The cadre of journalists who last year blew the lid off the National Security Agency's top-secret surveillance apparatus and ignited a roiling international debate over the proper scope of government spying have netted their papers the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service, the awards committee announced Monday.
The Guardian and The Washington Post shared journalism's most coveted honor Monday for their reporting, which exposed classified details of the government's vast data-collection programs.
The award bolsters the growing trophy chest being acquired by the journalists and their document-stealing source, former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, who has also been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, the winner of which will be announced in October.
Snowden called the award "a vindication for everyone who believes that the public has a role in government."
"We owe it to the efforts of the brave reporters and their colleagues who kept working in the face of extraordinary intimidation, including the forced destruction of journalistic materials, the inappropriate use of terrorism laws, and so many other means of pressure to get them to stop what the world now recognises was work of vital public importance," the fugitive said in a statement. He added that his leaks "would have been meaningless without the dedication, passion, and skill of these newspapers."
The import of the "Snowden files" was made immediately apparent last summer after the two papers published the first in what became a seemingly endless cascade of stories exposing intimate details of the NSA's spy programs. Ewen MacAskill and Glenn Greenwald led much of the coverage for The Guardian, while Barton Gellman did so for The Post. Documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras also has been closely involved with the reporting and, along with Greenwald, is believed to be one of only two people in possession of the entire trove of Snowden files.
Snowden, a 30-year-old computer technician, immediately achieved overnight international notoriety as a result of the stories. He met with Greenwald and Poitras in Hong Kong after downloading an estimated 1.7 million secret NSA files while working for government contract Booz Allen Hamilton in Hawaii. The disclosures have been widely credited with forcing President Obama and Congress to consider and implement still-pending reforms to the NSA's spy programs.
The first NSA bombshell, published by The Guardian on June 5, revealed that Verizon "on an ongoing, daily basis" provides the NSA information on telephone calls within the United States. A day later, The Post exposed a top-secret program known as PRISM that collects foreign communications traffic from the servers of nine leading U.S. Internet companies, including Google, Yahoo, and Facebook.
Snowden's detractors have tirelessly claimed that his leaks have harmed national security and that the journalists who published the classified government documents acted irresponsibly. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers has perhaps been Snowden's most vocal critic, having frequently derided him as a "traitor." The Michigan Republican has also suggested that Snowden's current residence in Moscow indicates he could be operating as a spy for Russian President Vladimir Putin.
In a tweet, Rep. Peter King, a New York Republican, called the Pulitzer selection a "disgrace."
The Pulitzer is just the latest in a string of accolades that Snowden and his confidants have earned recently. Last week Greenwald and Poitras were jointly awarded the George Polk Award for national security reporting, a similarly prestigious merit. Their attendance at the awards ceremony in New York City marked the first time either had set foot in the U.S. since their initial NSA stories were published last June.
Earlier this month, Snowden and Poitras were jointly recognized as winners of the left-leaning Ridenhour Truth-Telling Prize.
The Pulitzers are given annually by Columbia University and chosen at the recommendation of a 19-member board of journalists.