In the interconnected, instantaneous and byte-sized world of internet journalism, both cyber-space and real-time often bend and warp into a self-referential wormhole.

Glenn Greenwald with a microphone

Glenn Greenwald defended his work against sharp Twitter criticism.

And one of those fascinating wormholes just opened on Twitter as super neo-journalist Glenn Greenwald and 9/11 whistleblower Sibel Edmonds exchanged a series of increasingly vitriolic and accusatory tweets over Edmonds’ latest blog on Boiling Frogs Post:  BFP Breaking News–Omidyar’s PayPal Corporation Said To Be Implicated in Withheld NSA Document.

In it, Edmonds claims that Greenwald’s soon-to-be financial partner and backer—PayPal billionaire Pierre Omidyar—was, in effect, a knowing partner with NSA spying and financial data-mining efforts:

The 50,000-pages of documents obtained by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden contain extensive documentation of PayPal Corporation’s partnership and cooperation with the National Security Agency (NSA), according to three NSA veterans.

However, Edmonds also writes:

To date, no information has been released as to the extent of the working relationship and cooperation between the two entities – NSA and PayPal Corporation.

Edmonds implies that this is not a matter of there being no info regarding PayPal’s cooperation with the NSA, but more a notable, perhaps self-serving omission:

What’s more, the billionaire owner of PayPal Corporation has entered into a $250 Million business partnership with two journalists-Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras, a journalist duo who possess the entire cache of evidence provided by Edward Snowden. Despite earlier pledges by the journalists in question, only one percent (1%) of Snowden’s documents has been released.

Of course, this didn’t sit well with Greenwald and he unleashed his displeasure in a series of tweets during a sometimes painful to read “cyber-sation” with Edmonds:


Greenwald’s point is that she cannot know what is in the massive trove of Snowden documents and, therefore, is making unsubstantiated claims regarding a possible conflict of interest in his partnering with Omidyar:

Edmonds’s story does quote other notable NSA whistleblowers—William Binney and Russell Tice—on the topic of PayPal which, it should be noted, infamously cut off use of its service to fund Wikileaks after its groundbreaking efforts to shed light on government secrecy.

Although Binney does not respond to what is specifically in the Snowden docs—which makes Greenwald’s point—he does state that financial institutions have long cooperated with the NSA and expresses some concerns about Omidyar:

Sunlight, transparency, is the only cure; the only way to bring about needed changes. This is why the public is entitled to have all the evidence and documents. The partnership with PayPal’s owner, thus, the new ownership of Mr. Snowden’s documents by an individual who is implicated in these documents, presents grave concerns and consequences, and a major conflict of interest for transparency, integrity and whistleblowers.

Edmonds also got Tice to chime in:

For NSA, information from financial institutions such as PayPal is equally if not more valuable and sought after than that obtained from social media and other software companies such as Facebook, Microsoft and Google.” He added, “I wouldn’t doubt the existence of evidence and documents implicating corporations such as PayPal within the large cache obtained by Edward Snowden. The partnership and data collection arrangements have existed for many years.”

Once again, Greenwald’s point is well taken. Neither Edmonds nor her interviewees can state as fact that there is anything in the Snowden docs that shows PayPal-NSA cooperation. However, their point is that—given the statement that only 1% of the documents have been released—the apparent trickle of the information from the trove highlights the need for transparency. Particularly if, in fact, there is anything in there that implicates PayPal.

In fact, Greenwald doesn’t really challenge the claim of PayPal-NSA cooperation, just the claim that he is covering it up by withholding Snowden docs that implicate PayPal:

This is a tricky situation. Unlike Wikileaks and their bulk data-dumps, Greenwald and Co. have released classified information in a more traditional, “sound practices of journalism” sorta way. Government officials get the opportunity to respond. Each story is hashed out and vetted in a normalized editorial process. Then the story is run.

But daily revelations about the NSA using every imaginable electronic device to collect data are breeding suspicion and a growing sense that nothing is sacred (although dildos, electric razors and Magic Bullet food processors still seem safely anonymous). It seems that everything is in question, particularly in that redacted zone between the public and its national security minders at the helm of the United States of Surveillance.

Thus, withholding information is an increasingly hard thing to defend.

This creates a bit of a problem for Greenwald and his association with Omyidar which, it seems, is fair to question given what we know about the NSA’s penchant for doing business with many different businesses. Full disclosure of the Snowden documents may be, in the final analysis, the only antiseptic that will calm suspicions amongst allies.

And that’s the sad part of this Twitter tempest. Edmonds was, in fact, an important whistleblower during a very difficult time of post-9/11 hyper-patriotism. William Binney and Russell Tice are also important whistleblowers who both preceded Snowden and, it would seem, are on the same team as Greenwald and Co.

Ultimately, if Greenwald does use that $250m war-chest to create a new journalistic venture, Greenwald and Omyidar will have to address the skepticism expressed by Edmonds:

Greenwald has already mounted a strong defense against accusations that the slow, methodical release of Snowden’s treasure-trove is a self-serving, profit-making process that, unlike a massive and direct data-dump, only serves the interests of his newspaper and his career.

But these claims are likely to dog him—both from those who simply seek to punish him through proxies and by those who earnestly criticize a traditional “sound practices of journalism” approach to information that relies on the role of gatekeepers to decide how and when information is released over the Wikileaks-style which emphasizes the public’s inherent right to see immediately what lies behind the veil of secrecy.

In this age of Twitterati, instant attacks, rapid-fire counter-attacks and Matrix-like convolution regarding who is plugged into whom, transparency is the only way to short-circuit festering suspicion—not just for governments, but also for the journalists, whistleblowers and the public they try to serve. Now it seems it’s up to Greenwald to clarify his association with Omidyar and for Omidyar to shine a bright light on PayPal’s associations with NSA.

Photo by Gage Skidmore released under a Creative Commons Share Alike license.

JP Sottile

JP Sottile

I aggregate, you decide.