In an excerpt from his upcoming book about the NSA leaks published on Monday, Greenwald recounted the harried schemes he and filmmaker Laura Poitras used to protect Snowden, who disclosed the government's controversial surveillance practices.
The plot included a ruse to distract journalists waiting outside Greenwald’s Hong Kong hotel room, which allowed for lawyers to meet up with Snowden and take him to a safe house.
“I was immensely relieved that Snowden was in good hands, but we knew there was a strong chance we might never see or speak to him again, at least not as a free man,” Greenwald wrote. “Most likely, I thought, we would next see him on television, dressed in an orange prison jumpsuit and wearing shackles, inside a U.S. courtroom, being arraigned on espionage charges.”
Federal prosecutors in the U.S. charged Snowden with two counts of espionage and one count of theft shortly after he revealed his face last year. Each of the charges carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.
Greenwald, who broke news of the leaks in The Guardian newspaper, along with Poitras and other reporters, also explained why he felt it necessary to film an interview with Snowden explaining himself.
“We were determined that the world would first hear about Snowden, his actions and his motives, from Snowden himself, not through a demonisation campaign spread by the US government while he was in hiding or in custody and unable to speak for himself,” he wrote.
The reaction, he added, “was more intense than anything I had experienced as a writer.”
In an interview with GQ set to be published in the magazine’s June edition, Greenwald said he was “racing the media” to get Snowden out of the Hong Kong hotel.
“He was ready to shave his head and put on a wig,” Greenwald said.
“It was crucial that he controlled his own image,” he added.
“Had the first footage of him been as a prisoner, it would have changed everything, the way it was with Chelsea Manning. But also, had the media found him that day and had he been running out of his hotel with his hand covering his face, you know, any of that kind of stuff would have completely undermined the image he had cultivated for himself."
After revealing his identity in Hong Kong, Snowden fled to Russia and was stalled at the Sheremetyevo International Airport before obtaining asylum in the country. He has been in Russia ever since, where critics say he has been used as a pawn by President Vladimir Putin.
In the interview with GQ, Greenwald said that he was preparing to release a slew of “big stories” over the coming months.
“I like to think of it as a ﬁreworks show: You want to save your best for last,” he said. “There’s a story that from the beginning I thought would be our biggest, and I’m saving that."
Greenwald’s book, No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the U.S. Surveillance State, will be published on Tuesday. Film executives are working to turn the book into a movie.
--This report was updated at 2:25 p.m.