New York: The journalists had been threatened, cajoled and condemned by the British and U.S. governments. Their work together had set off a hunt for their source and a debate on both sides of the Atlantic about government surveillance.
But they had never met - until Friday.
That was when Glenn Greenwald, the journalist, lawyer and civil liberties crusader, and Alan Rusbridger, the editor of The Guardian newspaper, finally shook hands after months of working remotely on articles based on material from former National Security Agency contractor Edward J. Snowden. The two were in New York for the prestigious Polk Award for national security reporting, awarded to Greenwald and his colleagues, Laura Poitras and Ewen MacAskill, and Washington Post reporter Barton Gellman.
Greenwald and Poitras returned to the United States for the first time since their articles broke in June. They arrived at Kennedy Airport in New York from Berlin, where Greenwald had given a speech Thursday and where Poitras lives and is making a documentary on surveillance.
Although Gellman, who revealed the Snowden findings alongside The Guardian, has lived in the United States since their publication beginning in June, there were fears among Greenwald's supporters that he and Poitras might be detained upon returning to the United States. Federal prosecutors have charged Snowden with violating the Espionage Act, and he has been given asylum in Russia.
The crowd of journalists at the Polk ceremony at the Roosevelt Hotel in Manhattan cheered and applauded when it was announced that Greenwald and Poitras had cleared customs and were en route. They arrived just after 1 p.m., trailed by flashing cameras. With the ceremony already underway, Guardian editors, including Rusbridger, welcomed the two.
"I am finally really happy to see a table full of Guardian editors and journalists, whose role in this story is much more integral than the publicity generally recognizes," Greenwald said, as he accepted the award for national security reporting.
It speaks to the increasingly wired and global news-gathering ecosystem that two of the journalists who collaborated on the complex and politically charged revelations from Snowden about global surveillance had never met. Poitras, Greenwald and MacAskill, a veteran Guardian reporter, flew to Hong Kong to meet with Snowden, someone they had known only via the Internet until they met in person at a hotel. Snowden identified himself by carrying a Rubik's cube.
"New York, Rio, London, Berlin, Hong Kong at one point - it was just a very logistically, ethically complicated story," Rusbridger said after the ceremony Friday.
His colleagues, including the editor of Guardian U.S., Janine Gibson, and her deputy, Stuart Millar, knew Greenwald well and had hired him to be a columnist the year before.
"It is much more complicated - being dispersed," Rusbridger said. "It would have been much easier to all have been in one room - particularly a story of this nature where you assume that every conventional means of communication is suspect in some way."
On another occasion The Guardian was forced to destroy computer equipment containing material from Snowden with power tools, under the observation of British government officials.
Despite a trouble-free entry into the United States, Greenwald and Poitras had traveled with a lawyer from the American Civil Liberties Union and a German journalist to document any unpleasant surprises.
"The risks of subpoena are very real," Poitras said. "We know there is a threat."
The Guardian and The Washington Post are considered contenders for the Pulitzer Prizes, which will be announced Monday.
© 2014, The New York Times News Service