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No Place to Hide by Glenn Greenwald: A review

Some excerpts from Andrei Soldatov’s critical review of Glenn Greenwald’s No Place to Hide at vozduh.afisha, an independent cultural and entertainment site owned by, translated by The Interpreter:

“Unlike the Brits [Luke Harding and Edward Lucas], Greenwald communicated with Edward Snowden; the first time face to face in Hong Kong in May 2013, and the last time only several days ago here in Moscow. And it was he who was chosen by Snowden for publicizing his exposes to The Guardian.

However, despite this important advantage, the main thing in Greenwald’s book is what is not in it.

In Greenwald’s book, the Russian period of Snowden’s life is missing. So is the story of how Snowden got on the flight to Moscow. Snowden’s visit to the Russian consulate in Hong Kong isn’t there, or even the names of the two lawyers who drove Snowden from the hotel after Snowden published his appeal to the world in the Guardian, acknowledging his authorship of the leaks. The name of Sarah Harrison from the WikiLeaks team, who accompanied Snowden to Moscow and spent the entire time with him during his forced stay at Sheremetyevo, is mentioned only once. And in fact Greenwald only mentioned her in the afterword, where he thanks Sarah and WikiLeaks for support.

Soldatov describes the structure of the book — divided into the narrative about his meeting with Snowden; criticisms of other journalists who attacked him (even saying he should be arrested); and the leaked documents. He says the book contains “a mass of curious details,” such as the agreement to meet Snowden the first time by an artificial alligator at the hotel, and that Snowden would be carrying a Rubiks’ cube in his left hand.

“Greenwald is not only honest, but completely confident in the correctness of each step he and Snowden have taken. Several months ago at a journalists’ conference in Rio de Janeiro, I nearly fell out of my chair, along with my colleagues, when Greenwald, in answer to a question from the moderator, about how he verified Snowden’s information, said that he had ‘developed a sixth sense,’ and at the next question, about how he maintained the necessary distance from his source, said he did not know who had conceived of such idiotic rules, and he didn’t intend to observe them.

This confidence in one’s own rectitude possibly explains best of all why in Russia, people don’t talk about the American’s exposes as much as they do in Europe and in South America.”

Soldatov then picks out an important contradiction in Snowden’s behaviour — he notes how in his book, Greenwald was shocked how open Snowden was, using his own name to register in the hotel, using a credit card in his real name, etc. because “he wanted to forestall any attempt to accuse him that he was some kind of recruited agent, which would be easier to do, if he spent that period in hiding.”

“Snowden told Greenwald that from the very beginning, he wanted to demonstrate that his actions could be verified from the outside and there was no conspiracy here, and he acted alone.

However, Snowden kept to that tactic, as is known, only in Hong Kong, and only before his meeting with Poitras and Greenwald.

Since Snowden appeared in Moscow, almost a year has passed, and there has been no possibility of learning where he spent all this time, who paid his bills and who chose for him Anatoly Kucherena, a member of the FSB’s Civic Council, as his Russian representative.

Meanwhile, the Russian reader loves conspiracy theories. From the president, who believes the Internet is an invention of the CIA, to an ordinary clerk, savoring the details of the intercepted conversation of Victoria Nuland in Kiev during Maidan, almost everyone believes that behind every sensational political event there must be some state actor and it is best if it is an intelligence agency. The Snowden epic is the best present to conspirology, since it provides a wide scope for the existence of two conspiracy theories in one; first, that the US is behind everything on the Internet, and second, that Snowden exposed everything on orders from the Chinese and Russian intelligence agencies.

These suspicions are only reinforced by the fact that we have a tradition of many years of treating defectors and sleeper agents, from Kim Philby to the SVR illegals caught in the US in 2010. This tradition is built on the fact that the agent is harshly controlled in his contacts and communication. The total impression is created that Edward Snowden, once he got beyond the bounds of the airport, automatically fell into that category. And in the last year, he has done nothing to dispel those suspicions.”

Soldatov believes the book will do little to convince Snowden skeptics or believers to change their mind. He notes that Greenwald seems not to have realized that once Snowden’s identity was revealed, it wouldn’t just be him doing the revelations, but other journalists would now treat him as a story as well.

“In fact a good journalist will try to dig for the truth in both cases — investigating the lying of the NSA in the USA, and trying to find explanations for the strangeness of Snowden’s behavior. Evidently in the last year, Greenwald never did understood that, which is why he spends a third of the book on haranguing other journalists. Snowden did not understand this either, when he decided to reply to criticism directed at him by asking Vladimir Putin a question on the air about massive surveillance in Russia, and instead of universal approval, received harsh criticism from practically all sides.

Snowden’s behavior in Russia should be explained, especially taking into account how cleverly his revelations were used by Russian propaganda for justifying all the new repressive laws on the Internet; even one good question about whether Russian authorities are tracking their citizens does not explain anything, and only provides new fodder for conspiracy theorists. Glenn Greenwald’s book does not provide these explanations, either.”

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