The anonymous emailer wanted to know if I could help him communicate securely with Laura Poitras, the documentary filmmaker who had repeatedly cast a critical eye on American foreign policy.
From: anon108@■■■■■■■■■I didn’t know it at the time, but I had just been contacted by Edward Snowden, the National Security Agency contractor who was then preparing a momentous leak of government data.
To: Micah Lee
Date: Fri, 11 Jan 2013
I’m a friend. I need to get information securely to Laura Poitras and her alone, but I can’t find an email/gpg key for her.
Can you help?
A month earlier, Snowden had anonymously emailed Glenn Greenwald, a Guardian journalist and chronicler of war-on-terror excesses, but Greenwald didn’t use encryption and didn’t have the time to get up to speed, so Snowden moved on. As is now well known, Snowden decided to contact Poitras because she used encryption. But he didn’t have her encryption key, as is necessary to send someone encrypted email, and the key wasn’t posted on the web. Snowden, extraordinarily knowledgeable about how internet traffic is monitored, didn’t want to send her an unencrypted email, even if just to ask for her key. So he needed to find someone he thought he could trust who both had her key and used encrypted email.
That was me.
And as it turned out, several months later I was drawn more deeply into the whole thing, when Snowden got back in touch and asked me to work with him to launch an online anti-surveillance petition.
Until now, I haven’t written about my modest role in the Snowden leak, but with the release of Poitras’ documentary on him, “Citizenfour,” I feel comfortable connecting the dots. I think it’s helpful to show how privacy technologists can work with sources and journalists to make it possible for leaks to happen in a secure way. Securing those types of interactions is part of my job now that I work with Greenwald and Poitras at The Intercept, but there are common techniques and general principles from my interactions with Snowden that could serve as lessons to people outside this organization.