Journalist Glenn Greenwald, who published the initial reports on the National Security Agency’s spy tactics, was accused by a top lawmaker on Tuesday of personally profiting from selling the information provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.
“For personal gain, he’s now selling his access to information, that’s how they’re terming it…. A thief selling stolen material is a thief,” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) told journalists after a hearing focused on the leaks.
The lawmaker alleged that Greenwald is selling NSA secrets to “both newspaper outlets and other places,” which could open the door for the U.S. government to criminally prosecute the journalist.
“To the best of your knowledge, fencing stolen material — is that a crime?” Rogers asked FBI Director James Comey during the hearing.
In most cases, Comey said, “it would be.” However, the FBI official quickly added that “First Amendment implications” make it difficult to determine whether Greenwald has done anything illegal.
If I’m a newspaper reporter for fill-in-the-blank and I sell stolen material is that legal because I’m a newspaper reporter?” Rogers pressed.
“If you’re a newspaper reporter and you’re hawking stolen jewelry, it’s still a crime,” Comey said, but again noted that a journalist’s methods of distributing information are “a harder question.”
In an interview with Politico, Greenwald said that assertions like these made by Rogers are simply government attempts to silence reporting on the NSA’s tactics.
“What they’re trying to do is to remove it from the realm of journalism, so that they can then criminalize it,” he said. “The fact that I’ve been more defiant about the U.S. government…. makes them want to do something to me more. That fact that I’ve gone around the world doing this reporting in different countries and publishing reporting around the world — that is something they want to stop.”
The journalist, who is also an attorney, said that he has insisted on freelance contracts in order to supply stories about the leaked information to news outlets in order to protect his status as a journalist.
“We do the reporting first… I vet the stories,” Greenwald said. “We come with the story already formed. We work on drafts of the story. We always edit the story. We have approval rights.”
Without the contracts, Greenwald said, the government could treat him as a source and subject him to prosecution for spreading information about the leaks.
“If I went around and reported on this without a freelance contract or a freelance fee paid, the government would say I’m acting as a source and not a distributor of the documents,” Greenwald said. “I never work with any foreign media outlet without any kind of agreement…. I have to do it that way. If I don’t, they would make other accusations.”
The journalist and civil liberty advocate said that the freelance contracts are always for a “trivial amount.”
“I usually say, ‘Let’s just do the lowest, reasonable fee you give any person in the world,’” he said.
In recent weeks, intelligence officials have noted that the government is actively investigating the roles of Snowden and “his accomplices” in publicizing the NSA’s spying.