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Every scandal begins with a lie. But the truth will come out. And then comes the fallout and the outrage.
Scandals have shaped America since its founding. From business and politics to sports and society, we look on aghast as corruption, deceit and ambition bring down heroes and celebrities, politicians and moguls. And when the dust finally settles, we’re left to wonder: how did this happen? Where did they trip up, and who is to blame? From the creators of American History Tellers, Business Wars and Tides of History comes American Scandal, where we take you deep into the heart of America’s dark side to look at what drives someone to break the rules and what happens when they’re caught. Hosted by Lindsay Graham.
Tue, 16 Aug 2022 07:01
Filmmaker Laura Poitras gets a tip from a mysterious informant. Despite the enormous risks, Poitras pursues the story, and teams up with reporter Glenn Greenwald.
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To listen to American scandal one week early and add free, join Wondry Plus in the Wondri app. Download the Wondri app in your Apple or Google Play mobile app store today. Wondri app It's a weekday afternoon in late 2012. Edward Snowden is carrying a desktop computer through a long and empty hallway. The walls are reinforced with concrete and the lights overhead are bright, fluorescent and buzzing with menace. Snowden pauses to set down a large computer and catches breath. He wipes away a beat of sweat from his forehead and then Snowden shakes down his arms. He grabs the computer again and continues down the corridor, hoping he won't run into anyone. As he hurries down the hallway Snowden tries to reassure himself that he's going to be fine. He's 29 years old, pale and lanky, looking a lot like the other guys here in this government installation outside Honolulu. The building is buried deep underground underneath an old pineapple field. Everyone working here had to say goodbye to the Hawaiian son and accept that they aren't going to get much but tan. So Snowden knows he doesn't look out of place and it's not that suspicious for him to be carrying an old computer. He's an analyst with a national security agency, the kind of guy who spends his entire day on a computer. And this underground building is where he works. Still Snowden can't help but feel a rising panic that's threatening to overwhelm him. He's about to carry out a dangerous plan. Snowden is going to blow the whistle on the United States government. He's going to reveal that the NSA has been conducting mass surveillance on American citizens without their knowledge. Snowden firmly believes the public deserves to know the truth that American democracy could be at risk if the country's intelligence agencies are left unchecked. But Snowden is also aware that doing the right thing could land him in prison. So he has to be careful. He has to get back to his office with this old PC, a computer that's central to his plan. And if he sees anyone, Snowden has to make sure they don't ask too many questions. Snowden rounds a corner when suddenly he spots a director of IT. Snowden looks left and right his heart pounding, but there's nowhere to escape. Hey Ed, I was just looking for you. Hi, what's up? Oh, nothing serious. You've been running? You're a little sweaty. Running? No, I'm allergic to exercise. Okay, but you're doing all right? Yeah, I'm fine. I'm just a sweaty guy. Okay, alright. Well, anyways, I've been getting reports of an internet slowdown. Just wanted to know if you guys were having issues too. Just fine, I think. Thanks for checking, though. See you around. Snowden begins to walk forward, but the IT director lays a hand on his shoulder. Well, hold on, hold on. What do you got there? Is one of the old delts? Yeah, yeah, actually it is. I thought we got rid of those when we upgraded. But it's funny, there's a whole closet of them. Why is that funny? What are you doing with it? Oh, you know, just Snowden's mind races, trying to come up with a good response. Stealing government secrets? The IT director pauses, giving Snowden a long and skeptical look. And for a moment, Snowden is certain he's about to get caught. But then the IT director bursts out laughing. Ed, you are a weird one. Alright, I'll see you around. The director claps Snowden on the shoulder and walks away. And once he's out of sight, Snowden exhales in relief. That was close. Snowden was certain his plan was about to go up in flames. Somehow, he survived. And now Snowden just needs to finish carrying out the plan. Snowden shifts the computer in his forearms and hustles to his office. There, he shuts the door and sets down the old desktop machine. Snowden gazes at the computer, reviewing the monumental task in front of him. He's about to steal top secret documents from the NSA. He'll store them on this old computer, which doesn't have to be connected to government servers. It's safe and secure. And once he's sourced through everything, Snowden is going to leak the files. Show the public that the government has been breaking the law. American scandal is sponsored by the new audiobook, Killing the Legends, the 12th audiobook in the multi-million-selling killing series from Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard. Elvis Presley, John Lennon and Muhammad Ali, three icons known everywhere in every nation across every culture. They had everything. Fame, money, the admiration of millions, but their lives spun out of control at the hands of those they most trusted. Killing the Legends explores the lives, legacies, and tragic deaths of these three legends. Each experienced a man's success, then failures that forced them to change. Each faced the challenge of growing old and fields that privileged youth. 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From Wondry, I'm Lindsey Graham, and this is American Scandal. The terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 exacted a large toll on America's sense of security. The country was left reeling, and many suddenly found themselves feeling vulnerable and afraid. In the dawn of this new era, Congress moved to take swift action. Legislators passed a sweeping bill known as the Patriot Act, and in October of 2001, President George W. Bush signed the bill into law. The stated goal of the Patriot Act was to identify and strike back against terrorists, but in practice, the law had much wider reaching effects. The country's intelligence agencies were granted new powers, which they used not only to spy on suspected terrorists, but to peer into the private lives of American citizens without warrants or cause. This program of mass surveillance existed in the shadows for years, but everything changed in 2013. When an intelligence contractor named Edward Snowden decided to expose the truth, leaking more classified documents than any whistleblower in American history. Some heralded Snowden as a hero. Others believed he was a traitor, and accused him of endangering national security. In this four-part series, we'll follow Edward Snowden's transformation from a respected intelligence officer to the most wanted whistleblower in the world, and we'll look at the journalists who risked their lives to bring Snowden's shocking revelations to the public, revealing some of the darkest secrets in American government. This is Episode 1. Meet the Press It's January 31, 2013. Laura Poitreus sits down at a booth in a diner in Manhattan. She opens the menu, and even though she's not very hungry, Poitreus tries to find something to order, something that'll make her look just like any other customer at this greasy spoon. Poitreus looks off from the list of sandwiches and scans the restaurant. It's fairly empty in here, and people are spaced pretty far apart, and that's good. Poitreus can't risk being overheard, not with the sensitive conversation she's about to have with a journalist from the Washington Post. Poitreus herself is a documentary filmmaker. She's known for her critical views of America's war on terror, and for speaking out against people in power. Her work has earned her a loyal fanbase, and Poitreus has even been nominated for an Oscar. But the government apparently is not a fan of her documentaries, or years she has been getting harassed by government agents. She's been detained at airports countless times, and Poitreus knows she's been placed on government watchlists. It's clear these intimidation tactics are meant to silence her, but Poitreus has never held back, because the filmmaker is driven by what she sees as a higher mission, to expose the government's lies, to get the truth out to the public. She knows that's the only way to safeguard democracy, and hold elected leaders accountable. Over the years, Poitreus has uncovered some deeply troubling stories, but nothing even comes close to one of her recent leads. An anonymous source reached out with a shocking claim about government surveillance, one that could be big enough to change the direction of the country. But Poitreus isn't sure if the source is telling the truth. That's why she reached out to journalist Barton Galman. Galman reports on national security for the Washington Post, and Poitreus is hoping that he can help her vet this mysterious source. The waiter arrives with a couple plates of food and sets them on the table. Poitreus brushes her dark hair out of her face, and Galman offers a knowing smile. You're not even going to touch that food, are you? Why would you say that? Well, you told me to leave myself on at home. You pick this spot where no one can hear us. You've got a crazy look in your eye, and judging by this whole cloak and dagger routine, I say we're not here for sandwiches. No, we're not. OK, then what are we here for? Galman pulls out a notebook and sets it on the table. But Poitreus holds out her hand. Barton, no, no, I'm sorry, no phone, no notes, nothing. OK? I won't record any identifying details. I don't care, no notes. All right. Galman tucks away the notebook, and Poitreus takes a deep breath. So here's the story. I received an encrypted email from a man claiming to be a member of the intelligence community. He says he has proof that government has a massive surveillance system. They're using it to spy on Americans. It wants me to help break the story. Wow, that would be a scoop. And don't take this the wrong way, but why do you reach out to you? No, I'm not offended. I asked him the same question. It sounds like he's just a fan of my work. I think he also appreciates that I have personal experience with surveillance. All right, well, let's drill down. Has he shown you anything? Any proof? No, not yet, but he says he has documents. What is he? CIA, FBI? No, NSA. He says they've got some kind of sweeping system, like the kind of thing that could actually threaten democracy. Well, in theory, you've got an incredible story. How about in practice? You got to tread carefully here. That's why I need your help. When we talk, he used a bunch of acronyms, and I thought you could tell me if this guy sounds legit. Well, I can try. Okay, well, have you ever heard of boundless informant? All one word? No, but it sounds like NSA. How about SSO? Yeah, special source operations. That's when a company gives the NSA access to their equipment. How about NSA net? Yeah, that's basically NSA's top secret Wikipedia. But it's not common knowledge. So you're telling me this guy could be genuine. Well, he's certainly got a lot of inside information. I don't know. He could be feeding you bad information, trying to discredit you or something. I mean, gun to my head, he sounds real. Poitress takes a sip of water and looks up at Gellin. When a bartender's guy wants to get out these documents, he wants them properly framed for the public. But that's something for a print journalist. I'm a filmmaker. Are you asking me to partner with you? I am. I have to run it by my source, but if he says yes, wow, or I've got a lot of questions. But I am interested. So yeah, let's see where this goes. Poitress smiles. This is a big moment, getting a reporter from the Washington Post to come on board. They have a long history of breaking important stories. Panagon papers, water gate. And while the source may not be comfortable involving someone else, for Poitress, it is the only way to make things work. The story could be huge. And if she's going to share it with the world, she's going to need some support. She hopes to convince her mysterious source to agree to a change in plans. Four months later, Barton Gellin knocks on the door of a hotel room in Manhattan. There's a click of a deadbolt and slowly the door cracks open. Gellin looks up to find the filmmaker Laura Poitress standing in the doorway. Her dark hair is a mess and her eyes are bloodshot. Gellin knows her disheveled appearance can mean only one thing. She got the files from her source and must have been up all night reading them. Poitress opens the door and Gellin steps in. After meeting with Poitress at the diner, Gellin followed through on his offer. He got involved in the story. And soon he was exchanging encrypted emails with the source, a man who went by the alias Verax, the Latin word for telling the truth. And after a few exchanges, Gellin's doubts disappeared. He was certain that this Verax was the real deal. But the trust didn't cut both ways. Verax was concerned that Gellin was reporter for the Washington Post, part of the mainstream press. He feared Gellin might be too close to his sources in government, that he'd water down or even squash any revelations about the NSA. But though it took some time, eventually Gellin earned his trust. Verax agreed to turn over a trove of documents. Now walking through the small hotel room, Gellin is brimming with excitement. I can't wait to see what the source handed over. If it's as big as Verax says it is, this could be the scoop of a lifetime. Poitress leads Gellin past a pile of clothes and camera equipment. The filmmaker gestures to her computer and tells Gellin to take a seat. When he does, Poitress enters the passcode and a file begins to decrypt. When it's done, Gellin shakes his head and disbelief. The file is eight gigamites, enormous. A single gigabyte of data can produce tens of thousands of pages. Gellin had hoped Verax would hand over a significant number of documents, but this is more than he ever dreamed of. Gellin begins to laugh, with Poitress interrupts his reverie and impatiently taps the computer screen. It's time to start reading. Gellin nods and clicks on a random folder. When it opens, he finds thousands of files. He doesn't have any kind of strategy to get through them all, so he clicks on the very first document he sees. But as soon as it opens, Gellin feels a rush of adrenaline. He knows some of these terms. They have to do with a data mining operation called Stellar Wind. Gellin knows the program began under the Bush administration. And from everything he's heard, Stellar Wind allowed intelligence agencies to siphon up massive amounts of personal information from American citizens, emails, phone records, financial transactions. Gellin has spent years reporting on the program, trying to learn what he could, but he could never put together the full picture. It was all out of reach. But now, staring at this computer screen, Gellin is astonished. This is it, the full details of Stellar Wind. And it looks like this single program is just the tip of the iceberg. Gellin's hands begin to tremble as he clicks one file after another, trying to take it all in. It goes on and on, file after file. It's almost too much to wrap his head around. But just as Gellin begins to lose focus, he opens a document that stops him cold. It details an ongoing intelligence operation. There's even a photo of an undercover agent still in the field. Gellin suddenly feels nauseated. They shouldn't have this. This is top secret for a very serious reason. And without thinking, Gellin shuts the laptop and mutters a curse. This is bigger than he ever thought possible. But it's also far more dangerous. If these files fall in the wrong hands, American agents could be compromised, even killed. Gellin looks up at Poitras, says they need to talk. And they're going to need lawyers too. Because if they're not careful, these files could land them in prison. It's May 26, 2013, five days later. Laura Poitras settles onto a leather couch in a living room in New York City. Over in the kitchen, her collaborator, Barton Gellin, is filling a couple of glasses with ice cubes, and opening a bottle of whiskey. Poitras sighs. She hopes to drink for stiff, because right now she's badly on edge. Tomorrow, Poitras is supposed to set off on the most dangerous trip of her entire career. Worse than when she traveled alone in Iraq. Her source, Berax, has revealed that he's hiding out in Hong Kong. He invited Poitras and Gellin to join him there. And he offered to walk them through all the stolen documents and talk more about his motives. Poitras is packed and ready to go. But Gellin isn't there yet. The reporter spent the day talking with lawyers at the Washington Post, trying to understand their risk. Poitras knows the attorneys may have tried to steer Gellin away from the story. But she hasn't lost her conviction. The world needs to find out about this. She's hoping to convince her fellow journalists not to bail. Gellin steps out of the kitchen holding two glasses of whiskey. And when he takes a seat, he looks at Poitras and says they need to talk. Gellin begins with the good news. The Washington Post will stand by the story. They'll even provide legal support. But the paper's attorneys warned Gellin that he and Poitras were taking an incredible risk. If they traveled to Hong Kong to meet the source, Chinese or American intelligence agents could well raid the meeting. And if they were arrested with top secret documents, the US could press criminal charges. Even if they only have notes about the documents, the two of them could still go to jail. Poitras nods and says she understands. Just means they need to be careful. But Gellin holds up his hand and says he's not finished. Apparently, Chinese agents are known to bug hotel rooms in Hong Kong. So even if they only talk about classified documents, they could still face charges. The US could accuse them of passing classified information to a foreign intelligence agency. They could be charged as spies. For a moment, Gellin looks down, not saying a word. Seemed downtrodden and defeated. And Poitras realizes what's about to happen. Gellin is going to bail on this. Poitras begins to speak, but Gellin cuts her off and says he's sorry. He really is. But he's not going to Hong Kong. He can't take that kind of risk. And for what seems like an eternity, the two sit in silence, finishing their whiskey. Finally, Gellin looks up and asks what Poitras is planning to do. Poitras admits she's not sure. It feels wrong not to go to Hong Kong. But she'd be lying if she says she wasn't scared. Gellin nods, saying he understands. He's sure that in the end, she'll do the right thing, whatever it is. Poitras sets down her glass and rises. She thanks Gellin for the drink and for everything else. She wishes this could work out, but she understands too. The two say goodbye, and several moments later, as Poitras steps back into the night air of Manhattan. She once again finds herself lost and thought. Poitras has never let fear stop her before. But doing this alone doesn't make sense. She's a filmmaker, and making a movie takes time. But they don't have time. Not for this story, it needs to get out into the world. Poitras grimaces as she puzzled through an impossible situation. She can't let this story die, it's too important. And then suddenly it hits her. What if someone else came with her to Hong Kong? Maybe another journalist, someone who could interview the source, report on the documents, explain why everyone in America should care. That could save the story. It could get the truth out into the world. But making this happen won't be easy. Poitras would have to find someone willing to take on a huge risk. Make that decision in just a matter of days. If you're into true crime, the Generation Y podcast is essential listening. We started this podcast over 10 years ago to dissect some of the craziest and most notable murders, crimes, and conspiracy theories together. And we'd love for you to join us. Generation Y is one of the longest running true crime podcasts out there. And we are still at it, unraveling a new case every week. We break down infamous cases like the Evil Genius Bank robbery. And lesser known cases like the case of Kimberly Rico. Did she actually kill her husband after they took part in a murder mystery game? We cover every angle, breaking down theories, diving deep into forensic evidence, and interviewing those close to the case. And with over 450 episodes, there's a little something for every true crime listener. Follow the Generation Y podcast on Amazon Music or every listen to podcasts. Or you can listen ad-free by joining Wondery Plus in the Wondery app. Hello, I'm Florence Giver, the best-selling author of the book, Women Don't Are You Pretty and Girlcrush. And this is my podcast exactly. Join me as I connect with fascinating guests from authors, cultural commentators, doctors, thought leaders to psychologists, celebrities, and comedians. And guess what? We're back to do it all again in season two with the likes of the holistic psychologist, victorious scorn, and Iona David to name a few. Season two of exactly podcast out now wherever you get your podcasts. It's May 27, 2013, and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The journalist Glenn Greenwald, who's sitting inside his home office, focused intently on his computer screen. It feels like his hands are flying across the keyboard. He's pounding out sentence after sentence, riding a column he has to finish by the end of the day. Greenwald stops only to take a sip of coffee, and as he resumes typing, his cell phone rings. Greenwald ignores it. He doesn't have time to chat. As a political journalist, Greenwald has deadlines to hit. And today he has to file a piece for the Guardian, a claimed international newspaper based out of England. As the cell phone keeps ringing, Greenwald re-reads the paragraph he just drafted. It centers on privacy in the erosion of civil rights after 9-11, issues that have been at the center of his work for years. Greenwald is steeped in American politics, and as a journalist, he's earned an international reputation as someone willing to call out the hypocrisy of the US government. The cell phone rings again, and Greenwald mutters occurs. He's lost focus. But when he looks over at the phone and sees the caller ID, Greenwald suddenly sits up. It's Laura Poitress, the documentary filmmaker. The two have a long standing relationship. And just a few years ago, Greenwald wrote an article about the interrogation Poitress faced every time she re-entered the United States. Apparently, the article had a big effect, and her assesment stopped after the piece was published. Ever since then, the two have stayed in touch. So Greenwald is always happy to chat with Poitress, but right now there's another reason he's excited she's calling. Last month, Poitress told Greenwald she was cultivating an important source, someone with proof that the NSA was spying on innocent Americans. Greenwald wanted to learn more, but since then he hadn't heard anything and assumed the story was dead. But now, Poitress is calling out of the blue. Greenwald has to assume there's an update, so he forgets about his deadline and grabs the phone. When he answers, Poitress is curt into the point. She says they have to talk, but not over the phone. Soon, Greenwald and Poitress began chatting using a program called Off the Record, which lets them send encrypted instant messages. Without much of a preamble, Poitress asks Greenwald if he'd be willing to go to Hong Kong. He could meet the whistleblower in person. Greenwald pauses, stunned. He wasn't expecting this, but then his journalistic instincts kick in, and he begins asking some final questions. Who is the source? How did he steal documents? How do they know he's telling the truth? Poitress explains that even though they're speaking over encrypted messages, there's a limit to what she can say. But she can't offer some assurances. She vetted the source. He's the real deal. The only question is whether Greenwald wants in. Greenwald hesitates. Normally, he needs more information than this before taking on such a large story. But Poitress says he's going to have to make a decision fast. Every day they wait, there's a greater risk the source will be arrested. But if he's feeling uncomfortable, Poitress can have the source get in touch with Greenwald and answer some of his questions. Greenwald agrees that's a good idea, and with that, the two end the conversation and sign off. Greenwald takes a deep breath, then pushes back his chair, and begins pacing the room. This is a big decision. If the whistleblower has actual documents from the NSA, it could change the national conversation about privacy. It could even lead to some of the programs being shut down. Americans could finally regain some of their civil liberties, rights that Greenwald knows have been trashed by the government for years. But Greenwald still has some nagging questions. He doesn't understand why the whistleblower went to Hong Kong. The region is closely tied to China, a country hostile to the United States. And while Greenwald does trust Poitress, it's possible the filmmaker misjudged her source, that she's walking into a trap. Greenwald doesn't want to end up in some Chinese jail. His life would be over, but he also knows this could be a once in a generation story. He shouldn't just walk away from it because he's scared. So Greenwald makes up his mind. He'll take the offer and speak with the source himself. Maybe that'll be enough. Maybe he'll come away feeling as confident as Poitress, and maybe he'll be able to publish a story that'll change the world. Four days later, journalist Glenn Greenwald takes a seat in the US headquarters of the International newspaper The Guardian. Greenwald reaches for a laptop, tucked inside his bag. As he slides the computer across the table, Greenwald's editor, Jeanine Gibson, gives a rise smile. Gibson is a veteran journalist, says she's been eagerly anticipating this meeting. She's excited and honestly nervous to see what Greenwald has dug up. Greenwald nods, as editor is right to feel a sense of anticipation. Because with everything he's learned these past few days, Greenwald knows this could be the story of a lifetime. Several days ago, he made contact with Laura Poitress' whistleblower, a man who goes by the alias Verax. To help prove his legitimacy, the source sent over about two dozen documents he claimed were from the NSA. Greenwald spent a lot of time reviewing the files. From everything he can tell, this whistleblower is the real thing. According to one of the leaked documents, the NSA has been running a surveillance program that lets the government tap directly into the data of major internet companies like Google, Facebook, and Apple. The program, which is known as Prism, also has the power to record live calls happening on services like Skype. You can even target individual citizens and monitor their digital messages. Greenwald had initially been skeptical of this whistleblower. But after reviewing the files, all doubts quickly vanished. It's now abundantly clear that Greenwald has to go with Poitress to Hong Kong. He has to interview this source and get this story out into the world. But Greenwald also knows he can't do any of this without support of the Guardian. When the story gets out, the United States government will almost certainly come after him. And as a freelancer, Greenwald can't take on such an enormous fight. That's why he came to meet with his editor. Greenwald needs a commitment from the Guardian, a guarantee that the paper and its legal team will stand behind him, no matter what. So Greenwald shifts in his chair, watching nervously as Gibson reads from his laptop, looking at the leaked documents he's been pouring over. Greenwald doesn't know how his editor is going to react. They haven't worked together long. He almost feels compelled to interrupt her reading to explain his interpretations of the files. But just then Gibson slouches in her chair and lets out a curse. These documents are incredible, she says. Greenwald needs to be on a flight to Hong Kong as soon as possible. Greenwald shuts his eyes and laughs. It's a huge relief, and exactly what he was hoping to hear. But Greenwald's editor says to get the backing of the Guardian she does have one condition. She wants to put another reporter on the story. Greenwald is right. This is a huge deal. So he's going to need some help with reporting. Gibson says he wants to tap a veteran named you in McCaskell. He's been at the Guardian for 20 years, and he's a stellar reporter. Gibson will make sure he's ready to leave for Hong Kong right away. Greenwald freezes. As he processes this sudden change of plan, the whistleblower Verax only gave approval for two people to come and meet him. Laura Poitrus and Greenwald himself. Any divergence from the original plan could spook him, and Verax might bolt. Adding another reporter could risk the entire story. Greenwald shares his concerns, but his editor says it's non-negotiable. The fact is, she barely knows Greenwald. The editors in London, herbosses, don't know him either. He's only been freelancing with the paper for nine months. So if he wants to move forward with the paper support, they need someone else in the room, someone the paper knows and trusts. Greenwald's size. He doesn't like it, but he understands the position. And if this is what it takes, he'll try to convince Laura Poitrus they need to pivot, and that the source will have to be okay with this new arrangement. Outside the conference room, where Glenn Greenwald is meeting with his editor, Laura Poitrus sits swiveling back and forth in an office chair. She's feeling nervous and antsy. If she's going to travel to Hong Kong and tell the story of this whistleblower, she'll need help from a reporter like Greenwald. She can't do this on her own. But Greenwald needs help from the Guardian to get their backing for the story. The two agreed he should sit down with his editor by himself and have the conversation. But now as Poitrus sits waiting on an answer, she feels like she's losing her mind. She doesn't know why it's taking so long. She can't stop worrying that the Guardian is about to walk away from the story. Poitrus is almost ready to get up and burst into the meeting. When suddenly the door opens, and Greenwald walks out, Sweat has seeped through his shirt, and he has a pain to expression on his face. Poitrus shoots up out of her chair. Oh, it's bad news. They're backing out. No, no, Laura, cool off. Don't tell me to cool off. We got the story of a generation. What they say in there. Well, I've got good and bad news. The good news is the Guardian's all in. They'll focus on a flight to Hong Kong tomorrow. Really? Oh, that's incredible. What about the bad news? Well, I push back, but they want to send another reporter with us, a guy who's been with them all the time. So when they trust. Oh, no, Glenn, that's a deal breaker. Absolutely not. Well, if we say no, it's a deal breaker for them too. Why don't care what they want. We haven't vetted whoever this is. Most importantly, our source hasn't vetted them. If we show up with someone else, Bearax is going to call off the whole thing, and you know it. That's what I said. But you've got to look at it this way. When the government lawyers come after us, and they will, we're going to need the Guardian's legal team. It's that simple. Poiters bites your lip. She knows Greenwald is right. But changing the arrangements now could sink the story. I need some kind of plan B. How about this? You and I go to Hong Kong first, just the two of us. When you meet the source, your gain is trust. And then once we're ready, this other reporter comes along. Well, I can ask, but no promises. Glenn, go back in there. Make your case. And don't take no for an answer. Greenwald swallows and gives a silent nod. And as Poitress looks over at the conference room, she can't help but bristle with anger. This story could change everything. It would shine a bright light on one of the most egregious acts of government abuse in decades. So even with all the editors and lawyers and anyone else, she can't risk screwing us up. They have to do it right. With even one misstep, this story could collapse. And the truth might never come out. It's the morning of June 1st, 2013 in Manhattan. Laura Poitress slides into the back of a Lincoln town car. The filmmaker sets her travel bag on the middle seat, and as the car pulls out onto the road, Poitress glances over across the back seat, and locks eyes with Glenn Greenwald, a journalist from the Guardian, and Poitress's collaborator. Poitress and Greenwald exchange a knowing smile. Finally, after all the false starts, after all the stress and uncertainty, the two of them are about to catch a plane to Hong Kong. They're going to get a chance to sit down with their mysterious informant, and talk at length about the secrets of America's intelligence apparatus. It should be an incredible opportunity. And Poitress feels fortunate they've gotten this far. Greenwald's editor at the Guardian had insisted on sending another reporter. But in some divine miracle, Greenwald managed to convince his editor to back down. She agreed not to send the reporter until he and Poitress first gave her the okay. So now they're off and headed to the airport. And soon they'll touch down on a tarmac in Hong Kong, and begin reporting what could be the most important story of their lives. In the backseat of the town car, Poitress looks over at Greenwald. It's strange. He's got a look on his face, almost like he's holding something back. Go ahead. What's on your mind? Oh, nothing. Nothing. Yeah, no, don't worry. Of course I'm going to worry. What's going on? Talk to me. I got a call late last night. The Guardian booked McCaskill a ticket to Hong Kong, and he's on our same flight. Are you kidding me? You said you took care of this. You said the Guardian wasn't going to send anyone until after we gave him the green light. I know, but McCaskill, he's not going to meet the source until we approve it. No, no, no. We had an agreement. You can't just change the plan at the last minute. What happens if our source comes to the airport and sees this guy? Someone we never told him about. I don't know. I know. He's going to bail. He's going to bail. What happened, Clint? I don't know. I'm sorry, Laura. I tried. Look, I'll stay behind if that's what we want. Don't be ridiculous. Our source is expecting you. He wants you to be there, and I need you there. What do we want to do? I don't know. Let me think. Pointer stares out the window at the crush of city traffic. And then she gets the thought, what about this? We can at least try to create some distance on the plane, and at the airport in Hong Kong, we don't say a word to McCaskill. We don't even look at him. If anyone's watching, they won't have any reason to think we're connected. Okay. Sounds good. We can do that. Yeah, and one more thing. No more surprises. Right? We have to be able to trust each other. Pointer's takes a deep breath. The entire mission is now compromised. It could fall apart the second they get off the plane in Hong Kong. Everything is about to get very complicated. And when they happen, they have to feel like they're on the same team. They have to be able to trust each other. So Pointer's decides that now is the time for a big gesture. A gesture of trust. The filmmaker reaches into her bag and pulls out a thumb drive. She hands it to Greenwald and then sits back without saying a word. She knows she doesn't have to. Both of them know what she just offered up. The entire collection of top secret files from Bear Axe. Everything that Poitrus has been keeping to herself. Greenwald nods. Now they're teammates. Working together. That was a big step. And as the situation grows more and more dangerous, they're going to need to have each other's backs and do whatever it takes to protect each other and finish what they've started. Two days later, Laura Poitrus sits down on a shiny couch right beside a large plastic crocodile. Poitrus glances at the plastic lizard and shakes her head. The documentary filmmaker has always imagined she was going to meet her source in a dingy little hideout. She didn't expect to be sitting here in a five star hotel in Hong Kong, surrounded by a bunch of edgy artwork. But that's the way things have shaken out. And right now, Poitrus isn't going to question the plan. It's thorough and elaborate, and Poitrus is going to do exactly what her source is expecting her. It started this morning when she and Glenn Greenwald took a cab to the hotel and made their way to the third floor. They asked the first employee they saw if the restaurant was open. That was part of the plan. A move they agreed upon with the source as a way to show they hadn't been followed. Poitrus assumed that Vairax was listening in somewhere nearby. At 10-15, they stepped into this conference room, the one with the plastic crocodile. And they waited exactly two minutes. Poitrus and Greenwald were supposed to meet a man carrying a Rubik's cube. But when the man didn't show up, they left the room, as instructed, and came back three minutes later. Poitrus checks her watch. It's been seven minutes since they first entered the conference room, and their source still hasn't shown up. Poitrus begins to grow sick with anxiety. Maybe she said something wrong the last time they spoke. Maybe Vairax saw the other reporter from the Guardian and bailed. Or maybe it's something else. Maybe they're being played or about to be arrested. Poitrus doesn't know any of it, and she doesn't know what to do. But right as her nerves begin to get the best of her, there's a noise behind them. And Poitrus turns, seeing the door open. For a moment, Poitrus feels like she can't breathe. This could be him. And then, a skinny young man steps into the room. He has light brown hair and rectangular glasses. He's wearing a white t-shirt, and he's fidgeting with a Rubik's cube. Poitrus's eyes go wide. This is him. It's their source. But Poitrus is shocked. He's so young. He looks like he should be fixing iPhones at the genius bar, not smuggling out government secrets. Poitrus shakes her head trying to regain her composure. And then she realizes she hasn't completed her instructions. So she stands and asks the young man how the food is at the hotel. The young man then replies, unfortunately, the food is bad. Then the man tells Poitrus and Greenwald to follow him. Poitrus exchanges a nervous look with Greenwald. She has no idea where this man is leading them. If they misread this situation, this could be their last moment of freedom. But Greenwald gives a nervous smile. He's still in. And Poitrus returns the gesture with a curt nod. She's in two. The two of them then follow their source to a small elevator. And as they step inside, Poitrus tries to remain calm. It's only a matter of time before they find out if this is real or some kind of elaborate trap. Moments later, Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitrus, and the pale young man in a t-shirt step out of an elevator onto the tenth floor. The three of them walk down a carpeted hallway. Greenwald's heart pounds in his chest. He too knows this could be a setup. They could be arrested. Or maybe this young man is actually their source. Either way, Greenwald wants to move fast and start the interview. They may not have much time before something happens, and someone is dragged away in handcuffs. Just then, the young man stops in front of a hotel room. He inserts his key card and swings open the door. And when they step inside, the man apologizes for the mess. The bed is unmade, and dishes from room service are all over the floor. The man opens a mini fridge, tells Greenwald and Poitrus to put their cell phones inside. He explains there's always a chance someone could activate the microphones remotely. The man then grabs some pillows from the bed, and jams them underneath the door of the hotel room. That should keep anyone in the hallway from listening in on their conversation. Greenwald thinks normally this would look a little paranoid, but after everything he's now read about the NSA's secret programs, he's certain that these precautions are necessary. Greenwald grabs a chair and takes a seat, as Poitrus begins setting up her camera. A moment later, she announces she's recording. Greenwald suddenly feels stiff and uncomfortable. They didn't have any time to warm up to each other. No pleasantries are small talk, straight to business. But that's what this situation calls for. So Greenwald pulls out his notebook and tells the man he'd like to jump right in. They have a lot to get through. The source agrees, and taking one last look at Poitrus, Greenwald clears his throat and asks the most pressing question. What is the whistleblower's name? And where does he work? The man nods and says his name is Edward Snowden. He's 29 years old, and he works as an analyst for the NSA in Hawaii. Greenwald pauses to let this sink in. This is happening. This is real. He's now officially met the man responsible for the biggest national security leak in American history. A man willing to risk his life in order to confront the United States government. Greenwald has so many questions. He wants to know what motivated this young man to take such a big risk. How did he get access to such highly classified material? And how did he manage to pull off such an enormous heist? Greenwald's head spins as he considers his next question. There's so much to discuss, but they'll just have to do this one question at a time. And pray they don't get caught. From Wondery, this is Episode 1 of Edward Snowden from American Scan. In our next episode, we go back in time when in the wake of 9-11, a younger Edward Snowden was inspired to serve his country. What Snowden's beliefs would soon be challenged as he discovered the dark side of the NSA. If you like our show, please give us a five star rating and leave a review and be sure to tell your friends. I also have two other podcasts you might like. American History Tellers and Business Movers. Follow on Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music, or wherever you're listening right now. Or you can listen to new episodes early and ad free by subscribing to Wondery Plus in Apple Podcasts or in the Wondery app. You'll also find some links and offers from our sponsors in the episode notes. Supporting them helps us keep offering our shows for free. Another way you can support this show is by filling out a small survey at Wondery.com slash survey to tell us what topics we might come next. You can also find us and me on Twitter. Follow me at Lindsay A. Graham, Lindsay with an A, Middle In Initially. And thank you. If you'd like to learn more about Edward Snowden, we recommend the book's Dark Mirror by Barton Gellman. No place to hide by Glenn Greenwald. And the documentary film, Citizen 4, from Lower Poitras. This episode contains reenactments and dramatized details. And while in most cases we can't know exactly what was said, all our dramatizations are based on historical research. American scandal is hosted, edited and exeked produced by me, Lindsay Graham for Airship, audio editing by Molly Bach, Sound Design by Derek Barons, Music by Lindsay Graham. This episode is written by Austin Rackless, edited by Christina Malsberger. Our senior producer is Gabe Ribbon. Exeked producers are Stephanie Jens, Jenny Lauer Beckman, and Marsha Louis for Wondering.