Greenwald: Snowden’s salary ‘didn’t really strike me as a central part of the story’

Edward Snowden — whose leaks about government surveillance provided major scoops to the Guardian and The Washington Post — made $122,000 a year at Booz Allen Hamilton, the company says in a statement announcing his termination.

“Snowden, who had a salary at the rate of $122,000, was terminated June 10, 2013 for violations of the firm’s code of ethics and firm policy,” the statement reads.

The Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald reported Snowden “has had ‘a very comfortable life’ that included a salary of roughly $200,000.” Reached by email, Greenwald called the statement “very strangely worded,” noting that it used the word “rate.”

“I didn’t see paystubs – his salary didn’t really strike me as a central part of the story, to put that mildly,” Greenwald writes. “It’s possible Booz Allen is using a pro-rated figure, or it’s possible Snowden talked about his salary at his prior NSA job at Dell.”

Barton Gellman, who also reported on Snowden’s revelations, said in an email that he didn’t think Snowden had said anything to him about his salary.

One source told Erik Wemple, to whom Greenwald gave the same statement, that “Snowden wasn’t bonus-eligible.”

Writing about Snowden Monday, David Carr predicted “we will learn far more about his personal and professional life, and perhaps a more complicated narrative about his motivations will emerge.”

New York Times columnist David Brooks attempts a little long-distance psychoanalysis of Snowden: “If you live a life unshaped by the mediating institutions of civil society, perhaps it makes sense to see the world a certain way,” Brooks writes.

Life is not embedded in a series of gently gradated authoritative structures: family, neighborhood, religious group, state, nation and world. Instead, it’s just the solitary naked individual and the gigantic and menacing state.

Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen did something similar, calling Snowden “merely narcissistic.”

He jettisoned a girlfriend, a career and, undoubtedly, his personal freedom to expose programs that were known to our elected officials and could have been deduced by anyone who has ever Googled anything.

So does any of this ding Greenwald’s story? Back when I was an editor, I’d have gotten very nervous if it looked like a source lied about anything, on the principle that people who lie about small things eventually lie about big things as well. But the U.S. government said in a statement Saturday that “the surveillance activities published in The Guardian and The Washington Post are lawful and conducted under authorities widely known and discussed,” which sure sounds like confirmation of Snowden’s revelations, even if there’s still some question about exactly whose information the PRISM program is sucking up.

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  • davidcayjohnston

    Thanks for your reply. I still think your piece lacks balance in the credibility of sources and should have noted that Booz had every reason (as would any employer in the same situation) to want to diminish and distance itself from its former employee.

    Thanks for posting the Snowden chat explanation.

  • abeaujon

    Hi David, thanks so much for your comment. I didn’t think the apparent discrepancy damaged Snowden’s story; I just thought it was worth noting that the Guardian took his word on that*. I just think details matter a story this important, and as I noted above, the U.S. has more or less confirmed Snowden’s revelations.

    I apologize for not seeing this comment until today; for faster service please feel free to email me directly or call:

    *Snowden addressed this in his chat Monday. It’s worth noting his language: “I was debriefed by Glenn and his peers over a number of days, and not all of those conversations were recorded. The statement I made about earnings was that $200,000 was my “career high” salary. I had to take pay cuts in the course of pursuing specific work. Booz was not the most I’ve been paid.”

  • Al Frank

    the 78k salary difference is Snowden’s CIA retainer. who do you think told him to leak the story (which really means nothing) and why? why now? 2 months after Boston? Why Kraft and Putin and ring theft now? CIA knows exactly where Snowden is. Snowden’ still on CIA payroll. how else would he expect to live in Hong Kong’s most expensive hotels for any length of time?

  • davidcayjohnston

    The lack of any response from Poynter on comments below by me and Miles Digby is, well, unexpected at the very least.

  • milesdigby

    Also some things are more complicated than a non intelligence “spy” would understand. My step brother was Air Force Intel during cold war 1983.When he got out he wanted to be a doctor.But U.S. Gov had paid for him to learn Russian and other skills.

    NSA offered him this, a job at the NSA, with a cover at (Big American Corp you all know) he would make about the same at as Corp employee he did at NSA. He would even be a part of big Corp pension plan! But the Corp work would be just to help the NSA. It always sounded like they were using a accounting trick to keep a great employee. Kind of like paying someone for working 40 hrs a week but telling them to just come in for 25hr.

    Yeah “salary” can be very complicated in the “Secret World” as Le Carree calls it.

  • davidcayjohnston

    Bias alert!

    Did Snowden’s compensation package include perks, bonus, signing
    bonus or benefits that bring the figure closer to the $200,000 figure than the
    $122,000 figure? Is there a clause in the contract that took effect after some
    period and raised the pay even higher than $200,000?

    Why does Poynter assume the company’s statement is accurate and truthful, but Snowden lied?

    Has former editor Andrew Beaujon seen the employment letter or paystub or W-2 of Snowden?

    Maybe the employer lied. I don’t know. Neither does Poynter unless it has
    documents, yet Beaujon favors one side.

    Beaujon also writes: “Back when I was an editor, I’d have gotten very nervous if it looked like a source lied about anything, on the principle that people who lie about small things eventually lie about big things as well.”

    My experience is quite different. Some of the most reliable
    sources I have had were crooked cops, pimps, prostitutes and businessmen who
    lied about all sorts of things, but were scrupulously truthful about the
    facts at issue.

    I encourage Beaujon to spend a LOT of time reading the robust
    literature on this because while he offers up the everyday common sense
    understanding, empirical research shows that everyone lies about some things
    (including him) and is strictly honest about others.

    Given that Snowden’s employer has a rather
    obvious interest in dirtying up a former employee for its own benefit, that
    Poynter favored its side is all the more astonishing.

    And, finally, how curious that Beaujon failed to even take passing note of the fact that companies usually say “no comment” on personnel matters, but not this time.


Beaujon owes readers a corrective column.