Two reporters central to revealing the massive US government surveillance effort returned to the US on Friday for the first time since the story broke and used the occasion to praise their exiled source: former US National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden.
Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras of the Guardian became a story of their own amid speculation they could be arrested upon arriving at Kennedy Airport.
They were instead confronted by only reporters and photographers before fighting through traffic en route to a midtown Manhattan hotel to receive a George Polk Award for national security reporting.
In remarks before an audience of other journalists and editors, the pair credited the courage of Snowden, who leaked the information for their story.
“This award is really for Edward Snowden,” Poitras said.
“I hope that as journalists we realize not only the importance of defending our own rights, but also those of our sources like Edward Snowden,” Greenwald said.
The pair shared the award with the Guardian’s Ewen MacAskill and Barton Gellman, who has led the Washington Post’s reporting on NSA surveillance.
Revelations about the spy programs were first published in the two newspapers in June last year.
At the airport, Greenwald said he and Poitras were not “100 percent sure” they could enter the US without being arrested.
He said lawyers had been seeking assurance from the US Department of Justice “and they purposefully wouldn’t give them any information about whether we were the target of a grand jury or whether there was already an indictment that was under seal.”
Still, Greenwald said he “expected that they wouldn’t be that incredibly stupid and self-destructive to try and do something that in the eyes of the world would be viewed as incredibly authoritarian.”
After the award ceremony, Greenwald told reporters that he still speaks regularly to Snowden, who was granted asylum in Russia for a year.
He said Snowden was aware Greenwald and Poitras were to be honored in New York and “was very supportive of that.”
US Representative Peter King, who leads the House Homeland Security subcommittee on counterterrorism and intelligence, called Greenwald “a disgrace to journalism and the country.”
Snowden has been charged with three offenses in the US, including espionage, and could face up to 30 years in prison if convicted.
The disclosures have led to proposed overhauls of US surveillance programs, changes in the way the government spies on foreign allies, additional disclosures to defendants in some terrorism cases and demands from private companies to share details about government cooperation with their customers and shareholders.