Snowden is a ‘polarizing force,’ says Post’s Barton Gellman

Barton Gellman and Alex S. Jones

Barton Gellman and Alex S. Jones

October 15, 2013 – As one of only three people with direct contact to Edward Snowden, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Bart Gellman shared with the Shorenstein Center how the Snowden leaks about the NSA have affected the U.S. government, marketplace and democracy.

Snowden’s greatest fear, Gellman said, was that either “he would be preempted” in his attempt to “drop a dime on the surveillance state without being surveilled,” or that he would be “greeted by indifference.” Snowden wanted a “substantial debate on where the boundaries should be drawn in terms of secret intelligence gathering in a democracy,” Gellman said, and he acknowledged that as a result of the Snowden leaks, a significant debate has indeed taken root in both the national and international arenas.

“Snowden is a polarizing force,” Gellman said. But stepping back to look at the big picture, he pointed out that what we have learned is that we are “living increasingly behind one-way mirrors in which we are more and more transparent to our government and to large corporate interests,” Gellman said, “and they are more and more opaque to us because the surveillance is accompanied by extraordinary levels of secrecy.”

In his recent Washington Post article, Gellman reports that the NSA has been gathering millions of email contacts and instant messaging “buddy lists,” and while Americans have not specifically been targeted, “tens of millions of Americans have been swept into this collection,” he said. The collection was intended to “discover unknown targets, but it’s not limited to terrorism.”

Gellman concluded by saying that “there is a conflict of core values at work here, which is self government and self defense. And while he does not consider himself to be an advocate, he did acknowledge himself to be an “advocate for truth telling and also for sufficient transparency to allow the public to govern itself.”

Article and photo by Janell Sims, Shorenstein Center.