The Epic Fight Between Wired and Glenn Greenwald

This article is from the archive of our partner .

After weeks of Twitter-baiting and pent-up anger, two editors at are finally expressing their utter disgust for Salon blogger Glenn Greenwald. At issue is Greenwald's criticism of Wired's WikiLeaks coverage. Greenwald demands that Wired publish the transcripts it obtained between alleged leaker Bradley Manning and Adrian Lamo, the 29-year-old hacker who turned Manning in to the FBI. In the transcript, Manning reportedly confesses to Lamo that he leaked the classified U.S. government documents to WikiLeaks.

Wired has published some of the transcripts--but not enough to satisfy Greenwald, who has been drumming up a number of theories as to why Wired hasn't been fully "transparent."  One explanation, Greenwald posits, is an inappropriate closeness between Lamo and Wired senior editor Kevin Poulsen. Poulsen, Greenwald explains, has interviewed Lamo and written about his reputation as a hacker since long before the WikiLeaks affair came about. Is Poulsen protecting Lamo in exchange for access?

Wired editors Poulsen and Evan Hansen categorically deny Greenwald's allegations. They explain that they've withheld some of the transcripts because they contain embarrassing and/or damaging information about the subjects, and don't add anything of substance to the story. Additionally, they list a "litany of errors" published by Greenwald and attack his professional integrity. They call his work a "breathtaking mix of sophistry, hypocrisy and journalistic laziness." This morning, Greenwald responded to Poulsen and Hansen's post, promising to "address each and every one of their accusations in order."

Here are their main bones of contention:

On Publishing the Transcripts  Hansen defends Wired's decision:

To be sure, there’s a legitimate argument to be made for publishing Manning’s chats. The key question (to us): At what point does everything Manning disclosed in confidence become fair game for reporting, no matter how unconnected to his leaking or the court-martial proceeding against him, and regardless of the harm he will suffer? That’s a debate we have had internally at Wired with every major development in the case.

It is not a question, however, that we’re inclined to put to popular referendum. And while we welcome the honest views of other journalists acting in good faith, we now doubt this describes Glenn Greenwald.

Greenwald doesn't buy that excuse, however, and explains why he wants the transcripts published:

For anyone who wants to defend Wired here, I'd really like to know:  what possible excuse is there for their refusal to do this?  Even if you trust Poulsen -- despite his very close and long relationship to Lamo -- to conceal some parts of the chats on privacy grounds, what justification is there for Wired's refusal to state that either (a) Lamo's claims about what Manning told him are supported by the chat logs (and then publish those portions), or (b) Lamo's claims are not found in the chat logs, thus proving that Lamo is either lying or has an unreliable recollection?  While Adrian Lamo runs around spouting all sorts of serious accusations about what Manning supposedly told him that are not found in Wired's excerpts -- claims which end up in the world's largest news outlets -- and while he issues one contradictory claim after the next about these events, how can anyone claiming to be a journalist not inform the public about whether those stories are true?  For Wired defenders: what justifies that obfuscatory behavior, that refusal to say whether Lamo's claims are true or false based on the chat logs?

...Wired is hiding the key evidence about what took place here, thus allowing Lamo to spout all sorts of serious claims without any check and thus drive much of the reporting about WikiLeaks.

On Poulsen's Relationship to Lamo  Poulsen attacks Greenwald's depiction of their relationship:

Last June ... [Greenwald] ... claimed that Lamo and I have “long and strange history together.” That “history” began in 2000, when, while reporting for the computer security news site, I contacted Lamo to use him as an expert on security issues at AOL. ... In the intrusion that finally resulted in his arrest, he cracked The New York Times intranet and added himself to the paper’s internal database of op-ed contributors ... To Greenwald, all this makes Lamo “a low-level, inconsequential hacker.” ... Greenwald’s theory is that Lamo’s hacks were not newsworthy. But, this line of thought goes, in exchange for the chance to break the non-news of his intrusions, I reported them — getting Lamo attention ... What he fails to report is that those same breaches were also covered by the Associated Press, Reuters, Wired magazine (well before my tenure at, cable news networks, every tech news outlet and several national newspapers, and that Lamo spoke freely to all of them.

So when he writes that I had “exclusive, inside information from Lamo,” he is wrong. And when he writes that Lamo had an “insatiable need for self-promotion and media attention, and for the past decade, it has been Poulsen who satisfies that need,” he’s ignoring the fact that my reporting for an obscure computer security news site constituted an almost inconceivably tiny portion of the coverage generated by Lamo’s hacks.

Responding to Poulsen, Greenwald continues to insist that his relationship with Lamo was inappropriate

I detailed with multiple links and documentation in my June article exactly what makes this Lamo-Poulsen relationship so strange.  Lamo basically used Poulsen as his personal spokesman for years:  he'd hack, and then have Poulsen announce it.  When Lamo was involuntarily hospitalized, it was Poulsen he called, so that Wired would write about in the light Lamo wanted.

Lamo posts smiling, arms-around-each-other pictures with Poulsen on his Facebook page, including one the day before Wired published excerpts of the chat log.  Nadim Kobeissi, Lamo's longtime friend, told me that Lamo has long considered Poulsen his friend.  This is anything but some objective, arms-length journalist-source relationship.

On Greenwald's Journalistic Integrity  On Christmas day, Greenwald reached out to Poulsen for comment and published a story soon afterward—not giving Poulsen enough time to respond, says Hansen:

When we didn’t meet the urgent Yuletide deadline he’d imposed on himself to publish a piece about a 10-day-old newspaper article, he wrote in his column that we “ignored the inquiries,” adding: “This is not the behavior of a journalist seeking to inform the public, but of someone eager, for whatever reasons, to hide the truth.”

Greenwald defends his "Yuletide deadline":

I... emailed Poulsen on Saturday morning -- Christmas -- and told him I intended to write about this the following day.  When I didn't hear back from him all day Saturday, I waited the entire next day (Sunday) and, in the hopes of getting a reply from Poulsen, still didn't write anything.  I only published my piece mid-morning on Monday:  two full days after I first emailed Poulsen.  Once it was published, Poulsen, despite being "on vacation," certainly responded on Twitter very quickly.

On Greenwald's Omission of Important Facts  Poulsen takes Greenwald to task for not explaining that one of the sources he uses to describe Lamo is a prominent WikiLeaks supporter:

Greenwald descends into antics that shouldn’t pass muster at any serious news outlet. He bolsters his argument by quoting Jacob Appelbaum as an expert on Lamo. Appelbaum has "known Lamo for years," he writes, and "Lamo’s ‘only concern’ has always been ‘getting publicity for Adrian'."

Nowhere in the article does he disclose that Appelbaum -- the only third-party source in the piece -- is a key WikiLeaks activist: a man who’d shared hotel rooms with Julian Assange, and had already spoken publicly on behalf of the organization. Appelbaum's key role in the organization has been a published fact since April.

Greenwald defends himself and (somewhat) concedes a point:

The quote from Appelbaum about Lamo's desire for publicity is (a) something that at least ten other people told me in that period and (b) completely ancillary to any points I raised about Wired.  I will readily concede that Appelbaum's association with WikiLeaks should have been disclosed.  It wasn't for a simple reason:  I wasn't aware of it. ...  I was unaware -- and still am -- of any news reports before then identifying him as such.  If there were any, I didn't see them.

I quoted Appelbaum because his quote was most usable, but I could easily have quoted at least ten other people with knowledge of Lamo to make this same point.  ... Wired's own Ryan Singel told me: "Lamo is clearly starved for attentionOften he gets it by coming up with odd leads. Here he decided to become a rat, and then went on to brag about it."  That quote would have sufficed just as well as the Appelbaum one.  That Lamo is pathologically fixated on self-promotion is an article of faith in the hacker world.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.