The Little-Known Google Employee Who Helped Edward Snowden

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by JD Rucker, Discern Report:

On the morning of June 10, 2013, journalist Glenn Greenwald and filmmaker Laura Poitras released a video on the Guardian website, unveiling the identity of the NSA whistleblower responsible for one of the most significant leaks in modern history. The video began with the words, “My name is Ed Snowden.”

At the time, William Fitzgerald, a 27-year-old policy employee at Google, knew he wanted to assist but was uncertain about how he could contribute. Snowden was undoubtedly one of the most wanted individuals globally, as the confidential documents he shared with Greenwald, Poitras, and the Guardian’s Ewen MacAskill exposed an expansive US government surveillance program with global reach, involving major tech companies. Working at Google since 2008, based in its Hong Kong office, Fitzgerald impulsively emailed Greenwald from his personal Gmail account.

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The email, retrieved by the Guardian, stated, “If looking for alternative options to protect Edward within Hong Kong, I am on hand to assist.” Hours later, Fitzgerald found himself waiting in the lobby of the Hong Kong W Hotel, prepared to meet Greenwald and introduce him to Robert Tibbo and Jonathan Man – the men who became Snowden’s legal representatives and sheltered him in the homes of Tibbo’s Sri Lankan refugee clients.

Now, 10 years since the initial publication of the Snowden files by the Guardian, Fitzgerald, who remained at Google until 2018, feels ready to share his small role in the story. Described merely as a “longtime reader” of Greenwald’s in the book recounting Greenwald’s week-long stay in Hong Kong, meeting with Snowden and handling the aftermath of the disclosures, Fitzgerald acknowledges that his motivation for sharing his story isn’t entirely selfless. He desires his involvement to be recognized in history as the “longtime reader” who was willing to risk everything, much like Snowden himself.

According to Fitzgerald, the internet and tech industry, including his employer, felt vastly different in 2013 compared to today. Following the Arab Spring, there was hope and optimism that the tools connecting the world could be a force for social good. However, the Snowden files painted a darker picture, exposing mass surveillance by the US National Security Agency (NSA), which used these very tools to spy on the users of the tech companies supposedly empowering them.

The NSA files suggested that certain tech firms, including Google, Facebook, and Apple, were aware of the surveillance. Although these companies vehemently denied involvement and even took a stand against government spying, partnering with organizations like the Electronic Frontier Foundation to enhance internet encryption, Fitzgerald found it challenging to reconcile Snowden’s disclosures with his optimism about the internet’s potential. Nevertheless, he believed the authenticity of the documents. When he discovered that Greenwald was in Hong Kong, Fitzgerald eagerly requested a meeting, despite indications that Google knew about the NSA’s direct access to its servers for user data. By the time Snowden revealed his identity, Fitzgerald and Greenwald had already planned to meet.

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