Intercept's editor-in-chief, Betsi Reed, responded harshly. “While he accuses us of being politically biased, in reality he is the one trying to recycle the dubious claims of a political campaign — the Trump campaign — and wash them in such a way as to look like journalism. We have great respect for the journalist that Glenn Greenwald used to be, and we remain very proud of the work we've done with him over the past six years. But it was Glenn who strayed from his journalistic roots, not The Intercept.” (Emphasis mine) Canadian writer and columnist for The Intercept, Naomi Klein (author of the classic documentary “Shock Doctrine” in which she denounced the neoliberal character of the military coup in Chile in 1973), supported Betsi, in a post on her Twitter account: Glenn was not censored. It was well edited, he said.

Investigative journalists + a socially responsible billionaire

In 2013, Glenn, as a blogger for the website of the prestigious English newspaper The Guardian, was at the center of the biggest leak of American espionage, along with Edward Snowden and Laura Poitras. Based on the leak of Snowden, a former NSA spy, Glenn and many other journalists denounced the wiretap that the NSA made on millions of people in the US and even foreign heads of state (including the then Brazilian Dilma Roussef and the German Angela Merkel). , in addition to Petrobras.

It was Glenn and Laura Poitras that Snowden turned to to leak the NSA documents.

Against this backdrop, Glenn, Poitras and other journalists founded The Intercept. Its purpose was to publish the Snowden files, encourage new leaks. The surprise of the undertaking lay in the source and amount of money invested in the creation of The Intercept: American billionaire Pierre Omydiar, then owner of PayPal and the eBay website. Omydiar put 250 million in the business. It was little for someone who has 17 billion dollars, according to Forbes, but an unprecedented fortune in a newspaper that was willing to investigate power in the USA.

The great surprise of Glenn's then new undertaking was summed up thus by the Columbia Journalism Review (CJR), the leading academic journal on journalism in the US, published by the Columbia University School of Journalism: “The extraordinary promise of the new Greenwald-Omidyar venture: Controversial investigative journalists + a socially responsible billionaire = a whole new world” .

Although few people realized it at the time, the business was a huge contradiction. After all, Omydiar, which would fund The Intercept to encourage Snowden-like leaks, in 2010 did the reverse with Wikileaks.

As the Public Agency for Investigative Journalism noted, “The reason goes back to 2010, the year a financial blockade jeopardized 95% of WikiLeaks' revenue. At the forefront of the maneuver were large financial institutions, such as VISA and MasterCard credit card providers, Western Union and Bank of America banks, in addition to PayPal, the online payment system that belongs to eBay, whose president is Omidyar”. Omydiar would later say he directed PayPal to back out of Wikileaks' cancellation.

Along with The Intercept, The Intercept Brasil (TIB) was also founded, edited in Portuguese and based in Rio de Janeiro, to receive leaks similar to Snowden’s in Brazil – and its objective was fully achieved in 2019.

TIB received from an anonymous source messages exchanged for years on the Telegram application between the federal prosecutors of Operation Lava Jato, and in particular coordinator Deltan Dalagnol, and former federal judge and former Minister of Justice Sergio Moro.

In the series of reports – named Vaza Jato – that TIB published from June 2019, in partnership with another 15 Brazilian press vehicles, revealed a wide conspiracy and illegal moves perpetrated by Dalagnol, his gang of vigilantes and the former -judge to set up a scheme in the judiciary that would make possible the arrest of Luis Inácio Lula da Silva.

The TIB thus summarizes in its pages the content of the Vaza Jato files, which Glenn more than once claimed to be larger than those of Snowden: “This is just the beginning of what we intend to make a continuous journalistic investigation of the actions of Moro, of the prosecutor Deltan Dallagnol and the Lava Jato task force – in addition to the conduct of countless individuals who still hold enormous political and economic power inside and outside Brazil.

The importance of these revelations is explained by the incomparable consequences of Lava Jato's actions in all these years of investigation. This widespread scandal involves several oligarchs, political leaders, past presidents and even international leaders accused of corruption”.

But, as had already happened with the publication of articles based on the Snowden files, the initial outpouring of TIB denouncements based on the files of Dalagnol, Moro&cia, which took the title of was dwindling. The most recent article in the series was published on September 13th. The decline in TIB production on this subject is undeniable.

How are the Snowden and Vaza Jato files?

Since Glenn left The Intercept and TIB (his name is not even mentioned on the website as he was the founder of both publications), a series of unanswered questions and questions about the future of online publications emerge:

1 – How and with whom are the Snowden and Vaza Jato archives kept? Does Glenn have the right, and conditions, to keep them private and secure now that he's relinquished the umbrella that was The Intercept and TIB? After all, will the company that edits both – First Look Media, from Omydiar - have custody and exclusivity for publishing such important files?

2 – Companies such as eBay, Amazon – which are actually platforms for the massive collection of data from their users – have the independence and legitimacy to finance communication companies that deal with public issues that are so central to the lives of entire societies?

*Carlos Tautz is a doctoral candidate in History at the Fluminense Federal University (UFF).


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