Barton Gellman: ‘The Assange precedent is dangerous’

On the 22nd May 2020, Andrew Anthony reports

The US journalist talks about being hacked by intelligence services, his dealings with whistleblower Edward Snowden, and why he loves detective fiction

Barton Gellman is an investigative journalist celebrated for his reports on 9/11, former US vice-president Dick Cheney and the surveillance state. He was the only mainstream journalist that Edward Snowden approached in 2013 to publish his revelations about far-ranging cyber surveillance by the US National Security Agency. His new book, Dark Mirror, is an account of his interactions with Snowden and the struggle to expose the US government’s assault on privacy.

The spectrum of opinion on Edward Snowden runs from heroic whistleblower to shameless traitor. What’s your own understanding of the man?
Those labels seem to me like cartoons. I see him as being quite sincere in his beliefs. I think he was motivated more or less exactly as he described. He has a very black and white sense of right and wrong. I described him in the book as sharing certain elements with other self-described whistleblowers: zealotry and certitude of their own beliefs. But I believe his ultimate choices were heartfelt. My own view is that he did more good than harm.

What was the greatest contravention of privacy exposed by the Snowden files?
One that made its way most clearly into public consciousness was the universal collection of telephone-call records of Americans. That had to do with who you called, when you talked to them and so forth, the so-called metadata, not the content of the telephone calls. In my own mind, the greater problem is the practice of bulk surveillance of content.

You write that the crimes alleged against Julian Assange are “very hard to distinguish from what I did with Snowden’s NSA archive”. Are you worried about the possibility of future prosecution?
I am very much worried that the precedent that the present US administration is trying to set with Assange is dangerous, and quite new in the American legal tradition. Assange is charged with asking for information, with receiving information, and with publishing information. And I don’t mind saying that those are exactly the things that I do. And there has never been a prosecution for espionage based entirely on publication. If that’s allowed to stand, there’s absolutely no reason why it couldn’t be used against the Washington Post or the New York Times or CNN.

Read whole article in The Guardian