Glenn Greenwald and the Surveillance State

Several years ago, David Simon, creator of the HBO show The Wire spoke at UC Berkeley in a talk titled “The Audacity of Despair”. In the lecture, Simon discussed the role of journalists and how they have been failing to ask the “Why” of a story and not playing the role that the public needs them to fulfill. Season 5 of The Wire revolved around the media in Baltimore and even though it was only the final season that brought the media into the mix, the point was that these journalists had always been around through the events of the first four seasons and hadn’t done what they were meant to do and report from the front lines. Where were they when crime stats were being manipulated or when any other of the events over the first four seasons occurred?

Which brings me to Glenn Greenwald.

I don’t remember how I first heard of Glenn Greenwald. I’m sure someone on Facebook or Twitter linked to one of his articles some years ago and that’s when I first came across him. He’s the only journalist whose work I read regularly back when he wrote on I followed him over to the Guardian after that. He’s one of those journalists who writes with zero agenda other than getting the truth out and calling out hypocrisy when he sees it.

Chances are if you are not familiar with Greenwald, you are still aware of his work because last year he helped break the mother of all stories – that the NSA was conducting warrantless surveillance all around the United States, collecting data on millions of U.S. citizens. After a few days worth of articles and revelations through a single leak, Edward Snowden, a contractor with the NSA outed himself as the source through a video interview he conducted with Greenwald with the help of Laura Poitras, a documentary filmmaker and journalist who Snowden also reached out to in order to share the story.

Of course after that, there was a media hullabaloo of trying to find Snowden, who was in Hong Kong at the time. He then was stuck in the Moscow airport for a while when his passport was revoked. He eventually was able to get asylum there.

A lot of us know that much of the story.

With his book No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State, Greenwald takes us through the events of last year as they played out – from Snowden reaching out to him, their initial meeting in Hong Kong, and the subsequent interviews that led to reporting on the NSA surveillance program through the many thousands of documents that Snowden acquired through his work as a contractor. The last section of the book circles back to my mention of David Simon in the beginning of this post – it’s about the Fourth Estate – journalists and the media.

Don’t let the rote way I laid it out fool you – the manner in which Greenwald writes through this period of time makes for a fascinating read. We all witnessed these events through cable news or online news articles so to get a behind the scenes look at one of the most important stories in recent memory is something we should all take advantage of and therefore why everyone needs to read No Place to Hide.

Greenwald also goes into the aftermath of the revelations and the myths that crept up in regards to both Snowden and himself. In addition, he addresses the danger of some people’s “who cares” type of attitude as in: if no one is doing anything wrong, who cares if they are being surveilled? This alone is reason enough to read this book – to clear up any misconceptions that were broadcast by various people to downplay the ramifications of what Snowden leaked and also to discredit Greenwald’s credentials as a journalist and whether he should be prosecuted for reporting the surveillance stories.

No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State is a great book and I doubt there’s a better way to get insight into such an important story other than reading this book. Glenn Greenwald is definitely quite the storyteller and has a way of projecting the enormity of the stakes as he takes us through the succession of events that led to and were the result of reporting on the NSA documents.

I had the pleasure of hearing Glenn Greenwald speak a few days ago in San Francisco as part of his lecture tour for this book. I’m grateful that he has been able to get back in the country to promote this great piece of work as he is incredibly articulate and awesome to hear live. To the naysayers, don’t take the publication of No Place to Hide as a way for him to cash in. By his own admission during the talk, he said that writing a book isn’t much fun and yet, he felt the need to get the right story out. Snowden’s leak, this book, neither of these are selfish acts. The least we can do as American citizens is to recognize the sacrifices that have been made to get this story out and understand what it means for all of us.

Glenn Greenwald now devotes his time to reporting on the website The Intercept. Check it out.

4 thoughts

  1. Very interesting. Thanks for sharing. By reading the book, what one thing do you think the reader should/might take from it? Should we care? Just thought I would throw it out there. Thanks again.

    1. That’s always a good question to ask – why should we care? I think because it’s a story of how one person made such a difference. A lot of us may choose not to do anything if we came across the material that Snowden did, not because of what it would entail but because being a whistleblower has a lot of negative connotations. However, seeing that one person’s action brought so much to light can make a difference. As Greenwald said in his talk, we all have the ability to stand up to injustice.

  2. Salaams :)

    Thanks for the great review as always. I think I had a similar intro to Greenwald – through links on the net – I always clicked through when I saw one of his articles. Have always loved the Guardian, so was happy to see he went there, though I guess I missed the boat on him leaving that position?

    I definitley want to read this book – time permitting – as you alluded to, such a big story in recent times that has affected so many – though I wouldn’t be surprised if us brown peeps have been affected for a much longer period. :) My Amma even recalls hearing clicks etc during phone calls.

    Will add this to my ever-growing list of books I don’t have time (but really want) to read. Stupid life priorities :p


    1. Thanks for reading! Yeah Glenn Greenwald totally mentioned that Muslims have felt a lot of the spying. I think we got a “click click” on the phone too!

      I missed when he left too. I think it was relatively recent to focus more on the NSA papers and other such issues.

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