Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras, two American journalists who have been at the forefront of reporting on documents leaked by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, will return to the United States on Friday for the first time since revelations of worldwide surveillance broke.
Greenwald and Poitras, currently in Berlin, will attend Friday’s Polk Awards ceremony in New York City. The two journalists are sharing the prestigious journalism award with The Guardian’s Ewen MacAskill and with Barton Gellman, who has led The Washington Post’s reporting on the NSA documents. Greenwald and Poitras interviewed Snowden last June in Hong Kong as he first revealed himself.
In an interview with The Huffington Post, Greenwald said he’s motivated to return because “certain factions in the U.S. government have deliberately intensified the threatening climate for journalists.”
“It’s just the principle that I shouldn’t allow those tactics to stop me from returning to my own country,” Greenwald said.
Greenwald suggested government officials and members of Congress have used the language of criminalization as a tactic to chill investigative journalism.
In January, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper suggested that journalists reporting on the NSA documents were acting as Snowden’s “accomplices.” The following month, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, claimed that Greenwald was selling stolen goods by reporting stories on the NSA documents with news organizations around the world. Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) has called for Greenwald to be prosecuted.
Greenwald said the government has not informed his legal counsel whether or not he could face any potential charges, or if he’s been named in any grand jury investigation tied to the NSA disclosures.
Journalists have faced increased threats during the Obama years, both in the government’s severe crackdown on leaks and the record use of the Espionage Act to prosecute sources who provide classified information to the media.
During a March conference on the state of national security reporting, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), author of a federal shield law intended to protect journalists, said the bill was “probably not enough” to protect Greenwald.
Greenwald drew a distinction between his situation and that of Gellman, who has not been been similarly singled out by the government. Gellman, who didn’t meet with Snowden in Hong Kong but interviewed him later in Moscow, has continued to live in the U.S. while reporting for The Washington Post. Greenwald and Poitras, however, have lived abroad the entire time and have published these documents with news outlets worldwide.
Greenwald currently lives in Rio de Janeiro with his partner, David Miranda, who was detained in London’s Heathrow airport last year while carrying documents from Berlin. Poitras, a filmmaker who has reported extensively on war and surveillance and has been detained dozens of times at the U.S. border, currently lives in Berlin.
The Pulitzer Prizes will be announced Monday and it is expected that reporting on the NSA, one of the biggest stories of the past year, will be honored in some capacity.
Two reporters central to revealing the massive U.S. government surveillance effort returned to the United States on Friday for the first time since the story broke and used the occasion to praise their exiled source: Edward Snowden.
Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras of The Guardian became a story of their own amid speculation they could be arrested upon arriving at Kennedy Airport. They were instead confronted by only reporters and photographers before fighting through traffic en route to a midtown Manhattan hotel to receive a George Polk Award for national security reporting.
In remarks before an audience of other journalists and editors, the pair credited the courage of Snowden, the former NSA contractor who leaked the information for their story.
“This award is really for Edward Snowden,” Poitras said.
Greenwald said, “I hope that as journalists we realize not only the importance of defending our own rights, but also those of our sources like Edward Snowden.”
At the airport, Greenwald said he and Poitras were not “100 percent sure” they could enter the U.S. without being arrested. He said lawyers had been seeking assurance from the Justice Department “and they purposefully wouldn’t give them any information about whether we were the target of a grand jury or whether there was already an indictment that was under seal.”
Still, Greenwald said he “expected that they wouldn’t be that incredibly stupid and self-destructive to try and do something that in the eyes of the world would be viewed as incredibly authoritarian.”
After the award ceremony, Greenwald told reporters that he still speaks regularly to Snowden, who was granted asylum in Russia for a year. He said Snowden was aware Greenwald and Poitras were to be honored in New York and “was very supportive of that.”