First Look Media announced Wednesday that it was shutting down access to whistleblower Edward Snowden’s massive trove of leaked National Security Agency documents.
Over the past several years, The Intercept, which is owned by First Look Media, has maintained a research team to handle the large number of documents provided by Snowden to Intercept journalists Laura Poitras and Glenn Greenwald.
But in an email to staff Wednesday evening, First Look CEO Michael Bloom said that as other major news outlets had “ceased reporting on it years ago,” The Intercept had decided to “focus on other editorial priorities” after expending five years combing through the archive.
“The Intercept is proud of its reporting on the Snowden archive, and we are thankful to Laura Poitras and Glenn Greenwald for making it available to us,” Bloom wrote.
He added: “It is our hope that Glenn and Laura are able to find a new partner—such as an academic institution or research facility—that will continue to report on and publish the documents in the archive consistent with the public interest.”
First Look Media’s decision to shut down the archives puts an end to the company’s original vision of using The Intercept as a means to report on the NSA documents. In its original mission statement, Poitras, Greenwald, and Jeremy Scahill wrote that the initial mission of the site was, in the short-term, to “provide a platform and an editorial structure in which to aggressively report on the disclosures provided to us by our source, NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.”
Wednesday’s decision—coupled with an announcement that First Look would lay off 4 percent of its staff—was not received well by many Intercept staffers, including Poitras.
In a series of internal memos, Poitras admonished First Look Media for its decision to shut down its archives, and lay off several researchers who had maintained them.
In a note to the First Look board of directors obtained by The Daily Beast, Poitras called on the board to review the decision to eliminate the archives, and criticized the company’s decision to keep her in the dark about their plans until this week.
“This decision and the way it was handled would be a disservice to our source, the risks we’ve all taken, and most importantly, to the public for whom Edward Snowden blew the whistle,” she wrote.
In a separate memo to Bloom that was sent to many of the company’s staffers, Poitras wrote that she was “sickened” by the decision to eliminate the research team and “shut down” the Snowden archive.
“Your email’s attempt to paper over these firings is not appropriate when the company is presented with such devastating news,” she said.
Late Thursday evening, Greenwald tweeted that both he and Poitras had full copies of the archives, and had been searching for a partner to continue research.
Over the past several years, The Intercept has published several major stories based on information in the archives, which include millions of files, many of which include sensitive internal U.S. national-security secrets and trade practices. Other major media companies also have access to large portions of the archive, which yielded Pulitzer Prize-winning scoops for The Guardian and The Washington Post.
In a 2016 post, Greenwald laid out the site’s vision for how best to report on materials in the archive.
“From the time we began reporting on the archive provided to us in Hong Kong by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, we sought to fulfill his two principal requests for how the materials should be handled: that they be released in conjunction with careful reporting that puts the documents in context and makes them digestible to the public, and that the welfare and reputations of innocent people be safeguarded,” Greenwald wrote in a 2016 post.
“As time has gone on, The Intercept has sought out new ways to get documents from the archive into the hands of the public, consistent with the public interest as originally conceived.”