21 March 2019
Whistleblower Edward Snowden is shown on a giant screen in a Hong Kong shopping center. Photo: Reuters
Whistleblower Edward Snowden is shown on a giant screen in a Hong Kong shopping center. Photo: Reuters

How a reporter got the secret key to Snowden coup

The food was bad.

With those words, Guardian columnist Glenn Greenwald got his first measure of the man who would become the target of a massive security manhunt by the United States and the object of a high-level diplomatic tug-of-war.

Greenwald was meeting US intelligence whistleblower Edward Snowden for the first time on the morning of June 3, 2013. Snowden would be the one with the Rubik’s cube.

It all went as Greenwald and his photographer, Laura Poitras, had been instructed. Poitras proceeded to break the ice by asking Snowden what the food was like in his hotel, the Mira, in Hong Hong’s Tsim Sha Tsui District. It was their secret password.

One of the first things that struck Greenwald about Snowden was his youth, especially as he had expected to see a man past 60, retired and willing to spend the rest of his days in jail, Greenwald says in his newly released book, No Place To Hide.

Snowden went to great lengths to ensure the interview was not bugged. Greenwald and Poitras had to remove the batteries from their cellphones and place them in a refrigerator. 

When Snowden opened his computer containing some of the most damning US intelligence secrets, he put a quilt over his head and shoulders as he entered the password. Pillows were pressed under the door.

The interview lasted five hours during which Snowden detailed his flight from the world’s biggest intelligence network and gave the first glimpse of the extent of its covert operations.

Surprisingly, Snowden had not lost sleep over the whole incident, telling Greenwald he was “profoundly at peace” with what he had done.

Greenwald went on to write a series of articles based on the interview. The series won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for public service.  

The book went on sale Tuesday.

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