NEW YORK — On March 13, a report in the Daily Beast revealed that the New York-based outlet The Intercept would be shutting down its archive of the trove of government documents entrusted to a handful of journalists, including Intercept co-founders Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras, by whistleblower Edward Snowden. However, that account did not include the role of Greenwald, as well as Jeremy Scahill — another Intercept co-founder, in the controversial decision to shutter the archive.
According to a timeline of events written by Poitras that was shared and published by journalist and former Intercept columnist Barrett Brown, both Scahill and Greenwald were intimately involved in the decision to close the Snowden archive.
While other outlets — such as the Jeff Bezos-owned Washington Post and the New York Times — also possess much (though not all) of the archive, the Intercept was the only outlet with the (full) archive that had continued to publish documents, albeit at a remarkably slow pace, in recent years. In total, fewer than 10 percent of the Snowden documents have been published since 2013. Thus, the closing of the publication’s Snowden archive will likely mean the end of any future publications, unless Greenwald’s promise of finding “the right partner … that has the funds to robustly publish” is fulfilled.
Poitras told Brown that she first caught wind of the coming end of the Snowden archive on March 6, when Scahill and Intercept editor-in-chief Betsy Reed asked to meet with her “to explain how we’ve assessed our priorities in the course of the budget process, and made some restructuring decisions.” During the resulting two-hour meeting, which Poitras described as “tense,” she realized that they had “decided to eliminate the research department. I object to this on the grounds Field of Vision [Intercept sister company where Poitras works] is dependent [on the] research department, and the Snowden archive security protocols are overseen by them.”
Poitras later sent two emails opposing the research department’s elimination and, in one of those emails, argued that the research department should stay, as it represented “only 1.5% of the total budget” of First Look Media, The Intercept’s parent company, which is wholly owned by billionaire Pierre Omidyar. The last of those emails was sent on March 10 and Poitras told Brown:
Throughout these conversations and email exchanges, there was no mention of shutting down the archive. That was not on the table. That decision was made on either Monday March 11 or Tuesday March 12, again without my involvement or consent.”
She then noted that “On Tuesday March 12, on a phone call with Glenn and the CFO [Drew Wilson], I am told that Glenn and Betsy [Reed] had decided to shut down the archive because it was no longer of value [emphasis added] to the Intercept.” Poitras stated that this was:
the first time I … heard about the decision. On the call, Glenn says we should not make this decision public because it would look bad for him and the Intercept. I objected to the decision. I am confident the decision to shut the archive was made to pave [the way] to fire/eliminate the research team.”
Notably, Edward Snowden — who was granted asylum in Russia after going public as a whistleblower — had not been consulted by Greenwald or Reed over what, according to Poitras, was their decision to shut down the Snowden documents. Snowden was subsequently informed of the decision by Poitras on March 14 and has yet to publicly comment on the closure.
Omidyar’s suddenly shallow pockets
The publicly stated reason offered by Greenwald and other Intercept employees for the closure of the Snowden archive has been budget constraints. For instance, Greenwald — in explaining the closure on Twitter — asserted that it was very expensive to publish the documents and that the Intercept only had a fraction of the budget enjoyed by other, larger news organizations like the Washington Post, which had stopped published Snowden documents years ago, allegedly “for cost reasons.”
Yet, as Poitras pointed out, the research department accounted for a minuscule 1.5 percent of First Look Media’s budget. Greenwald’s claim that the archive was shuttered owing to its high cost to the company is also greatly undermined by the fact that he, along with several other Intercept employees — Reed and Scahill among them — receive massive salaries that dwarf those of journalists working for similar nonprofit publications….