There’s probably something a little wrong with someone who would be a whistleblower, and a free society is usually richer for it. The question to ask about Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald is not whether they’re perfect people, whether they’re heroes, but if America is better off overall for their actions. From Geoff Dyer’s well-written Financial Times review of Greenwald’s new book:
“Ever since then Greenwald, who left the Guardian last October, has had a long line of reporters queueing outside his house in Rio de Janeiro to hear the story (I am one of the guilty parties). Yet he has somehow still managed to make the tale seem fresh. The first third of his book is a genuinely gripping account of his encounters with Snowden. Jason Bourne meets The Social Network: the film rights for this one will sell themselves.
Snowden instructed Greenwald to find the meeting room in his Kowloon hotel with a plastic alligator on the floor. He entered carrying a Rubik’s Cube (‘unsolved’) and responded to a prepared question about the hotel food. Back in Snowden’s room and with their mobile phones in the fridge to prevent prying ears, the former lawyer Greenwald questioned him for five hours. Snowden confessed that some of his political ideas had been gleaned from video games, which provided the lesson ‘that just one person, even the most powerless, can confront great injustice.’
The book adds little fresh material on the NSA but, by putting all the reporting in one place, Greenwald gives an effective sense of the sheer scope of information that is being hoovered up. In one particularly clumsy slide, the NSA brags that its goals include: ‘Sniff it All,’ ‘Know it All,’ ‘Exploit it All,’ ‘Collect it All.’
In selecting Greenwald as his main media interlocutor, Snowden chose well. Greenwald has pursued the story with passion, ensuring that the documents have achieved the widest possible impact. He has also been a tireless defender of Snowden, even after his recent disastrous appearance on a Vladimir Putin call-in show.
But that single-mindedness, mixed with self-regard, is also Greenwald’s great weakness. He lives in a world of black and white, where all government officials are venal and independent journalists are heroes. ‘There are, broadly speaking, two choices: obedience to institutional authority or radical dissent from it,’ he writes.”