‘There are things that should remain secret’: Washington Post, Guardian withhold PRISM slides

Now that Edward Snowden has come forward as the leaker of the details behind the National Security Agency’s PRISM program, people are beginning to line up in two camps; some call him a traitor, while others have declared him a hero for spilling the beans to the Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald. There are other players in the mix, though, and the middle ground they’ve chosen to occupy is interesting.

Take Barton Gellman, who reported on Snowden for the Washington Post, for example. The Post, together with the Guardian, published five PowerPoint slides regarding the government’s PRISM program. However, both papers chose to withhold 36 more slides leaked to them by Snowden. That puts both papers, rather than the government, in the position of deciding what the public needs to know, and what it shouldn’t know about the government’s Internet surveillance infrastructure. Is everyone comfortable with that?

The guarantee to which Gellman refers in his tweet is Snowden’s demand that the Post publish all 41 slides within 72 hours of receipt, which the paper has not done. The Guardian also refused to publish the complete set. Why? If you saw them, you’d know, Gellman told the New York Times’ Charlie Savage.

Hang on now … how many people at the Washington Post have seen the complete set of slides? If he’s not going to tell us everything, could Gellman at least suggest a good cell phone carrier, knowing what he apparently knows?

Before anyone rushes to declare Snowden a hero, it’s worth getting a better picture of just how he shopped around the information he hoped to leak, and where it might end up next. China? WikiLeaks? That latter doesn’t seem to think the press has done its job.

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