Thursday, April 17, 2014

Ukraine and Russia



Ukraine and Russia

Our educational system is admittedly horrible to the extent that we rank something like 26 or 46 in industrialized countries, but it has never been so clear as recently as the Corporate media here has indoctrinated even those with whom we are familiar and among those who have already had their "consciousness raised."  Recently we had asked what the point was to repeatedly point to hypocrisy and veniality in our "capitalist" system as it seems so obvious to all except those who WILL NOT SEE, and the reply was to "raise consciousness."  This seemed worthwhile to me and, certainly, healthy debate on a subject is worthwhile, but it is often necessary to repeat the basic axiom of intellectual discourse:  You are entitled to your own opinions, but not your own facts.  One does not simply construct facts to support ones conclusions (in sane circles, at any rate). 

A basic problem of discussion recently is the ignorance of even the enlightened as to some basic facts of Eurasian history, especially as relates to Russian and Ukraine today, let alone the past 900 years or so.  It is best to start small, so we confine ourselves to the past six months or so here, other than to point out that Russia has always been surrounded by its enemies, and we have been increasing that fact, while the United States enjoys a position with two Oceans separating it from any enemies (except Mexico for a short period of time and its own south, perhaps even today). 

We will now cease the introduction with one more fact: the Tartars, for whom we pretended great sympathy are descendents of Genghis Khan who had invaded.  Today, on the whole, they are quite happy to be included in the Russian Federation, whether it fits our own biases or not.

And finally, what does it say when someone who simply points out facts is considered a "Putin Apologist"?  For one thing, Putin is not in the habit of apologizing,  For another, all it can possible mean in sane circles is that the facts support an interpretation not shared by our corporate media.

Here is an interview with perhaps the only sane commentator that has appeared on any media to discuss the situation:



THURSDAY, APRIL 17, 2014

"We Are Not Beginning a New Cold War, We are Well into It": Stephen Cohen on Russia-Ukraine Crisis

As negotiations over the crisis in Ukraine begin in Geneva, tension is rising in the Ukrainian east after security forces killed three pro-Russian protesters, wounded 13 and took 63 captive in the city of Mariupol. Ukrainian officials said the pro-Russian separatists had attempted to storm a military base. The killings came just after the unraveling of a Ukrainian operation to retake government buildings from pro-Russian separatists. Earlier today, Russian President Vladimir Putin accused the authorities in Kiev of plunging the country into an "abyss" and refused to rule out sending forces into Ukraine. Meanwhile, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has announced a series of steps to reinforce its presence in eastern Europe. "We will have more planes in the air, more ships on the water and more readiness on the land," Rasmussen said. We are joined by Stephen Cohen, professor emeritus of Russian studies and politics at New York University and Princeton University. "We are not at the beginning of a new Cold War, we are well into it," Cohen says, "which alerts us to the fact 'hot war' is imaginable now. It’s unlikely, but it’s conceivable — and if it’s conceivable, something has to be done about it."

TRANSCRIPT

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: As negotiations over the crisis in Ukraine begin in Geneva, tension is rising in eastern Ukraine after security forces killed three pro-Russian separatists, wounded 13 and took 63 captive in the city of Mariupol. Ukrainian officials said the pro-Russians had attempted to storm a military base. The fighting comes just after the collapse of a Ukrainian operation to retake government buildings in several eastern towns. On Wednesday, pro-Russian separatists took control of some of their armored vehicles, and crowds surrounded another column, forcing the troops to hand over the pins from their rifles and retreat. Earlier today, Russian President Vladimir Putin accused the authorities in Kiev of plunging the country into an "abyss."
PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: [translated] People in eastern Ukraine have started to arm themselves. And instead of realizing that something bad is going on in the Ukrainian state and making any attempts to start a dialogue, the authorities have started to threaten with force even more and unleash tanks and aviation on civilian populations. This is another grave crime of the current Kiev authorities. I hope it will be possible to realize which hole and which abyss the current authorities are moving towards and dragging the whole country with them. And in this regard, I think the start of today’s talks in Geneva is very important. I think it is very important today to think about how to get out of this situation, to offer people a real—not ostentatious, but real—dialogue.
AMY GOODMAN: Russian President Vladimir Putin speaking on Russian television earlier today. On Wednesday, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen announced a series of steps to reinforce its forces in eastern Europe because of the Ukraine crisis.
SECRETARY GENERAL ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: We will have more planes in the air, more ships on the water and more readiness on the land. For example, air policing aircraft will fly more sorties over the Baltic region. Allied ships will deploy to the Baltic Sea, the eastern Mediterranean, and elsewhere as required.
AMY GOODMAN: To talk more about Ukraine, Stephen Cohen is with us, professor emeritus of Russian studies and politics at New York University and Princeton University; his most recent book, Soviet Fates and Lost Alternatives: From Stalinism to the New Cold War, out now in paperback. He recently wrote a piece for The Nationheadlined "Cold War Again: Who is Responsible?"
Are we seeing the beginning of a new Cold War, Professor Cohen? And what exactly is happening right now in Ukraine?
STEPHEN COHEN: Those are big questions. We are not at the beginning of the Cold War, a new one; we are well into it—which alerts us to the fact, just watching what you showed up there, that hot war is imaginable now, for the first time in my lifetime, my adult lifetime, since the Cuban missile crisis, hot war with Russia. It’s unlikely, but it’s conceivable. And if it’s conceivable, something has to be done about it.
You did two things on your introduction which were very important. Almost alone among American media, you actually allowed Putin to speak for himself. He’s being filtered through the interpretation of the mass media here, allegedly, what he said, and it’s not representative. The second thing is, let us look just what’s happening at this moment, or at least yesterday. The political head of NATO just announced a major escalation of NATO forces in Europe. He did a Churchillian riff: "We will increase our power in the air, in the sea, on the land." Meanwhile, as negotiations today begin in Geneva, we’re demanding that Russians de-escalate. And yet, we,NATO, are escalating as these negotiations begin.
So, if you were to say what is going on in Ukraine today—and, unfortunately, the focus is entirely on eastern Ukraine. We don’t have any Western media—in eastern Ukraine. We don’t have any Western—any Western media in western Ukraine, the other half of the country. We’re not clear what’s going on there. But clearly, things are getting worse and worse. Each side has a story that totally conflicts with the other side’s story. There seems to be no middle ground. And if there’s no middle ground in the public discourse, in the Russian media or the American media, it’s not clear what middle ground they can find in these negotiations, though personally, I think—and people will say, "Oh, Cohen’s a Putin apologist"—but it seemed to me that the proposals the Russians made a month ago for resolving the conflict are at least a good starting point. But it’s not clear the United States is going to accept them.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Stephen Cohen, it was just a few weeks ago when we had you on, as the crisis was beginning to unfold in Ukraine, and a lot of what you said then turned out to be true, which was that you feared that there would be a split in Ukraine itself between the east and west. And obviously Crimea was just developing then. But it seems that all of the emphasis in the coverage here is as if the crisis started with Russian aggression, not with the earlier period of what was NATO and Europe’s involvement in Ukraine before the deposing of the elected president.
STEPHEN COHEN: Well, I think you’ve emphasized the absolute flaw in at least the American—because I don’t follow the European press that closely—the American media and political narrative. As a historian, I would say that this conflict began 300 years ago, but we can’t do that. As a contemporary observer, it certainly began in November 2013 when the European Union issued an ultimatum, really, to the then-president, elected president, of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, that "Sign an agreement with us, but you can’t have one with Russia, too." In my mind, that precipitated this crisis, because why give a country that has been profoundly divided for centuries, and certainly in recent decades, an ultimatum—an elected president: "Choose, and divide your country further"? So when we say today Putin initiated this chaos, this danger of war, this confrontation, the answer is, no, that narrative is wrong from the beginning. It was triggered by the European Union’s unwise ultimatum.
Now flash forward to just one month ago, about the time I was with you before. Remember that the European foreign ministers—three of them, I think—went to Kiev and negotiated with Yanukovych, who was still the president, an agreement. Now, the Russians were present at the negotiation, but they didn’t sign it. But they signed off on it. They said, "OK." What did that agreement call for? Yanukovych would remain president until December—not May, when elections are now scheduled, but December of this year. Then there would be a presidential election. He could run in them, or not. Meanwhile, there would be a kind of government of national accord trying to pull the government together. And, importantly, Russia would chip in, in trying to save the Ukrainian economy. But there would also be parliamentary elections. That made a lot of sense. And it lasted six hours.
The next day, the street, which was now a mob—let’s—it was no longer peaceful protesters as it had been in November. It now becomes something else, controlled by very ultra-nationalist forces; overthrew Yanukovych, who fled to Russia; burned up the agreement. So who initiated the next stage of the crisis? It wasn’t Russia. They wanted that agreement of February, a month ago, to hold. And they’re still saying, "Why don’t we go back to it?" You can’t go back to it, though there is a report this morning that Yanukovych, who is in exile in Russia, may fly to eastern Ukraine today or tomorrow, which will be a whole new dimension.
But the point of it is, is that Putin didn’t want—and this is reality, this is not pro-Putin or pro-Washington, this is just a fact—Putin did not want this crisis. He didn’t initiate it. But with Putin, once you get something like that, you get Mr. Pushback. And that’s what you’re now seeing. And the reality is, as even the Americans admit, he holds all the good options. We have none. That’s not good policymaking, is it?
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s turn to President Obama. Thursday, he was interviewed byCBS News by Major Garrett.
MAJOR GARRETT: Is Vladimir Putin provoking a civil war there? And will you and Western leaders let him to get away with that?
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I think that what is absolutely clear is not only have Russians gone into Crimea and annexed it, in illegal fashion, violating the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, but what they’ve also done is supported, at minimum, nonstate militias in southern and eastern Ukraine. And we’ve seen some of the activity that’s been taking place there.
AMY GOODMAN: Professor Cohen?
STEPHEN COHEN: You left out one thing that he said which I consider to be unwise and possibly reckless. He went on to say that Russia wouldn’t go to war with us because our conventional weapons are superior. That is an exceedingly provocative thing to say. And he seems to be unaware, President Obama, that Russian military doctrine says that when confronted by overwhelming conventional forces, we can use nuclear weapons. They mean tactical nuclear weapons. I don’t think any informed president, his handlers, would have permitted him to make such a statement. In fact, depending on how far you want to take this conversation about the Obama administration, I don’t recall in my lifetime, in confrontations with Russia, an administration—I speak now of the president and his secretary of state—who seem in their public statements to be so misinformed, even uninformed, both about Ukraine and Russia. For example, when Kerry testified last week to Congress that all the unrest in Ukraine was due to Putin’s meddling and his provocations, he denied the underlying problem which has divided Ukraine. I mean, everybody knows that history, God, whoever’s responsible for our destiny, created a Ukraine that may have had one state, but wasn’t one country. It may be two, it may be three countries. But for John Kerry to say that all this conflict in Ukraine is due to Putin simply makes a resolution of the problem by denying the problem. Or let me ask you a question: What in the world was the director of the American CIA doing last Sunday—
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I was going to ask you about that.
STEPHEN COHEN: —in Kiev? It is mind-boggling that it was called a secret mission, when my grandson knows that the Ukrainian intelligence services are full of pro-Russian officers. And yet they send the head of the CIA, at this crucial, inflamed moment, thereby—to Kiev, thereby reinforcing the Russian narrative that everything that’s happening in Ukraine is an American provocation. What are they thinking?
AMY GOODMAN: Well, aside from having a very educated grandson, I just want to turn to NATO for a moment.
STEPHEN COHEN: Well, I told him that [inaudible]. But he got it. He got it.
AMY GOODMAN: NATO announced a series of steps to reinforce its forces—this isNATO in eastern Europe—because of the Ukraine crisis. NATO’s top military commander, Philip Breedlove, described the moves as defensive measures.
GEN. PHILIP BREEDLOVE: All the actions that we have proposed and have been accepted today are clearly defensive in nature. And I think it’s going to be very straightforward to see them as defensive in nature. They are designed to assure our allies. And so, I think that, in any case, it’s always a chance that you run that something might be misinterpreted. But we specifically designed these measures to assure our allies only and to be clearly seen as defensive in nature.
AMY GOODMAN: Your response, Professor Cohen?
STEPHEN COHEN: I’ve never known what "purely defensive weapons" have meant—I mean, presuming they are guns that shoot in only one direction. I mean, it’s going to have no effect. I mean, they’re talking about giving the Ukrainians maybe some small arms, some night vision stuff, some superior intelligence. They can’t give them intelligence information, because the Ukrainian intelligence services, as we know from the tapes we’ve had, the leaked tapes, and from the CIA secret mission which was exposed to Ukraine, revealed.
The real debate going on in NATO—the real debate, because this is a distraction—is what Rasmussen said in your earlier clip—he’s the political head of NATO—that we’re building up, as we talk, our forces in eastern Europe. Now, understand what’s going on here. When we took in—"we" meaning the United States and NATO—all these countries in eastern Europe into NATO, we did not—we agreed with the Russians we would not put forward military installations there. We built some infrastructure—air strips, there’s some barracks, stuff like that. But we didn’t station troops that could march toward Russia there. Now what NATO is saying, it is time to do that. Now, Russia already felt encircled by NATO member states on its borders. The Baltics are on its borders. If we move the forces, NATO forces, including American troops, to—toward Russia’s borders, where will we be then? I mean, it’s obviously going to militarize the situation, and therefore raise the danger of war.
And I think it’s important to emphasize, though I regret saying this, Russia will not back off. This is existential. Too much has happened. Putin—and it’s not just Putin. We seem to think Putin runs the whole of the universe. He has a political class. That political class has opinions. Public support is running overwhelmingly in favor of Russian policy. Putin will compromise at these negotiations, but he will not back off if confronted militarily. He will not.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I wanted to ask you about the situation in Russia, especially the growing—some reports are that Putin’s popularity has now surged to about 80 percent of the population, at a time when there was actually a dissident movement that was beginning to gather strength within Russia against the more authoritarian aspects of Russian society.
STEPHEN COHEN: Since this is Democracy Now!, let me assert my age and my credential. Beginning in the 1970s, I lived in Russia among the then-Soviet dissidents. They were brave people. They were pro-democracy. They struggled. They paid the price. With the coming of Gorbachev, who embraced many of their democratizing ideas, they were marginalized, or they moved into the establishment as official democratizers. This struggle has continued, even under Putin. But the result of this confrontation, East-West confrontation—and I can’t emphasize how fundamental and important it is—is going to set back whatever prospects remained in Russia for further democratization or re-democratization, possibly a whole generation. It is simply going to take all the traction these people have gotten out from under them. And still worse, the most authoritarian forces in Russia and Russia’s authoritarian traditions will now be reinvigorated politically in kind of a—
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And it’s all ultra-nationalist, as well, right?
STEPHEN COHEN: Well, I wouldn’t say it’s ultra-nationalists, but it’s certainly nationalist.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Right.
STEPHEN COHEN: And, I mean, by the way, we’re a nationalist country.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Right.
STEPHEN COHEN: We use a different word: We call it "patriotism." Do you remember an American president who ever ran and said, "I’m not an American patriot"? I say I’m an American patriot. We don’t call ourselves "nationalists." Also, we don’t have a state in the United States; we have a government. The Europeans have states. We have a government. But you take away the language—this is not unusual, but there—when it surges like this, as it does in run-ups to war—and we’re in the run-up at least to a possible war—this is what you get. That’s why I think the policy, the American policy, has been unwise from the beginning.
AMY GOODMAN: The front page of The New York Times: "Russia Economy Worsens Even Before Sanctions Hit." And they’re attributing it partly to Russia’s action in Crimea.
STEPHEN COHEN: Yeah. Well, I mean, the asymmetry of all of this, right? We say Putin’s got 40,000 troops on Ukraine’s border. And there may or may not be; nobody’s exactly clear how long they’ve been there and what they’re doing, but obviously they’re not helping the situation. But what we have are sanctions that we may put in place against Putin’s cronies. This is—this is the threat. This is what the White House says: "We are going to sanction his oligarchical cronies." And presumably, on this theory, they will go to him and say, "Look, Volodya, you’ve got to stop this, because my bank accounts ..." This is utter nonsense. First of all, he’ll just appoint new oligarchs. Secondly, there’s a law in the Russian Duma, the Parliament, being debated that the state will compensate anybody whose assets are frozen in the West. Now, I don’t know if they’ll pass the law, but you could see that this doesn’t bother the Kremlin leadership.
AMY GOODMAN: We just have one minute. The significance of the meeting in Geneva with Ukraine, Russia, United States, European Union, and what’s going to happen in eastern Ukraine?
STEPHEN COHEN: Well, I don’t know what’s going to happen, but things are getting worse and worse. People are being killed. So, obviously, that’s bad, and we’re moving closer toward a military confrontation. The Russians are asking at negotiations the following. They want NATO expansion ended to its all former Soviet republics. That means Ukraine and Georgia, period. I think we should give them that. This has been a reckless, endangering policy. It’s time for it to end. They want a federal Ukrainian state. That’s a debate. But Ukraine is several countries; you can only hold it together with a federal constitution. And they want, in the end, a stable Ukraine, and they will contribute financially to making that possible. I don’t see any reason there, other than the White House saving political face, why that’s not a good negotiating position to begin with.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Stephen Cohen, we want to thank you very much for being with us, professor of Russian studies at New York University, before that, Princeton University, author of numerous books on Russia and the Soviet Union. His most recent book, Soviet Fates and Lost Alternatives: From Stalinism to the New Cold War, just out in paperback. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. Stay with us.

Creative Commons LicenseThe original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to democracynow.org. Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.
  

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

"This Award is for Snowden"



"This Award is for Snowden"

Not much time to introduce this, but today the Pulitzer went to the Guardian and the Washington Post for their role in the same story.  We just wanted to get this to you as soon as possible.

Other things are going on as all of East Ukraine is revolting against Kiev.  More on other matters when the dust settles.  For sure, the Kiev government is doing its best to clog up social media with its own plea for support.  Another point: remember early on the shot of a pretty young girl asking for help for Ukraine?  Well, it turns out it was produced.  When exposed as a fake, they also ran a take from "Wag the Dog" of the girl with a white kitten, in case you remember that movie. 



MONDAY, APRIL 14, 2014

"This Award is for Snowden": Greenwald, Poitras Accept Polk Honor for Exposing NSA Surveillance

In their first return to the United States since exposing the National Security Agency’s mass surveillance operations, journalists Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras were honored in New York City on Friday with the George Polk Award for National Security Reporting. Over the past 10 months, Poitras and Greenwald have played key roles in reporting the massive trove of documents leaked by Edward Snowden. They were joined by colleagues Ewen MacAskill of The Guardian and Barton Gellman of The Washington Post, with whom they shared the award. In their acceptance speeches, Poitras and Greenwald paid tribute to their source. "Each one of these awards just provides further vindication that what [Snowden] did in coming forward was absolutely the right thing to do and merits gratitude, and not indictments and decades in prison," Greenwald said. "None of us would be here … without the fact that someone decided to sacrifice their life to make this information available," Poitras said. "And so this award is really for Edward Snowden."

TRANSCRIPT

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: Ten months ago, Laura Poitras and Glenn Greenwald flew from New York to Hong Kong to meet National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden. Since then, they’ve published a trove of stories exposing the NSA and the national surveillance state. Poitras and Greenwald did not return to the United States until this past Friday, when they flew from Berlin to New York to accept the George Polk Award for National Security Reporting. They flew in not knowing if they would be detained or subpoenaed by the U.S. government. In January, the director of national intelligence, James Clapper, described journalists working on the NSA story as Snowden’s, quote, "accomplices." In February, Republican Congressmember Mike Rogers, chair of the House Intelligence Committee, accused Glenn Greenwald of selling stolen goods by reporting stories on the NSA documents. Greenwald and Poitras were accompanied on their trip by an ACLU attorney, a German reporter and Glenn Greenwald’s partner, David Miranda. Last year, Miranda was detained for nine hours at London’s Heathrow Airport under an anti-terrorism law.
At the George Polk Awards ceremony in New York City Friday, Poitras and Greenwald were joined by their colleagues, Ewen MacAskill of The Guardian and Barton Gellman of The Washington Post, who shared the award with them. This is Laura Poitras, followed by Glenn Greenwald, in their acceptance speeches.
LAURA POITRAS: So, I’m really incredibly honored to be here and thankful to the Polk committee for giving me a really good excuse to come home. This is the first time I’ve been home since I boarded a plane with Glenn and Ewen to go to Hong Kong, and so it’s really spectacular to be here. And it’s also quite disorienting. Last May, you know, the field, what we looked at, was a lot of uncertainty, risk, concern for everyone, and so it’s really extraordinary to be here and receive this award. But I think that it’s important also that we remember that when we actually do this reporting, the enormous risks that journalists take on and especially that sources take on, and in the case of Snowden, putting his life on the line, literally, to share this information to the public, not just the American public, but to the public internationally.
And we—I want to say something about working with Glenn and Ewen. People—you don’t really know how people will respond to risk, until you’re confronted with it. You know, you hope that you’ll stand up and that you’ll have each other’s back, and that those will be the people who will protect you and get you home safely. And I just want to say that this award would not be possible without their courage and bravery and fierce reporting every step of the way. And we were, as Ewen said, untested working together. We had each had our areas of expertise, but we got on the plane having never worked together and did something and worked together in a way that was really extraordinary, and I’ll forever be bound to them.
None of us would be here—Bart, Ewen, Glenn, The Washington Post,The Guardian, The New York Times, all the people who are being offered these awards—without the fact that someone decided to sacrifice their life to make this information available. He’s not the first person who’s sacrificed their life, but he came forward with information that allows us to know what’s actually happening. And so this award is really for Edward Snowden. Thank you.
GLENN GREENWALD: First of all, thank you so much to the Polk committee and Long Island University for this award. The reporting that we’ve done has received a lot of support and a lot of praise and the like, but it’s also received some very intense criticism, primarily in the United States and the U.K. And so, to be honored and recognized by our journalistic colleagues this way—speaking for myself, at least—means a great deal. I’m also really honored to be able to share the award with the people that I call my journalistic colleagues, who are on stage here with me, the people that James Clapper calls "accomplices." You know, it really is true that the story could not have been told without numerous people, committed to telling it, involved every step of the way.
And I’m finally really happy to see a table full of Guardian editors and journalists whose role in this story was much more integral than the publicity generally recognizes. I mean, I think it’s easy to look back now and think this is so obviously such an incredibly important journalistic story and to think that any editor or newspaper would simply dive right in and want to aggressively tell the story, but it really wasn’t true. Back in those early days of Hong Kong, there were all kinds of very grave question marks hanging over the source, the material, the legal liability, the political reaction. And I’m so happy that I was part of an institution at The Guardian staffed with incredibly intrepid editors and reporters. Ewen named a few of them—many of them, but certainly leading the list is Janine Gibson and Stuart Millar and Alan Rusbridger, who really never flinched in not only allowing us, but pushing us and encouraging us to pursue the story as fearlessly and aggressively as possible. And I really believe that the reporting could not have happened, the way that at least I thought that it should happen, had it not been for The Guardian. So I certainly consider them an integral part of this award.
Just one final point, which is that when we were in Hong Kong, we actually spent, obviously, a great deal of time talking about surveillance policies and the documents and the like, but we also spent at least as much time, if not more so, talking about issues of media and journalism. And in part, that was because we knew that how the media treated this story would be a major part of how—of what the impact was; in part, we knew that it was because the debate that we hoped to trigger was not just one about surveillance, but about the proper role of journalism and the relationship between the media and the government or other factions that wield great power. But we also knew that we were doing this reporting in the context of what already was some pretty grave threats to the news-gathering process, in terms of the unprecedented attacks on whistleblowers by the Obama administration, as well as the controversy that had happened literally weeks before we began publishing, which was the trolling through AP and phone—emails and phone records of AP reporters and editors, and then formally declaring James Rosen of Fox News a, quote, "co-conspirator" for having done what journalists do every single day, which is work with their source to gather information that the public should know. And I think it’s important to recognize how intensified those threats became over the last nine or 10 months.
There are ways to intimidate journalists. You can imprison them en masse, but there are other ways to do it. And calling journalists working on stories "accomplices," or having powerful chairmen of committees specifically accuse journalists of being criminals and advocating for their prosecution, or having major media figures openly debate whether we ought to be prosecuted is a way to intensify that climate of fear, as is detaining my partner or marching into The Guardian's newsroom and forcing them to destroy those laptops. And I think, ultimately, the only way to deal with those kind of threats is to just do the reporting as aggressively, if not more so, than you would have absent those threats. And I feel like all of the journalists involved in this story have done that, and I'm really proud to have worked with so many who did.
And then, finally, you know, I think journalism in general is impossible without brave sources. I know our journalism, in particular, would have been impossible without the incredible courage of Edward Snowden. And it’s really remarkable that the reporting that we’ve done has won all sorts of awards, not just in the United States, but around the world, and he, in particular, has received immense support, incredible amounts of praise from countries all over the world and all sorts of awards, and the fact that for the act of bringing to the world’s attention this system of mass surveillance that had been constructed in the dark, he’s now threatened with literally decades in prison, probably the rest of his life, as a result of what the United States government is doing, I think, is really odious and unacceptable. And I hope that, as journalists, we realize how important it is not only to defend our own rights, but also those of our sources like Edward Snowden. And I think each one of these awards just provides further vindication that what he did in coming forward was absolutely the right thing to do and merits gratitude, and not indictments and decades in prison. Thanks very much.
AMY GOODMAN: Journalists Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras, giving their acceptance speeches at the George Polk Awards ceremony in New York on Friday—the George Polk Awards, among the most prestigious in journalism. When we come back, we’ll air excerpts of the news conference after the ceremony. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. Back in a minute.
MONDAY, APRIL 14, 2014

"We Won’t Succumb to Threats": Journalists Return to U.S. for First Time Since Revealing NSA Spying

Ten months ago, Laura Poitras and Glenn Greenwald flew from New York to Hong Kong to meet National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden. Poitras and Greenwald did not return to the United States until this past Friday, when they flew from Berlin to New York to accept the George Polk Award for National Security Reporting. They arrived not knowing if they would be detained or subpoenaed after Director of National Intelligence James Clapper described journalists working on theNSA story as Snowden’s "accomplices." At a news conference following the George Polk Award ceremony, Poitras and Greenwald took questions from reporters about their reporting and the government intimidation it has sparked.

TRANSCRIPT

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: Music from the album The Celestial Green Monster by Fred Ho, the baritone saxophonist, composer, bandleader, writer and activist. Ho passed away Saturday after a long battle with cancer. He was 56 years old. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.
After winning the George Polk Award for National Security Reporting on Friday in New York, journalists Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras held a news conference along with Guardian reporter Ewen MacAskill. The three of them were the reportersNSA whistleblower Edward Snowden met with last June in Hong Kong. Poitras and Greenwald flew in from Berlin for the ceremony, arriving midway. The reporters in the room did not know what would happen. Democracy Now! attended the news conference after the ceremony. Greenwald and Poitras began by responding to a question about whether they were worried about getting detained or arrested entering the United States Friday for the first time since they started working on the NSA story.
GLENN GREENWALD: We weren’t so worried that we weren’t willing to get on the plane. I mean, if we were really worried, we wouldn’t have come. There was no need for us to come. But we knew, certainly, that it was a risk.
I mean, I think the important thing to realize about this is that American national security officials and other officials in the government have deliberately created an environment where they wanted us to think there was a risk. They have very deliberately and publicly suggested that the journalism we were doing was a crime. They have advocated that we be arrested. They have had their favorite media figures openly speculate about the possibility that we would be. They detained my partner for nine hours. They announced that there was a terrorism investigation pending in the U.K., and they refused to give my lawyers any information at all about whether there was a grand jury investigation, whether there was an indictment under seal—very unusual behavior when dealing with these lawyers, in particular, who say that they can always get at least something.
So they wanted us to have this kind of uncertainty about whether or not they would take action upon our return to the U.S. That’s very clear. And it’s easy, I guess, to say it doesn’t seem likely that it will happen, but when those threats are being directed at you, you take them seriously. And so we did, but then, obviously, assessed that the risk was low enough, mostly because we didn’t think that they would be so counterproductive or self-destructive to do it, and were willing, therefore, to get on a plane and come back.
REPORTER: And those conversations about the indictment, how long—or if there was an indictment or grand jury out, how long did those conversations go on?
GLENN GREENWALD: We’ve been trying to get information from the government about whether or not we could safely return to the U.S. for at least four to five months. And originally, the government said that they were willing to have conversations about what that might entail, and then, ultimately, I guess, decided that they weren’t willing to have those conversations, because they just stopped returning calls and stopped giving any information. And so, they just expressly refused to say whether or not there were—whether there was a pending indictment under seal or whether or not we were the targets of a grand jury investigation.
AMY GOODMAN: Your trip isn’t over. It doesn’t just have to happen at the airport. What are you concerned about, for both Glenn and Laura? And, Laura, if you could describe how your experience coming through the airport today compared with your previous experiences?
LAURA POITRAS: Sure. I mean, you know, the other risk that I think that we face as journalists right now are the risk of subpoena, where the government subpoenas our material to try to get information about our source. And we know that the government has been using the border as a sort of legal no man’s land to get access to journalists’ materials. I mean, I’ve experienced that for six years, where I’ve been detained, interrogated and had equipment seized at the border, and never told, you know, for what reason that’s happening. So—
AMY GOODMAN: How many times have you been stopped?
LAURA POITRAS: You know, I’ve asked the government to answer that question, and they won’t tell me. I think close to 40 or more. I’ve got FOIAs out, and soon as I can get a precise count, I’ll certainly publish it. So, I mean, the risks of subpoena are very real. And as—you know, as you indicate, I mean, the fact that we’re here is not an indication that there isn’t a threat. We know there’s a threat. We know there’s a threat from what the government is saying in terms how they’re talking about this journalism, the journalism that we’re doing. And, I mean, the reason we’re here is because we’re not going to, you know, succumb to those threats.
AMY GOODMAN: What are your plans for the United States? Will you be staying here long? Glenn, will you be moving back? Laura, will you be moving back?
GLENN GREENWALD: I mean, I think—you know, I think that this first step—I mean, since we didn’t know what today held, we haven’t been doing a lot of long-term thinking, because we had no idea what the outcome would be of our deplaning. But I think that once we got on the airplane this morning, it was a commitment not just to come back for this one time, but to come back whenever we want, which is our prerogative as American citizens. And it ought to be our right, not just to come back, but to come back without fear of that kind of harassment, to even have that enter our thought process.
So I don’t know what Laura’s long-term plans are, I mean, but for me, you know, I have a book coming out next month, and I want to be able to come to the U.S. to talk about the issues that it raises. I have a lot of journalistic colleagues here with whom I’m working. I want to be able to freely travel to work with them and work on stories in the United States and to talk about the things I think we need to be talking about. So I do think this sort of presages more visits to the U.S. for me.
LAURA POITRAS: I mean, I started working outside of the United States and setting up my edit studio in Berlin before I was contacted by Snowden, and because of the sort of repeated targeting that I had at the border, and so this was the decision I had made before working on theNSA material. And for me, the decision is: I don’t feel confident I can protect source material in the United States right now. I mean, it’s just—I certainly can’t cross a border with it or with my equipment or anything that I consider to be sensitive. And so, my plan is to finish editing and then return. I mean, I absolutely plan to return.
REPORTER: What worries each of you the most about the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court?
GLENN GREENWALD: Well, what worries me is the fact that it doesn’t have any of the attributes that we’re taught as first-year law students, or even as American citizens, make a court an actual court. It operates in complete secrecy. There’s only one side allowed to be heard, which is the government. And it even for a long time was housed in the Justice Department, indicating what its real purpose is, which is not to be an outside body exerting oversight, but to be an enabler of what the executive branch wants to do. And the proof is in the pudding, in that there’s been 30 years of FISA court decisions and an infinitesimal, humiliatingly small number of demands by the U.S. government to surveil that have been even modified, let alone rejected, by that court. So it’s purely fictitious, the idea that it exerts any real oversight over the surveillance regime.
AMY GOODMAN: What has been your latest communication with Edward Snowden? What is he—what are his concerns now and where he stands in Russia?
GLENN GREENWALD: Well, I mean, you know, I don’t think it’s any secret that I talk to him regularly. And, you know, I feel like a lot of what we do has an impact on him, because things—just choices that we make can have an influence on how he’s perceived or even what his legal situation is. So, you know, we certainly talked about our plans to come back, and he was very supportive of that.
And, you know, I think that his situation in Russia is what it’s basically been for the last eight months, which is that he’s in a country that he didn’t choose to be in, that he was forced to remain in by the United States revoking his passport and then threatening other countries not to allow him safe transit. But at the same time, that alternative, as imperfect as it might be, is certainly preferable to the alternative of not being in Russia, which is being put into a supermax prison in the United States for the next 30 years, if not the rest of his life. And so, given how likely of an outcome that was, and he knew that was when he made his choice, I think he’s very happy with his current situation.
REPORTER: Do you know what kind of—whether he’s still—whether he’s actively being pursued now? It seems like recently he’s been speaking a lot, speaking out a lot more, like giving telepresence talks. Does he feel safer?
GLENN GREENWALD: I mean, you know, I think his—I mean, it’s really kind of an extraordinary thing that’s sort of been underappreciated, the fact that he made the choice to go before the world and say that this leak, which is the largest national security leak in American history, the one that has made the American national security state angrier than any other, "is something that I did. And I’m not only saying that I did it, but I want to tell you my rationale for why I did it, and I’m proud of it." And, you know, eight months later, he is further away from the grasp of the United States than he has ever been. And, you know, I think that he feels not just a duty, but a sort of a responsibility, to participate in the debate that he helped to trigger around the world. And the fact that he’s able to do that is one of the reasons why I think it’s so important that he hasn’t been in prison. I don’t think he’s ever going to feel safe, but I think he feels confident enough to be speaking out, and especially because he feels like the focus will remain on the revelations and not on him personally.
REPORTER: What’s the most important revelation, do you think, that came from all the documents that were released because of Edward Snowden?
GLENN GREENWALD: For me, the most significant revelation is the ambition of the United States government and its four English-speaking allies to literally eliminate privacy worldwide, which is not hyperbole. The goal of the United States government is to collect and store every single form of electronic communication that human beings have with one another and give themselves the capacity to monitor and analyze those communications. So, even though I’ve been warning for a long time about this being an out-of-control, rogue surveillance state, long before I ever heard the name Edward Snowden, to see in the documents that that not only is their ambition, but something that they’re increasingly close to achieving, was, to me, by far the most significant goal, something that I don’t think anyone in the world knew or understood. And every other revelation is really just a subset of that one.
REPORTER: And just to follow up, do you think that nuclear terrorism or any of the threats against the United States would justify that kind of searching of the world? I mean, would we want a nuclear terrorist to go off in New York?
GLENN GREENWALD: Yeah, I mean, I don’t—no, I don’t think that the desire to detect what a small number of people are doing justifies ubiquitous, mass, suspicionless surveillance. And I actually think that the system that says collect everything makes it actually harder to find the things that they claim they’re looking for, because when you collect so much, it’s really impossible almost to find the Boston Marathon attack or the attempted detonation of a bomb in Times Square, any of the other things that the surveillance state, as ubiquitous as it is, failed to detect.
REPORTER: The Obama administration has prosecuted more whistleblowers than all other administrations combined. What is the future of whistleblowing?
GLENN GREENWALD: Do you want to—
LAURA POITRAS: Well, I mean, I think—I’m not going to go into too many details, but I think what we’re seeing is actually more people coming forward, you know, more people realizing that they—that their conscience is telling them that there are things that they know of that should be public. And I can’t go into lots of details. I mean, one that is—actually has been reported was a story that Glenn did with Jeremy Scahill, which was on the targeted killing program and how they’re using metadata to assassinate people without actually knowing the identities of the people. And that came—that information was—that was a source that came forward. So I think, you know, we’re—I mean, I think, you know, in this sort of post-9/11 era, I think there are a lot of people who have sort of a heavy conscience over what has happened and who have a lot of information. And I think that maybe the risk that Snowden has taken opens up a space where people will maybe feel that now is the time to come forward.
MIKE BURKE: What tips do you have for journalists working in the United States regarding securing their data and communications with sources?
LAURA POITRAS: OK, so—and you’re talking about people who are doing like national security reporting? So, I’m on—Glenn and I are both on the board of an organization called the Freedom of the Press Foundation. We just published a blog about a tool that’s called Tails, which is a operating system that runs on a—either USB stick or SD disc, that is a sort of all-in-one encryption tool that you can use for PGP and encryption [inaudible]. And it’s just quite—it’s just really secure. And we are—we didn’t talk about it for a long time, because we didn’t necessarily want to draw attention to it, so that it would be—avoid being targeted. But we figured, by now, the intelligence agencies who are paying attention would sort of—it would be on their radar. So, it’s actually—it’s a really important tool for journalists.
And I think there are huge concerns for international journalists and their communications and how they protect sources, and that these revelations have exposed. So, for instance, information that’s foreign information that’s transited to the United States gets sucked up, and so how are you going to protect your sources? And how do intelligence agencies behind the scenes share information? And those are all the—these are all things that I think will continue to come forward as more sources come forward and more reporting is done. And, yeah.
REPORTER: How do you feel the U.S. public has reacted? And do you feel like there’s been a sufficient amount of reaction from the U.S. public?
GLENN GREENWALD: I mean, I think the number of people in this room, 10 months after we first did our reporting, is a testament to how much the story has resonated. And, you know, because I live outside the United States, I think I’m probably a little bit more attentive to how it has resonated internationally, which sometimes I think gets lost in the debate in the United States. But really, I mean, literally around the globe, people think not only about surveillance, but about individual privacy in a digital age and the trustworthiness of government officials to exercise power in the dark and the proper role of journalism vis-à-vis the state, and a whole variety of other topics, including the role that the United States government is playing in the world, in a radically different light than they did prior to this reporting. And I—you know, I see the impact when I go other places and talk about the story, how much it continues to resonate.
And I know I’ve said this before over many months, many times, and there’s a little bit of skepticism when I say it in some circles, but I say it because it really is true: In my opinion, the stories that are the most significant and that are the most shocking and that will have the broadest and most enduring implications are the ones that we’re currently working on and have not yet been reported. And so, I think it’s really hard to assess while we’re still in the middle of the story, which is really where we are, what the ultimate consequences will be. I don’t think we know. But, for me, of course, there’s some indifference or some apathy. There’s some jaded, you know, sort of cynicism. But in general, the public reaction has been, speaking for myself, just vastly larger and more consequential than even in my wildest dreams I imagined could happen when I started working on the story.
AMY GOODMAN: Edward Snowden just warned that the U.S. government is surveilling human rights groups in the United States. Can you, any of you, address this, what you know about this, from the documents, and to U.S. just refusing to give Chancellor Merkel her NSAfile?
GLENN GREENWALD: I’ll only break news on Democracy Now!, as you know, but not at press conferences. But, no, I mean, you know, as I said, I mean, I think some of the most significant stories are left to come, and it’s hard to preview them when they haven’t gone through the journalistic process and to talk about ones that we haven’t published. But obviously, Edward Snowden is aware of what’s in the material that he gave us. And so, when he describes what the surveillance state is doing, I think it should be deemed pretty reliable, since everything else that he said about that has proven to be true. And I believe that will, as well, without sort of talking about the reporting that we’re doing.
LAURA POITRAS: I mean, working in Germany, I mean, as we all know, the history of the Stasi in Germany makes this country very, very sensitive to these kinds of invasions of privacy and very aware of their corrosive and pernicious effects when you have governments that surveil their own populations. And so, you have that, and then you’re also balancing the sort of global politics of allies and how—I mean, the government there, I think, is deeply, deeply, deeply concerned about the spying that’s happening there, and they’re trying to, you know, really, I think, investigate that. And I also think, though, there are a lot of things in which the BND is working with the NSA. And so, I think it’s too soon to say what’s going to happen there.
SAM ALCOFF: A lot of the focus has been on the government and theNSA. Would Booz Allen Hamilton, as private clients—is there any reason to believe that they shared any of the vast troves of information they had with private clients?
GLENN GREENWALD: I mean, it’s—you know, I think it’s hard for us to talk about things that we haven’t actually reported, because it just wouldn’t be a meaningful way to talk about it, because the reporting that we do—oftentimes you read a document, and you think you know the meaning of it, and then you go and do your research and read other documents and consult with experts, and it turns out that the understanding that you had of it originally isn’t the accurate understanding. So I try really hard not just to spout off about things that we haven’t gone through the process of reporting.
Having said that, I will just say that in general the—there almost is no division between the private sector and the NSA, or the private sector and the Pentagon, when it comes to the American national security state. They really are essentially one. And so, to talk about whether or not there are protections on how Booz Allen uses the material versus how the NSA uses it almost assumes, falsely, that there is this really strict separation. They call each other partners because that’s what they are. And they’re indispensable in every way to the national security state, which is why Edward Snowden had access to all these materials, not as an NSA employee, but as a Booz Allen employee.
REPORTER: Any regrets on what you’ve done so far?
GLENN GREENWALD: No, I have none at all. I doubt they do, either. But—
REPORTER: What are your hopes for actual reform in—U.S. surveillance reform, in general?
GLENN GREENWALD: I mean, speaking for myself, I would like to see the debate be about not whether the U.S. should be collecting metadata under a specific provision of the PATRIOT Act, 215, but the broader question of whether or not we want to empower the government to monitor and surveil people who are suspected of absolutely no wrongdoing whatsoever, essentially to engage in mass surveillance. Is that really a proper function of the state? And even beyond just domestically, why should one government, in particular, turn the Internet from what it was intended to be, and its greatest promise, which is a tool of freedom and human exploration and liberation, into the most oppressive tool of human control and surveillance ever known in history?
And so, I don’t think anybody thinks that there’s no legitimate form of surveillance. I think that it’s perfectly legitimate for the government to surveil people about whom there’s evidence, real evidence, to believe and convince a court to believe that they’re engaged in actual wrongdoing, a targeted surveillance of people for whom there’s probable cause or some similar standard. But mass surveillance, suspicionless surveillance, of our private communications, I think, is without any justification whatsoever. And I think the national security state ought to be reined in and converted from a system of mass surveillance into one of targeted surveillance.
REPORTER: Have you yet seen any evidence that other countries have regarded these revelations as "we better up our game"?
GLENN GREENWALD: No. Actually, I think that’s an interesting point, as a matter of fact, is I don’t think any countries—you know, I can’t talk to closed societies like China. I don’t know what, you know, their reactions have been. But I think open governments, open countries, their reaction has not been, "Let’s pull our resources to match and replicate the capabilities of the United States." Instead—it is, instead, "Let’s figure out how to defend ourselves from what essentially is this digital invasion of the privacy of our citizens and our elected leaders." And I know in Brazil, for example, and in Germany, the two countries that probably have been the most affected by the revelations and where the reaction has been most intense, there has been very serious debate and resources devoted to figuring out how to build defenses to protect the sanctity of the privacy of their communications.
AMY GOODMAN: Quickly, your—President Obama renewing the bulk phone record data collection despite calling for some reforms, your response to it?
GLENN GREENWALD: I mean, you know, I think that it’s—you know, President Obama likes to parade around as some sort of, you know, King Solomon figure in between the excesses of the NSA and those who are raising concerns about it, and trying to balance it and come up with some reasonable centrist approach. I mean, that’s generally his political brand. The reality is, is that he’s presided over this out-of-control system for five years and has never expressed a single inclination to rein it in in any way. So the fact that he’s continuing it for as long as he can, I think, is the opposite of surprising. I mean, he is an advocate of this system over which he presided for so many years. I mean, I think he’s one of the obstacles to reform, not a vehicle for it.
AMY GOODMAN: Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras, speaking at a news conference on Friday after winning the George Polk Awards—the ceremony took place in New York—for their reporting on Edward Snowden and the National Security Agency. They flew in from Berlin that day. They came in in the midst of the ceremony, not knowing if they would be detained or subpoenaed by the U.S. government when they entered the country. They won the George Polk Award along with Ewen MacAskill of The Guardian and Barton Gellman of The Washington Post. The Pulitzer Prize will be announced today. Greenwald and Poitras recently launched The Intercept along with Jeremy Scahill. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org,The War and Peace Report.
 Stay with us.

Creative Commons LicenseThe original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to democracynow.org. Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.