Washington Babylon has been running a number of stories this week by Tim Shorrock and I which raise the possibility — mine did directly — that Pierre Omidyar’s The Intercept (TI) is an intelligence operation, working in collaboration with the U.S. and/or a foreign government. I understand why some readers might be skeptical of that charge, so let me lay out here some additional information and why I think everyone should be open-minded about the topic.
Let me also say that I don’t have 100 percent proof that TI was and is an intelligence operation, but the preponderance of evidence points that way. And I’m accumulating more evidence every day that makes the case even more compelling.
Before going further, here is a brief, lightly edited excerpt from the first story I ran on this topic. I urge all genuinely interested parties to read the entire story, before or after finishing this one.
Did Omidyar set up The Intercept on behalf of U.S. intelligence, in order to entrap, expose and prosecute whistleblowers? It’s curious: Greenwald was Omidyar’s first hire and he had pretty much exclusive access to Edward Snowden’s NSA treasure trove. When I worked at TI, the Snowden archive was locked in a safe. Omidyar and Greenwald long promised they would make it all available to the public but they never did, and last week, amid staff cuts that will inevitably lead to Omidyar killing the publication, TI announced that the Snowden archive will be sealed off from the public for an undetermined amount of time. So it looks like the most explosive leak in U.S. intelligence history will end up being buried by Omidyar and Greenwald.
I briefly noted in that story that I had previously worked at TI, being one of the first hires in 2014. I quit in disgust in early 2015 and wrote about my experience for Politico.
Back then, I didn’t suspect anything nefarious. I merely thought TI was experiencing a lot of the same problems any web start up would face. I remember joking with colleagues that by hiring so many left-leaning writers and paying them so much money to effectively not write — my two best stories for TI ended up in VICE — Omidyar had effectively decommissioned half of progressive journalism in the country. (Recall here Omidyar is a tech oligarch with rich ties to Silicon Valley, which in turn has deep links to U.S. and foreign intelligence agencies.)
But looking back, I have to wonder: was it merely incompetence and standard problems faced by start ups that kept TI from publishing much, or was it something worse?
TI’s defenders will rush to say it publishes a lot of good work. I’d say it publishes more than the pathetic trickle it did for its first few years, but still remarkably little given how much money Omidyar has lavished on his overpaid stable of harlots. So, sure, call me conspiratorial but anyone but the most dogmatic or corrupt among us has to admit these are fair questions.
OK, the case against TI is still open. As I said, I’m still gathering reams of evidence that I’ve yet to present. Pretend, just for a moment, I’m right. That would lead to the question of complicity and guilt on the part of those TI hired over the years. After all, I worked there myself.
I’d only say that at the time I detested TI and Omidyar, and many of the people who worked there, but I had no clue that the publication could be an intelligence operation until quite recently. My reading of the matter is based on new information, including documents and interviews with multiple TI employees, including the great Barrett Brown, who will be on our podcast later this week to discuss his personal experience.
I believe Omidyar knew exactly what he was doing. If I’m right, he was approached by an intelligence agency (or agencies) and asked to set up TI primarily to entrap and prosecute whistleblowers and leakers. The very name — The Intercept — would have been a joke between Omidyar and his handlers. The second goal would have been to decommission a lot of journalists who had previously done quite a bit of leftist reporting or bloviating, in the case of Greenwald and a few other TI hires
Glenn Greenwald? I am guessing here, but I believe he may have been in on the whole thing from the start, or surely soon afterwards. He had, I’m told by multiple sources, extensive legal problems in the U.S. that led him to flee to Brazil. He began publishing stories in The Guardian in June 2103 based on Snowden’s leaks. Then, according to his Wikipedia page:
On October 15, 2013, Greenwald announced, and The Guardian confirmed, that he was leaving to pursue a “once-in-a-career dream journalistic opportunity that no journalist could possibly decline”. Financial backing for the new venture was provided by Pierre Omidyar, the eBay founder. Omidyar told media critic Jay Rosen that the decision was fueled by his “rising concern about press freedoms in the United States and around the world”. Greenwald, along with his colleagues Laura Poitras and Jeremy Scahill, initially were working on creating a place online to support independent journalism, when they were approached by Omidyar who was looking to start his own media organization. That news organization, First Look Media, launched its first online publication, called, The Intercept, on February 10, 2014. Greenwald serves as editor, alongside Laura Poitras and Jeremy Scahill.
Scahill? He’s far too stupid to trust to be part of an intelligence operation. It would be sort of like — but worse, because Donald Trump is reckless but not stupid — Vladimir Putin making the reckless Trump an asset of Russian intelligence. It’s too dumb to believe. No, the stupid Scahill was simply Omidyar’s tool, at least that’s my guess.
Poitras is evil. For example, while in Iraq she filmed an Al Qaeda attack on U.S. troops and watched them die. But I’m fifty-fifty on whether she was used or not. I’m guessing she was, and whoever asked Omidyar to run the operation would have been happy to see her “reporting” sidelined.
(Want to know more about Poitras? Read this Vogue profile that resulted from her work with Greenwald on Snowden, the latter now pitifully hung out to dry in Moscow as Greenwald and Poitras have become global celebrities, heroes and filthy rich.)
I’ll give you my impression of other TI employees in the coming days and weeks, including John Cook, that stellar reporter and editor at Gawker.
But for now, I’ve got other work. If you’re in the mood, though, here’s the one story I wrote for Gawker, about George Clooney and South Sudan, which was extremely popular. And not edited by the lamentable Cook.