EXCERPT: The Man Who Knew Too Much


GLENN GREENWALD: The relatively lighter mood we had managed to keep up over the prior few days now turned to palpable anxiety: we were less than 24 hours away from revealing Snowden’s identity, which we knew would change everything, for him most of all. The three of us had lived through a short but exceptionally intense and gratifying experience. One of us, Snowden, was soon to be removed from the group, likely to go to prison for a long time – a fact that had depressingly lurked in the air from the outset, at least for me. Only Snowden had seemed unbothered by this. Now, a giddy gallows humor crept into our dealings.

“I call the bottom bunk at Gitmo,” Snowden joked as he contemplated our prospects. As we talked about future articles, he would say things such as: “That’s going into the indictment. The only question is whether it’s going into yours or mine.” Mostly he remained inconceivably calm. Even now, with the clock winding down on his freedom, Snowden still went to bed at 10.30pm, as he had every night during my time in Hong Kong. While I could barely catch more than two hours of restless sleep at a time, he kept consistent hours. “Well, I’m going to hit the hay,” he would announce casually each night before retiring for seven-and-a-half hours of sound sleep, appearing completely refreshed the next day. When we asked him about his ability to sleep so well under the circumstances, Snowden said that he felt profoundly at peace with what he had done and so the nights were easy. “I figure I have very few days left with a comfortable pillow,” he joked, “so I might as well enjoy them.”

At 7.27pm, British summer time on Sunday 9 June 2013, the Guardian published the story that revealed Snowden to the world: “Edward Snowden: The Whistleblower Behind the NSA Surveillance Revelations.” The article told Snowden’s story, conveyed his motives, and proclaimed that “Snowden will go down in history as one of America’s most consequential whistleblowers, alongside Daniel Ellsberg and Bradley [now Chelsea] Manning.” We quoted from Snowden’s early note to Poitras and me: “I understand that I will be made to suffer for my actions … but I will be satisfied if the federation of secret law, unequal pardon and irresistible executive powers that rule the world that I love are revealed even for an instant.” MORE