The Intercept

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The Intercept
The Intercept 2015 Logo.png
Web address
Commercial? Yes
Type of site
News website
Available in English
Owner First Look Media
Editor Betsy Reed, Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras, Jeremy Scahill[1]
Launched February 2014
Photo by Trevor Paglen of the National Security Agency headquarters in Fort Meade first published in The Intercept

The Intercept is an online publication launched in February 2014 by First Look Media, the news organization created and funded by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar.[2]

Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras, and Jeremy Scahill are the editors. The magazine serves as a platform to report on the documents released by Edward Snowden in the short term, and to "produce aggressive, adversarial journalism across a wide range of issues" in the long term.[3]

Aims and content

At launch, the editors announced:[3]

"A primary function of The Intercept is to insist upon and defend our press freedoms from those who wish to infringe them. We are determined to move forward with what we believe is essential reporting in the public interest and with a commitment to the ideal that a truly free and independent press is a vital component of any healthy democratic society. […] Our focus in this very initial stage will be overwhelmingly on the NSA story. We will use all forms of digital media for our reporting. We will publish original source documents on which our reporting is based. We will have reporters in Washington covering reactions to these revelations and the ongoing reform efforts. We will provide commentary from our journalists, including the return of Glenn Greenwald’s regular column. We will engage with our readers in the comment section. We will host outside experts to write op-eds and contribute news items.

Our longer-term mission is to provide aggressive and independent adversarial journalism across a wide range of issues, from secrecy, criminal and civil justice abuses and civil liberties violations to media conduct, societal inequality and all forms of financial and political corruption. The editorial independence of our journalists will be guaranteed, and they will be encouraged to pursue their journalistic passion, areas of interest, and unique voices.

We believe the prime value of journalism is that it imposes transparency, and thus accountability, on those who wield the greatest governmental and corporate power. Our journalists will be not only permitted, but encouraged, to pursue stories without regard to whom they might alienate."

In a press release announcing his hiring as editor-in-chief, John Cook stated "I am thrilled to be able to help them build a truly great outlet for the sort of aggressive, muckraking reporting that they embody."[4]

Major stories and reaction

Logo from 2014 until June 2015

Their first published story was an in-depth report about the NSA's involvement in the U.S. targeted killing program, which detailed the flawed methods which are used to locate targets for lethal drone strikes, resulting in the deaths of innocent people.[5] This was followed by an article containing new aerial photographs of the NSA, NRO, and NGA headquarters.[6]

In March 2014, The Intercept published leaked documents from Edward Snowden showing that the National Security Agency was building a system to infect potentially millions of computers around the world with malware.[7] The report included a top-secret NSA animation showing how the agency disguised itself as a Facebook server in order to hack into computers for surveillance.[8] The story reportedly prompted Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to phone President Obama and complain about the NSA's surveillance.[9] Zuckerberg later wrote in a blog post: "I've called President Obama to express my frustration over the damage the government is creating for all of our future."[10]

In May 2014, The Intercept found itself embroiled in what Time called "a war of words" with WikiLeaks via Twitter.[11]

In an article reporting that the NSA collects cell phone metadata in Mexico, the Philippines and Kenya, and records and keeps for up to a month all cell phone calls in the Bahamas and another country, The Intercept declined to name that country "in response to specific, credible concerns that doing so could lead to increased violence."[12] After accusing The Intercept of "acting like a bunch of racists who believe citizens of US dominated countries do not have rights,"[13] WikiLeaks threatened to "reveal the name of the censored country whose population is being mass recorded in 72 hours."[14] Greenwald called WikiLeaks' allegation of racism "absurd," given that The Intercept's article identified four "non-white countries whom the NSA wanted suppressed & the Washington Post did suppress."[15] Greenwald insisted that "there was a very convincing probability in that 5th country for how innocent people would die which we all accepted."[16] The deadline came and went without incident, with WikiLeaks asserting they had moved their outing of "country X to another date for media cycle reasons".[17] Three hours later, WikiLeaks announced, "The country in question is Afghanistan."[18]

In December 2014, The Intercept published new leaked documents from Edward Snowden showing that British surveillance agency Government Communications Headquarters was behind an attack, codenamed Operation Socialist, on Belgacom’s systems (Belgium’s largest telecom).[19]

US government reaction

On August 15, 2014, U.S. National Counterintelligence Executive (NCE) William Evanina confirmed that the FBI is moving forward with a probe into how classified documents were leaked to The Intercept for its article published on August 5.[20] "It's a criminal act that has us very concerned," said Evanina, a former FBI special agent with a counter-terrorism specialty who was appointed NCE by Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper in May 2014.[21]

In August 2014, The Intercept revealed that members of the US military are banned from reading it.[22]


Erik Wemple, writing at The Washington Post, noted the conspicuous refusal of The Intercept to use the term "targeted killings" to refer to the U.S.'s drone program, instead referring to the drone strikes as "assassinations". Wemple included Greenwald's explanation that it is "the accurate term rather than the euphemistic term that the government wants us to use"; Greenwald further noted that "anyone who is murdered deliberately away from a battlefield for political purposes is being assassinated."[23] TechCrunch referred to the story as clear evidence of "unabashed opposition to security hawks".[24]

In May 2014, journalist Ed Pilkington of The Guardian asked Greenwald whether it had been "wise to leave The Guardian, an organ with no owner, run by a trust, in order to embrace a billionaire tech tycoon waving a $250m cheque? And was it, given his scathing critique of big business, true to his own values?". "Maybe my judgment was a bit impaired", Greenwald reflected. "I didn't predict how people would see it. Pierre [Omidyar]'s not just a funder. He's the 100th-richest person in the world. He has $9bn, which is an unfathomable sum, and he's from the very tech industry that is implicated in the NSA story. I probably paid insufficient attention to those perceptions." Greenwald nevertheless insisted that he and The Intercept remain editorially independent of Omidyar. "I know in my mind that the minute anybody tries to interfere with what I'm doing, that is the minute I will stop doing it."[25]

In February 2015, having resigned after nearly 14 months, Ken Silverstein contributed an article on Politico about his time at First Look and The Intercept. "I went to First Look to do fearless journalism," Silverstein wrote, "but I found I couldn't navigate any journalism, fearless or not, through the layers of what I saw as inept management, oversight and editing."[26]

Juan Thompson scandal

In February 2016, the site appended lengthy corrections to five stories by reporter Juan Thompson and retracted a sixth, about Charleston church shooter Dylann Roof, written over the previous year, focused on the African American community. Shortly afterward, a note from editor Betsy Reed indicated that Thompson had been fired recently after his editors discovered "a pattern of deception" in his reporting. According to Reed, he had "fabricated several quotes in his stories and created fake email accounts that he used to impersonate people, one of which was a Gmail account in my name."[27]

The site's investigation into Thompson's reporting had found that he had, on multiple occasions, attributed quotes to people who said he had not interviewed them or did not remember him doing so, people who they could not reach to verify the quote or whose identity could not be confirmed[27] In the retracted story, Roof's family said they did not know of a cousin whom Thompson had quoted as saying Roof's interest in white supremacy took off after a woman he to whom he was attracted began dating a black man.[28] He also used "quotes that we cannot verify from unnamed people whom he claimed to have encountered at public events." To prevent his fabrications from being discovered, she continued, he lied to editors about how he had gotten the quotes and in one case created an email account in the name of one of his sources. When editors discovered his actions, she added, he stood by his published work and, while admitting to creating the email accounts, refused to assist in the review otherwise.[27]

Reed apologized to readers and to those misquoted. She noted that some of Thompson's work, most of it using public sources, was verifiable. Editors alerted any downstream users of the affected stories, and promised to take similar action if further fabrication came to light.[27] After the note was published, the site amended Thompson's online biography when an editor at Chicago public radio station there said that while Thompson had indeed worked there he had no involvement in the station's news reporting as he had claimed; his past tenure at DNAinfo in Chicago, where one editor tweeted in response to the story that she could have seen it coming, was also edited out.[29]

In an email to Reed he shared with various news outlets, Thompson said he was being treated for testicular cancer and for that reason had not had access to his notes when the site had asked to review them. He explained his methods as "writing drafts of stories, placing the names of [people] I wanted to get quotes from in there, and then going to fetch the quotes .. If I couldn't obtain a quote from the person I wanted, I went somewhere else, and must've forgot to change the names—clearly." While he admitted this was "sloppy", he faulted The Intercept for lacking "a sustained and competent editor to guide me," alluding to the site's managerial turnovers.[29]

He suggested that the greater problem was racism in the media field. He had made up pseudonyms for some of his sources, whom he described as "poor black people who didn't want their names in the public given the situations" and would not have spoken with a reporter otherwise. "[T]he journalism that covers the experiences of poor black folk and the journalism others, such as you and First Look, are used to differs drastically," he argued. He also claimed he had felt a need to "exaggerate my personal shit in order to prove my worth" at The Intercept given incidents of racial bias he said he had witnessed there. When Gawker published his email, Reed said those allegations had not been in the version he sent her.[29]


  1. "About The Intercept". About. The Intercept. Retrieved February 10, 2014. 
  2. Russell, Jon (February 10, 2014). "The Intercept, the first online publication from eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, is now live". The Next Web. Retrieved December 7, 2015. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras and Jeremy Scahill (February 10, 2014). "Welcome to The Intercept". The Intercept. Retrieved December 7, 2015. 
  4. Staff (March 11, 2014). "John Cook leaves Gawker to become editor-in-chief for The Intercept" (Press release). New York, New York: Talking New Media. Retrieved November 22, 2014. 
  5. Jeremy Scahill and Glenn Greenwald (February 10, 2014). "The NSA's Secret Role in the U.S. Assassination Program". The Intercept. Retrieved December 7, 2015. 
  6. Trevor Paglen (February 10, 2014). "New Photos of the NSA and Other Top Intelligence Agencies Revealed for First Time". The Intercept. Retrieved February 10, 2014. 
  7. Ryan Gallagher and Glenn Greenwald (March 12, 2014). "How the NSA Plans to Infect ‘Millions’ of Computers with Malware". The Intercept. Retrieved June 6, 2014. 
  8. The Intercept (March 12, 2014). "Video: How the NSA Secretly Masqueraded as Facebook to Hack Computers for Surveillance". The Intercept. Retrieved June 6, 2014. 
  9. Alex Byers (March 13, 2014). "Mark Zuckerberg calls Obama after NSA report". Politico. Retrieved June 6, 2014. 
  10. Mark Zuckerberg (March 13, 2014). "Mark Zuckerberg Facebook post". Politico. Retrieved June 6, 2014. 
  11. Nicks, Denver (May 20, 2014). "WikiLeaks Threatens To Reveal Unnamed Country From Snowden Documents". Time. Retrieved December 7, 2015. 
  12. Devereaux, Ryan; Greenwald, Glenn; Poitras, Laura (May 19, 2014). "Data Pirates of the Caribbean: The NSA Is Recording Every Cell Phone Call in the Bahamas". The Intercept. Retrieved May 20, 2014. 
  13. Wikileaks (May 19, 2014) Tweet by Wikileaks Twitter; retrieved 2014-05-20
  14. Wikileaks (May 19, 2014) Tweet by Wikileaks Twitter; retrieved 2014-05-20
  15. Glenn Greenwald (May 19, 2014) Tweet by Glenn Greenwald Twitter; retrieved 2014-05-20
  16. Glenn Greenwald (May 19, 2014) Tweet by Gleen Greenwald Twitter. Retrieved 2014-05-20
  17. Wikileaks (May 22, 2014) Tweet by Wikileaks Twitter; retrieved 2014-05-23
  18. Wikileaks (May 23, 2014) Tweet by Wikileaks Twitter; retrieved 2014-05-23
  19. Gallagher, Ryan (December 13, 2014). "Operation Socialist The Inside Story of How British Spies Hacked Belgium's Largest Telco". The Intercept. Retrieved January 12, 2015. 
  20. The Intercept (August 5, 2014),; accessed December 7, 2015.
  21. Clark, Charles S. (August 15, 2014). "Meet the Man Who's Gauging the Damage From Snowden". Government Executive. Retrieved August 18, 2014. 
  22. Gilbert, David (August 21, 2014). "US Military Banned From Reading Glenn Greenwald's New Website". International Business Times UK. Retrieved August 21, 2014. 
  23. Wemple, Erik (February 10, 2014). "Glenn Greenwald and the U.S. 'assassination' program". Washington Post. Retrieved December 7, 2015. 
  24. Ferenstein, Gregory (February 10, 2014). "eBay Founder's News Site, The Intercept, Launches With NSA Revelations". TechCrunch. AOL. Retrieved December 7, 2015. 
  25. Pilkington, Ed (May 11, 2014). "Glenn Greenwald: 'I don't trust the UK not to arrest me. Their behaviour has been extreme'". The Guardian. Retrieved May 12, 2014. 
  26. Silverstein, Ken. "Where Journalism Goes to Die". Politico. Retrieved March 2, 2015. 
  27. 27.0 27.1 27.2 27.3 Reed, Betsy (February 2, 2016). "A Note to Readers". The Intercept. Retrieved February 4, 2016. 
  28. Thompson, Juan (June 18, 2015). "Dylan Roof's Cousin Claims Love Interest Chose Black Man Over Him.". The Intercept. Retrieved February 4, 2016. 
  29. 29.0 29.1 29.2 Trotter, J.K. (February 2, 2016). "Reporter Fabricated Quotes, Invented Sources at The Intercept". Gawker. Retrieved February 4, 2016. 

External links