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CSU alumni Gabriel Dance describes experience with NSA leaks

Interpreting leaked National Security Agency documents, investigating the criminal justice system and working for the New York Times and Guardian are only a few experiences of Colorado State University alumnus Gabriel Dance. Dance attended CSU from 1999-2003 and majored in computer science and journalism.

“I actually worked for the Rocky Mountain Collegian during my time at CSU,” Dance said. “I started with layout and pagination, then went to covering music, and then editorials.”


Following his graduation from CSU, Dance attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to further his studies of journalism. After leaving Chapel Hill, Dance worked for the New York Times and began working as a multimedia journalist for the Guardian in 2011.

In April 2014, the Guardian won the Pulitzer Public Service Award for its report on materials relevant to serving the best interest of the public.

“To be involved in the story is something I’ll never forget,” Dance said. “I mean, it was exciting – at times scary, stressful and we learned a lot about encryption and about operational security, which involves the protection of documents, sources or whatever it may be.”

In addition, Dance’s work on the interactive explanation of the NSA-leaked documents won an Emmy Award and a variety of other journalism recognitions.

“It was an interactive, collective explanation of the NSA break,” Dance said. “It was a fascinating time to be at the Guardian, and I was lucky and fortunate to be able to work on the project.”

Dance and his multimedia team worked to publish the files online through an interactive model, allowing readers to engage themselves with the information.

“In early 2013, Edward Snowden leaked top-secret government files to the Guardian,” Dance said. “Glenn Greenwald, the reporter that covered the story, flew to Hong Kong where Snowden actually gave him the files.”

The files were property of the NSA. Snowden acquired the files during his time as a system administrator for the CIA, and leaked them because he believed the public needed to see the contents.

“We broke a story each day as we figured out the documents and worked on them,” Dance said. “That was really exciting and interesting in terms of breaking single stories, but it quickly became understood that we were having trouble understanding how to take the small variable stories in print and make them easy to understand.”


The documents contained information suggesting that the NSA was infringing on privacy rights of U.S. citizens by monitoring calls, emails and various other forms of communication.

“We were trying to make the story interactive through print, video, maps, GIFs, charts and whatever was best to tell a specific part of the story,” Dance said. “Our side of the project was hugely a multimedia and interactive story.”

Dance and his team aimed to create a more explanatory, in-depth analysis of the documents in order to make the content more comprehensible to the general public.

“The interactive model won a lot of awards, and was part of a Pulitzer submission, which is very uncommon because Pulitzer submissions are usually for primarily print stories,” Dance said.

Dance left the Guardian in 2014. Currently, he is working on The Marshall Project, an investigative collaboration on the criminal justice system in the United States.

“The Marshall Project is a nonprofit and non-partisan group,” Dance said. “We’re merely saying that the criminal justice system is broken, and we need to look more closely at what is a broken system.”

Dance is involved not only because he is interested in criminal justice, but also because he feels many people are touched by the effects of a broken system.

“There are racial issues, socioeconomic issues, and people of color and poor people are disproportionately impacted,” Dance said. “The results of the project aim to find a working business model for the place of journalism in the investigative field.”

Dance is the managing editor of The Marshall Project. He is responsible for interactive reporters, audience reporters, data reporters, art directors and technology staff.

“We work hand in hand with more traditional reporters as well, and my news room is about 20 people,” Dance said. “We’re not trying to make money, and we’re not an advocacy group, we’re just trying to acknowledge the flaws in the system.”

Click here to view the Guardian’s NSA multimedia project.

Collegian Reporter Jessie Trudell can be reached at or on Twitter @JessieTrudell.

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