Edward Snowden and the Rubik's Cube meet-up

The New York Times sits down with Guardian reporter Glenn Greenwald and documentarian Laura Poitras to get behind-the-scenes information on how they communicated with NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Don Reisinger
CNET contributor Don Reisinger is a technology columnist who has covered everything from HDTVs to computers to Flowbee Haircut Systems. Besides his work with CNET, Don's work has been featured in a variety of other publications including PC World and a host of Ziff-Davis publications.
Don Reisinger
2 min read
Edward Snowden
Edward Snowden The Guardian/YouTube screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

Edward Snowden's first fateful meeting with the journalists who helped him spill the beans on NSA surveillance was straight out of a spy novel.

Snowden guarded his communications using heavy encryption and used a Rubik's Cube to identify himself to Guardian reporter Glenn Greenwald and documentarian Laura Poitras. In a far-reaching interview with The New York Times, the two journalists revealed how they first met Snowden and got a look at classified documents on U.S. government surveillance programs.

Snowden originally reached out to Greenwald, but it was Poitras who established a line of communication with the then unknown source. Snowden maintained his anonymity and only communicated with the journalists over heavily encrypted channels, according to the Times.

When he was finally ready to meet Poitras and Greenwald, according to the Times, Snowden instructed the pair to fly to Hong Kong, stand outside a restaurant, and look for a man with a Rubik's Cube in his hand. When that person walked by, they were supposed to ask him what time the restaurant opened. Snowden would then respond with the time, but warn them at that food was bad.

Though the first meet-up went according to plan, both parties were surprised by their initial reaction to finally meeting in person. Snowden, who also spoke with the Times, said he was annoyed at first because Greenwald and Poitras arrived to the restaurant early. The reporters on the other hand told the Times that they were surprised by Snowden's youth. He was 29 at the time but look much younger.

Soon after, according to the Times, Snowden would invite Greenwald and Poitras to his room. Even in Snowden's room, the group took precautions not to be overheard. Greenwald and Poitras would remove the batteries from their mobile phones and put them in refrigerator of Snowden's minibar, and they placed pillows around the door to prevent anyone outside the room to listen in on their conversations.

Poitras and Greenwald were light on details of those earlier conversations, but say that they're still working together to comb through all of the files Snowden provided them. They plan to continue writing stories and documenting their findings for the foreseeable future.