Glenn Greenwald: The U.S. Is Not Safer Since 9/11

Monday, December 16, 2013

The Guardian's Brazil-based reporter Glenn Greenwald testifies before the investigative committee of the Senate that examines charges of espionage by the United States in Brasilia on October 9, 2013. (EVARISTO SA/AFP/Getty)

Click here to read a transcript of part 1 of Greenwald’s interview. Check back with The Takeaway tomorrow for part II.

When news broke revealing the extent of the NSA’s data collection strategies, it quickly became not only the most-talked about story of the year, but it raised all sorts of questions regarding the privacy of citizens and the constitutionality of mass surveillance.

Glenn Greenwald was the journalist who worked with leaker Edward Snowden to reveal the cache of classified NSA documents. Being involved with the leaks has forever changed Greenwald’s life. In a special two part interview, The Takeaway talks with Greenwald about the safety of the United States, possible solutions to curb the NSA’s secretive surveillance plans, and much more.

Though government entities argue that the type of dragnet surveillance carried out by the NSA is designed to keep Americans safe, after getting an up close look at the extent of the NSA’s surveillance programs, Greenwald doesn’t think the United States is any safer than it was before the September 11th attacks.

“I absolutely think that doing nothing would’ve been better than what we did, because we ended up creating so much more problems in terms of a terrorist threat than ever existed prior to 9/11,” he tells The Takeaway. “I think what we did made the threat much, much worse, and at the same time, destroyed many of the freedoms that we’ve all been taught define what the United States is all about.”

Greenwald says that the United States leverages the power of the NSA because it can—not because it needs to.

“The answer is that the United States doesn’t actually need, or the NSA doesn’t need a specific reason in order to spy on people and collect their communications,” Greenwald says. “They do it because they’ve developed this technology that lets them do it, and their institutional mandate is just to constantly seek out more and more. They don’t need a reason.”

Greenwald argues that this is why transparency around these types of technologies is so necessary—they define limits. Secrecy is often key to successful technological advancement. With the atomic bomb, for example, Greenwald says there was no framework or limitations for its development. But countries have collaborated and created treaties, conventions, and a regulatory framework for the development of nuclear technology.

And that’s how Greenwald sees the future of surveillance technology.

“Human beings are always going to try to develop more technologies to give themselves greater power,” says Greenwald. “And the challenges for them is for other human beings to organize on their own to come up with ways to control and limit that technology so it doesn’t do massive amounts of harm. And this kind of tension is critical.”

In Greenwald’s mind, surveillance technology and the internet needs a body of international oversight and regulation—something equivalent to the International Atomic Energy Agency. While the global community isn’t there just yet, he says the international community is already starting to move in that direction.

“You are now seeing countries around the world banding together to try to figure out ways to reconstruct the internet so that it doesn’t all go through essentially one country—the United States,” he says.

In addition to reconstructing aspects of the internet to bypass the Untied States, Greenwald also says that technological solutions like cryptography and encryption are being presented for the creation of independent networks, making it very difficult—if not impossible—for the U.S. government to lay its hand on these new networks.

“I think technology will provide an answer as well, as it so often does, to the problems that it’s created,” he says.



Glenn Greenwald

Produced by:

Arwa Gunja and Jillian Weinberger


T.J. Raphael


Johanna Mayer

Comments [32]


Knowledgeable people often disagree. However, becoming disagreeable is rarely helpful.

Personally, I value a journalist who's willing to stick their neck out, because they do not know, exactly, what awaits that decision, but values and places importance upon the risk. Some people think they are right all the time, and some doubt everything and everyone, because they understand "perspective is everything" and Sweeping Change rarely goes smoothly.

Perspective accomplishes successfully what egocentric opinions muddle.

The Takeaway offers great space to state personal opinions ~ obviously since many do so.

Dec. 17 2013 01:12 PM
paula from dania,fl

Word of the Year: (and thank you Mandela) REONCILIATION.
((for Dems and Republicans too.))

Dec. 17 2013 09:32 AM

Jeff, briefly, you don't deserve more
"To insinuate that questioning the government can *ever* be treasonous is to go against everything this fine country was founded upon"
Well, I "insinuate," because I am a historian among a couple of other things and I know that countless countries lost their independence when people like you "questioned" their government.
This "fine country" sadly has dishonest demagogues like you.
I'll stop here. You don't deserve even that much attention, cheap, very cheap demagogue.

Dec. 17 2013 01:08 AM
DerekDude from Okielahoma

A paranoid country is never safer than it was yesterday. Actually, because of the large number of guns presumably for self defense, we are actually less safe--from ourselves.

Dec. 16 2013 03:00 PM
jim from fall river ma

Do you ever listen to the revisionist bullshit you broadcast? It's so easy to judge the past in the present. I question that you even love our country and the freedoms we have which needed to be protected by strong measures after the horror of 911. Although I wished we had gone only to Afghanistan to teach the bad guys that you don't kill our citizens on our soil ever again. We have to continue that fight whether by drone strikes and surveillance. We can not become soft again like you pussies at NPR would like. You encourage our enemies by broadcasting the verbal diarrhea of Glenn Greenwall.... a first class coward and shit stirrer. Overjoyed to hear he's living in Brazil fearing arrest.

Dec. 16 2013 02:57 PM

Anna, you state: "Questioning one's government is fine, however, would you agree that we have come in all shape and forms, with different level of intelligence, knowledge, ethics, and that questioning can be responsible, intelligent, helpful, OR it can be irresponsible, ignorant and treasonous (imagine that it can be treasonous), manipulated or even financed by enemies."

To that, I would say you are a coward. To insinuate that questioning the government can *ever* be treasonous is to go against everything this fine country was founded upon. It's not about liberals vs. conservatives, its about our inalienable freedoms as individuals. True Americans realize that questioning the government is part of our civic duty to ensure that our government doesn't exceed it's reach. Finally, if our country is weak enough to be torn apart by questions "manipulated, or even financed by enemies", then perhaps it doesn't deserve to exist.

Finally, if you haven't already come to the above conclusions yourself as a thinking citizen, perhaps it is you who has been manipulated.

Dec. 16 2013 02:50 PM
Diane from Iowa

Just read the 911Commission Report then look at what we did not implement. Also watch The Third Jihad and you will see we are more unsafe on our own land than we have ever been

Dec. 16 2013 02:44 PM

Well, speaking of manipulation ...
Which comments are featured? Well, a rhetorical question.

Dec. 16 2013 02:35 PM

Well, if you invite garbage to your show and don't pressure sufficiently enough, you receive listeners like Jesse.

Dec. 16 2013 02:30 PM

"There are dozens of facts about 911 that indicate our own government was behind the event"
Well, John congratulation on the quality of your listeners. Yes, sarcasm.

Dec. 16 2013 02:27 PM

Lucy, I have the respect for your service, but have no respect for your arrogance.
You use all the slogans about "the questioning of the government" Americans are taught in pre-natal care, BUT, you have have the same knowledge most Americans have.
Questioning one's government is fine, however, would you agree that we have come in all shape and forms, with different level of intelligence, knowledge, ethics, and that questioning can be responsible, intelligent, helpful, OR it can be irresponsible, ignorant and treasonous (imagine that it can be treasonous), manipulated or even financed by enemies. Imagine that there can a problem with questioning. Nobody told you so.
Now when you are not in the army, I hope you will be able to get some decent education and learn to see differences. Life is more complicated than those who manipulated you said.
Lucy, among other things, please learn that there is better style than that of demagoguery and manipulation.

Dec. 16 2013 02:23 PM
Jesse byrtus from Seattle WA

It seems like we are having the wrong discussion here. The question shouldn't be whether we feel safer since 911. There are dozens of facts about 911 that indicate our own government was behind the event, and the 911 Commission was nothing more than a whitewash to cover those involved. Since the facts indicate a Government Conspiracy, and the facts indicate the Conspirators wanted us to give-away our freedoms, our focus should be on that. There is an elephant in the room, and the Press only wants to discuss the funny smell. The Constitution was written to protect our Freedoms and Rights. There was no mention about safety being more important.

Dec. 16 2013 01:49 PM
Larry Dennison from Port Townsend, WA

Greenwald is absolutely correct. We are not safer, but we are nearly bankrupt as a nation.

If national security is really about protecting American citizens, why is tobacco, which kills a half-million Americans every year, still legal? More than 30,000 Americans were killed by gun violence IN AMERICA in 2013 alone, but we have not meaningfully addressed gun violence. Yet we went to war with two harmless nations half-way around the world in response to a criminal act that was perpetrated mostly by Saudi nationals.

One does not have to dig very deep to see that our government's response to 9/11 was not to protect American lives, but rather to secure strategic advantage in a region of the world that sits atop the largest remaining proven oil reserves in the world.

Dec. 16 2013 01:29 PM
Lucy from Beaverton, Oregon

I was ostracized, disrespected, and called a traitor for expressing my criticism of my government's actions following the events of 9/11. I served in the Army for four years; I'm no traitor. I was saddened to observe how many people believed questioning one's government was treasonist behavior, rather than a civic responsibility.

No response certainly would have been better the long-term fallout we'll endure from the responses the U.S. has made. Taking actions that earned us the respect of the world would have been a better response, and STILL would be. Instead, we made more enemies, so of course we're less safe now.

Dec. 16 2013 01:25 PM

This secure topic is overblown concerning our safety abroad. Given this, we are far less secure from being
shot at a mall, a university, grade or high school, movie theater, or just about anyplace in America by by Americans. The real threat is from within from an assortment of organization such as the NRA and now Ed. Snowden who found refuge Russia of all places, he made our world less safe. Lets face it the people of planet earth don't get along very well.

Dec. 16 2013 01:11 PM
Kate R from Seattle

Have been valuing your program since it started on KUOW. I'm especially thankful, now that most alternative view programing has been moved to late evening and 60 Minutes is no longer cutting-edge journalism (and seems to be a mouthpiece for government autocrats), that you have guests like Glenn Greenwald on your program. His creds as an investigative journalist are substantial, and his understanding of the importance that the 'press' questions government action and his commitment to that end are refreshing and necessary. Thank you.

Dec. 16 2013 12:54 PM

Chris, I am not a Republican and was again the war in Iraq. I am tempted to see now differently and am inclined to believe that the WMDs probably actually were there and were moved to Syria.
But I really, really, really have no tolerance for idiocy. Did you check how the UN is run? "We reaped what he sowed?" Everyone in the world is a charmer? Nothing else in the world is happening. Nothing else in the word influences events. How can people function on this level? Maybe you should stop listening to NPR/BBC and get some education and knowledge of human nature and the world. This is below any acceptable level.

Dec. 16 2013 11:57 AM
Chris Daly from Boston

It's not clear that we are any safer.
On 9/11, Bush should have announced that people from 60 countries (including Muslims) had been attacked in NYC by a criminal gang with a fringe-Muslim gloss. He should have enlisted the United Nations (which his administration set out to eviscerate) to form an international "posse" from those 60 countries to go chase the criminals with an international force across all international borders. It was a crime, not a "war."
Instead, Bush declared war on a tactic, then unaccountably invaded and occupied a country we were not at war with. Ever since, we have reaped what he sowed.

Dec. 16 2013 11:48 AM
John in Boston from Boston

A new low for The Takeaway. Giving a platform to human filth like Greenwald, who is aiding and abetting the crimes of Snowden. And what does Greenwald say? It is all our (= America's) fault. Yep, just what we need, an expatriate traitor-enabler blaming all the world's problems on the US. Whose next, John? Do you have someone who can channel the spirit of Frantz Fanon? Or perhaps Huey Newton? Why not change the name of your show to the "Hate America Hour"?

Dec. 16 2013 11:14 AM

We are less secure for a variety of reasons, primarily because illiterate, pretentious, pompous, hypocritical "my precious genitals, my precious bank accounts" American so called "liberals" "know" reality from Hollywood films and their idiotic, hugging, grass eating New Age sessions.
dr anna, a Social Democrat

Dec. 16 2013 11:07 AM

We are less secure since 911.

Vocal, well funded, overly-Conservative people are at fault. Their thoughts are paranoid, neurotic; they're thinking no further than their own noses -and noises.

Children are influenced by adults in their families. It is true in the Middle East where war and eternal up-heave is passed along generation to generation - so goes the sick mentality, and personal-internalized-criminality within any society.

Under the cover of the NRA these people seek approve for warring, and gun toting: Regressive thinking for sure. We will never be more secure by gathering mounds of covertly obtained information.

Look to the NRA and less at legislators who favor limiting guns in our own country. In particular our children are less safe than ever they were before 911, because confrontation does not win hearts but breeds fear and anxiety - implies lethal confrontation solves grievances.

Dec. 16 2013 10:54 AM

Well, if Americans learn that knowledge matter, particularly knowledge of history, next time won't offer me this advice "Read his books and you'll see how wonderful he is" and stop electing President in messianic frenzy (he's a Saint, the Messiah, God) this will be a good thing. Now ... now we have to survive the elected Messiah.

Dec. 16 2013 10:51 AM

"How did a schizophrenic man get so close to the president.

I apologized for misreading. I read "How did a schizophrenic man get to be President" and responded accordingly.

Dec. 16 2013 10:45 AM

Surveillance technology? Why surveillance when citizens can be ordered to comply.
How about securing Obamacare and it's enforcement arm called the IRS where citizens are ordered by a lawlessly fluid federal law to hand over information.
As the joke goes, why not just send personal medical information directly to Snowden and cut out the middle man.

Dec. 16 2013 10:44 AM
Larry Fisher from Brooklyn, N.Y.

Mental Hospitals put patients in straitjacket restraints in order to keep them "safe," from themselves and from not hurting anyone around them.

I don't walk around wanting to be "safe," I walk around not wanting to go crazy with concern that there are people out there who want to harm me.

I am suggesting that we are on an emotional tightrope since 9-11, and I don't recommend we look down to see if there is a safety net; we just have to look straight ahead remain calm and move forward.

Dec. 16 2013 10:43 AM

"How did a schizophrenic man get so close to the president.

He isn't schizophrenic (I think - I am not a psychiatrist). He's is a charlatan and possibly a sociopath. "How?" Well, when you tell the population that knowledge isn't needed, history is dead, and only firm handshake, permanent smile and pretty words matter you get a smiling, firm handshaking, speaking prettily ("Hope, unity, change") demagogue, looking pretty in perfect suits.
Yes, I am uncomfortable that this person has this power.

Dec. 16 2013 10:33 AM
concerned citizen

The Obama Administration is abusing its political capital by reaching out to, instead of confronting, Iran and the radical Islamists, who are threatening world peace. The Administration is playing with fire, putting our Mideast allies and ourselves, in grave danger, by ignoring the lessons of the 1930's and Iran's public threats of genocidal, Nazi like intentions and indisputable record of terrorist acts.
Iran's nuclear capabilities must be dismantled for the safety of our planet.

Dec. 16 2013 10:25 AM
Nick from UWS

Our response to 9/11 was one of the stupidest things, if not THE stupidest, thing we could have done. And then it devolved from there into sheer criminality. If you don't know what to do, if you don't understand a situation, DO NOTHING. We will pay for our response to 9/11 for a century, if we ever actually recover from it.

Dec. 16 2013 10:21 AM
Stephen from University Heights Ohio

It isn't more safe or less safe Our vast intelligence bureaucracy collects more info than it can interpret. So we miss the obvious. How did a schizophrenic man get so close to the president. We may be looking in the wrong places for danger to our country.

Steve. Cleveland Heights ohio

Dec. 16 2013 09:45 AM
carl from queens

We may or may not be safer today than a decade ago, but one thing for sure is we are a lot poorer, not to mention us suffering from a severe case of paranoia.

Dec. 16 2013 09:39 AM

So the focus is on Cheney and J Edgar Hoover but not those running the administration NOW?

Dec. 16 2013 09:20 AM
anna from new york

an illiterate, glib, primitive demagogue.

Dec. 16 2013 09:13 AM

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