EXCLUSIVE: CBC “stonewalled” Snowden story, says Greenwald

CANADALAND has learned that last year the CBC acquired NSA documents describing a major CSEC surveillance program, but the public broadcaster has been sitting on this news for over nine months, with no immediate plans to publish.

Last Tuesday evening at CBC’s Toronto headquarters, CBC News editor-in-chief Jennifer McGuire played host to maverick reporter Glenn Greenwald. Shortly after her introductory remarks to a crowd of journalists at Glenn Gould Studio, former CBC News content director David Walmsley (now editor-in-chief of the Globe and Mail) sat down with Greenwald for an admiring interview about journalistic bravery, exposing State surveillance and standing up to government pressure. A standing ovation followed.

At no point did Walmsley ask Greenwald about government surveillance in Canada by Internet spy agency CSEC. It’s a topic that Walmsley, Greenwald, and McGuire all know far more about than the crowd they stood before, or the Canadian public they serve as journalists.


CANADALAND has learned that last year the CBC acquired NSA documents describing a major CSEC surveillance program, but the public broadcaster has been sitting on this news for over nine months, with no immediate plans to publish. In an interview with CANADALAND, Glenn Greenwald has revealed the “shocking reluctance” of veteran CBC reporter Terry Milewski to inform the public about CSEC spying, an indifference eventually revealed to be actual ideological opposition on the part of a reporter to exposing government surveillance programs.

Further, CANADLAND has learned that the Globe and Mail initially spiked documentation of an earlier Snowden revelation, reneging on a promise to Greenwald that if he were to provide them with Snowden leaks, the Globe would include this original documentation in their reporting. Greenwald learned that the initial decision to withhold the Snowden files came directly from former Globe and Mail editor-in-chief John Stackhouse, whom Greenwald suggests may have been buckling to government pressure.

Greenwald and the Globe 

“We had a bad experience at the Globe and Mail,” says Greenwald of the relationship he struck up with the newspaper. Last fall, Globe reporters Stephanie Nolen and Colin Freeze courted Greenwald for a copy of a top secret NSA presentation detailing Canada’s OLYMPIA surveillance campaign in Brazil. Greenwald ultimately provided this slide deck under the condition that the Globe release them along with any reporting that results from them. The Globe agreed to these terms, but when a story was published on October 19th 2013, the source documents were not included. Greenwald says that after weeks of confusion and delay, Freeze and Nolen apologized to him, explaining that editor in chief John Stackhouse, after much dithering, refused to include the documents as promised. “It got killed at the top level,” recalls Greenwald, who suggested that Stackhouse had been leaned on by angry government officials.

Over a month later the Globe did in fact release 18 of the 20 slides, burying them somewhat as an online sidebar to a feature titled How CSEC became an electronic spying giant. But by then, public attention had moved on from the Brazilian spying revelation, and Glenn Greenwald had moved on from the Globe and Mail to the CBC.

John Stackhouse has ignored CANADALAND’s request for comment. 

CORRECTION: John Stackhouse did not ignore CANADALAND’s request, his reply was briefly lost due to an error on our side. 

When asked about breaking the Globe’s promise to Greenwald, Stackhouse replied that he cannot recall making any such arrangement, but that such terms may have been discussed between Freeze, Nolen and Greenwald.

Stackhouse reveals now to CANADALAND that the slides were withheld because when CSEC was asked for comment by Freeze and Nolen, they contacted his office with a “serious warning” that Canadian lives would be put at risk if the Globe published the deck. “We took it seriously,” he recalls, deciding that the public has no immediate interest in seeing the slides that outweighed the possibility of Canadian targets being compromised. “We gave CSEC time to brief us on why publication would be so dangerous.” But CSEC stalled on the briefing. When it finally occured, the Globe concluded that CSEC has oversstated the threat and that there was no danger involved in publishing the full files. Then, Stackhouse remembers “editorial complications in our newsroom and other files” further delaying publication. “I wish the gap in time had been less than it was” he says now. In the interim, Greenwald severed his partnership with the Globe and took his files to the CBC.

CBC “not interested, not responsive” 

Greenwald initially enjoyed a fruitful journalistic partnership with the CBC. Investigative reporter Greg Weston (who has since retired) reported three items vigorously with Greenwald and his colleague Ryan Gallagher, with the encouragement and support of David Walmsley, who championed the partnership. These revelations included the shocking news that CSEC had been spying on Canadian citizens at an undisclosed airport (and elsewhere) via WiFi connections. This was a major story, as it suggested that CSEC had broken the law by “playing at home” (the agency is forbidden to directly spy on Canadian citizens). The news rattled cages in Ottawa and put pressure on Stephen Harper, who sent national security advisor Stephen Rigby to feebly defend CSEC’s espionage as not really spying, but merely “collection of metadata”. CSEC head John Forster offered a different excuse, explaining that the airport surveillance was just an “exercise”.

In the wake of the airport story, Greenwald promised Canadians that much more was on the way, and many in security circles speculated that Canadians would finally learn what role our telecom firms played in enabling domestic CSEC surveillance.

But the airport WiFi story, published almost nine months ago, was the last item the CBC released in collaboration with Glenn Greenwald.

CANADALAND has learned through internal sources that after Greg Weston’s retirement, the CBC placed Terry Milewski in charge of its partnership with Greenwald. Greenwald confirms this, recalling that he provided Milewski with unreleased Snowden files describing what he calls “a significant surveillance program by CSEC that has not yet been disclosed, and that must be exposed for public debate in Canada”. 

Milewski, sitting on this scoop, was unmoved. Greenwald describes him as “not interested, not responsive” to Greenwald and Gallagher’s repeated attempts to work on the story and report the files. “He stonewalled us,” Greenwald recalls. When Gallagher finally confronted him, Milewski responded with an email Greenwald describes as “strongly suggesting that he actually supports CSEC’s surveillance projects,” leading Greenwald to conclude that Milewski would not report the Snowden leaks on ideological grounds. All this time, it seems that Milewski was under no pressure from CBC brass to further the CBC’s reporting of this material, and management expressed surprise to Greenwald when he finally complained to them about Milewski’s lack of cooperation.

Terry Milewski has ignored repeated requests for comment by CANADALAND.

Earlier this week, Greenwald met with CBC brass and editors, whom he describes as apologetic about Milewski’s behaviour. Management has removed Milewski from the file and is encouraging Greenwald to work with the CBC again. “We’re in talks to see if the relationship can be repaired,” Greenwald explains.

What now? 

CANADLAND asked Greenwald when Canadians can expect to finally learn what he has known for months about our government’s efforts to spy on its own citizens. Greenwald won’t specify a date or say which Canadian news organization (if any) he’ll be working with from now on, but promises that all will be revealed in time.

“This must be exposed for public debate in Canada.”


Glenn Greenwald will be interviewed by Jesse Brown live on stage in Ottawa this Saturday night. Tickets are available here.

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