Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Inside Story of the Birth of the NSA's Electronic Surveillance Program

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The story of America's biggest intelligence leak started simply: with an email.

It was December 2012, and Guardian journalist and blogger Glenn Greenwald had received a cryptic message from an unfamiliar address: "I've got some stuff you might be interested in." A longtime critic of the modern American surveillance state, Greenwald assumed it was a dead lead. But for months, the same messenger, writing under the name Verax, promised American documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras and Washington Post national security reporter Barton Gellman an "unprecedented" scoop — one for which he was willing to risk both his freedom and his life. Eventually, Verax invited Poitras and Gellman to meet him in Hong Kong. Gellman declined, but Poitras went with Greenwald and Guardian reporter Ewen MacAskill in tow. 

The rest is very recent history. Verax ended up being Edward Snowden, then a 29-year-old former NSA contractor who had secreted away to Hong Kong with a massive cache of classified documents outlining the size and scope of the U.S. government's surveillance apparatus. Snowden did what no whistleblower had managed to accomplish since the Pentagon Papers: He pulled back the curtain on the modern American surveillance state and showed the depths of the NSA's collecting, storing and analyzing the personal data of millions of Americans. What's worse: It appeared to be legal.

But where did this modern surveillance state, this many-headed hydra that Snowden sought to spear, come from? This is the subject of the United States of Secrets, a two-part series airing on PBS's award-winning documentary series Frontline on Tuesday and May 20, about one year after Snowden's intelligence disclosures. Drawing on rich testimony from more than 60 whistleblowers, elected officials and intelligence insiders, United States of Secrets reveals the dramatic inside story of the U.S. government's massive and controversial secret surveillance program — and the lengths officials went to keep it hidden from the public.

For the rest of the story:

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