14 Mar, 2019
First Look Media, the parent company of the Intercept, announced it will shut access to the archive of documents leaked by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden to cut costs as it plans to layoff 4 percent of staff.
The news was met with outrage from high ranking staff member and filmmaker Laura Poitras, who went to Hong Kong to meet Snowden in 2013, just before the first revelations from his trove of National Security Agency documents were published.
She said she was “sickened” by the decision to “eliminate the research team, which has been the beating heart of the newsroom since First Look Media was founded,” and slammed the company for making the decision without consulting her or other board members.
Poitras, Glenn Greenwald and Jeremy Scahill joined First Look Media at its founding, launching the Intercept in 2014 as a place to“aggressively report” on the Snowden documents. The company employed a research team to work on the huge trove of documents provided by Snowden.
5 years ago I criticized Poitras-Greenwald deal to privatize Snowden NSA docs to a tech oligarch connected to the national security state—and was smeared as a CIA/COINTELPRO & worse. Now Poitras is mad that Omidyar is shutting down their fencing operation https://t.co/jYOUzGrQS5
— Mark Ames (@MarkAmesExiled) March 14, 2019
Potentially unpopular opinion: I think the Snowden archive would be better served elsewhere. Working with the Intercept was always … challenging. There are a number of stories with important policy implications I'd like to do w/o those difficulties. https://t.co/o7RJsdchj5
— emptywheel (@emptywheel) March 14, 2019
Five years later, it appears that First Look Media owner and Ebay founder Pierre Omidyar no longer wish to hold the trove of documents. CEO Michael Bloom sent an email to staff on Wednesday saying as other media outlets had “ceased reporting on it years ago,” it was going to “focus on other editorial priorities,” the Daily Beast reports.
The vast majority of the contents of the Snowden documents have never been reported on. Snowden chose to give the documents to trusted journalists in the hope they could filter and decide what information to publish, without endangering people. This has been a source of contention for those who feel the entire cache of documents should have been released and published in a searchable format, like WikiLeaks’ releases.
Omidyar has been accused of sweeping in to fund the Snowden publishing in a bid to control what is released.
On the Intercept and the Snowden archive: pic.twitter.com/clBWdkWlHl
— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) March 14, 2019
Greenwald said the decision was made because “the budget given to the Intercept by First Look media for 2019 forced editor-in-chief Betsy Reed, in consultation with the Intercept’s senior editors, to make extremely difficult decisions about how best to allocate these limited budgetary resources to maximise the impact and value to the Intercept’s journalism.”
Greenwald said the decision was also a by product of his own “intent to seek other partners – particularly academic institutions and research facilities to ensure continued publication of the remaining Snowden documents that are in the public interest.”
Greenwald received pushback on social media, with users claiming the information belongs in the public.
You are a gatekeeper withholding information that is in the public interest.
It shouldn’t matter which documents Snowden wanted selectively leaked and the fact that other organizations won’t publish means absolutely nothing.
Publish in full!https://t.co/u87W0Kyu3Q
— Free Thought (@FreeThought84) 14 Μαρτίου 2019
You should have dumped the whole load into the public domain then you would have had millions of unpaid researchers combing through the stuff.
— W Paul Blakey (@PblakeyW) 14 Μαρτίου 2019
If the archives are not public they should be made as such.
— Slo1 (@Bradypus9710) 14 Μαρτίου 2019
Maybe those $350K to $500K salaries to the founders didn't help. And what's going to happen to the "Snowden Archive" and all those highly classified NSA documents you've been sitting on for 5 years? "Laura Poitras ‘Sickened’ By Layoffs at The Intercept." https://t.co/9AvqtjP8Pu
— Tim Shorrock (@TimothyS) March 14, 2019