The Entire NSA Non-Story: Cutting the Crap on Snowden and Greenwald

People have to understand this.

I would never say that our intelligence agencies are beyond reproach. It is always possible that the NSA is trying to spy on us. But as of now, based on the documents released by Edward Snowden so far, anyone who claims there’s some sort of massive conspiracy is pulling your leg. They certainly haven’t read the documents. There are a lot of journalistic emperors out there, and they’re all naked. Got it? There is nothing in any of the Snowden documents that is troubling, even in the context people like Glenn Greenwald make up for them. And yes, they’ve made up context. No one is bothering to do background on these documents, to show context. That does make a difference.

This was originally written in October, but little has changed in this story. This is how the non-story unfolded, and why it’s simply silly.


The Beginning – We Have Documents, Let’s Make Up a Story

This saga started on June 5, when an article in the UK Guardian by Glenn Greenwald made the claim that the NSA was collecting millions of phone records from Verizon. The basis for the article is an outright lie, which many reporters who passed on the information failed to note, choosing instead to base their stories on the sensationalized headline. Greenwald said:

The document shows for the first time that under the Obama administration the communication records of millions of US citizens are being collected indiscriminately and in bulk – regardless of whether they are suspected of any wrongdoing.

The secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (Fisa) (sic) granted the order to the FBI on April 25, giving the government unlimited authority to obtain the data for a specified three-month period ending on July 19.

Under the terms of the blanket order, the numbers of both parties on a call are handed over, as is location data, call duration, unique identifiers, and the time and duration of all calls. The contents of the conversation itself are not covered.

“The document” that Greenwald is referring to is a FISC order demanding that Verizon turn over data to the NSA. But there are a couple of problems with his  characterization of the information collected. To start with, The FISC did NOT give the government “unlimited authority.” As a lawyer, Greenwald has the training to knows that such court orders give specific parameters, and the order he cites in his article is no exception. It asks Verizon to provide only “telephony metadata,” and it specifically defines which “telephony metadata” Verizon may include, as well as what they may not include. That’s not “unlimited authority.” Regarding his use of terminology, in this case, isn’t “indiscriminate collection” preferable to discriminate collection? Shouldn’t we be more troubled if they’re only choosing some numbers, such as those in area codes with huge Muslim populations? The NSA seems to be doing the opposite of profiling, which is a good thing. 

Within a day or two, other media outlets chimed in, because the story had appeal for the paranoid segment of the population. An article in The Washington Post, by Pulitzer Prize winner Barton Gellman, breathlessly advised us that one document, supplied by an unknown source, demonstrated that the NSA and the FBI were “tapping directly into the central servers of nine leading U.S. Internet companies, extracting audio and video chats, photographs, e-mails, documents, and connection logs that enable analysts to track foreign targets.” Another article in the Guardian, by reporter Nick Hopkins, told us that British intelligence was piggybacking onto the NSA’s PRISM “programme” and collecting the same sort of data from Brits.

But there were problems with those stories. Note how quickly the Washington Post story had to be “updated.” Also, here is the link in the article for the supporting graphics.Note that the document they started with, which is located under the heading, “Providers and data,” is a list of providers and the data received. What is missing is, who gets the data and what they are to do with it. No questions are answered and no context is provided. Documents themselves are less important than context. For example, if this is a template or a  draft, and was never used, doesn’t the document take on a different meaning? Journalism isn’t about providing secrets; anyone can do that. Journalists provide context. If the Watergate story had ended with a third-rate burglary, there would have been no big story; it was the context surrounding the story that made it important.

On a story such as this, where data isn’t time sensitive (Many of the documents presented are years old), and the story itself isn’t clear, a reporter should spend some time to find out what s/he has. In this case, it was clear that the Post was more interested in not losing face than getting the story right, because the hard edge of the first version of the story was quickly replaced by a much softer update, reflecting the uncertainty that any of the documents the as-yet-unidentified source was providing pointed to a full-fledged spying program.

Notice the “cleansing” this paragraph from the Post article received. The first version:

The technology companies, which participate knowingly in PRISM operations, include most of the dominant global players of Silicon Valley, according to the document. They are listed on a roster that bears their logos in order of entry into the program: “Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube, Apple.” PalTalk, although much smaller, has hosted traffic of substantial intelligence interest during the Arab Spring and in the ongoing Syrian civil war.

was changed the next day to read:

The technology companies, whose cooperation is essential to PRISM operations, include most of the dominant global players of Silicon Valley, according to the document. They are listed on a roster that bears their logos in order of entry into the program: “Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube, Apple.” PalTalk, although much smaller, has hosted traffic of substantial intelligence interest during the Arab Spring and in the ongoing Syrian civil war.

Again, none of the stories added context to the documents. The reporters themselves didn’t seem to have very much technical knowledge, and they seem to have decided to forego gaining the technical information necessary to write a story like this. They also failed to discuss the story with the data providers themselves, even for clarification, because the New York Times posted an article within a day or two in which all the data providers admitted to being part of the program, while noting the distinct difference between dumping everything onto NSA servers, as the first articles suggest, and giving the NSA specific information based on the limits of a legal subpoena. As noted above, the limits are specifically laid out in the FISC order.

That’s been the problem from the beginning. Few reporters who have chosen to sensationalize this story have attempted to get to the bottom of it at all. Apparently, today’s journalists work under the notion that every document marked “top secret” must be something really important that people need to know about. Unfortunately, if they’d bother to look at this data, they would find nothing that should be disturbing, at least on the part of the NSA and our privacy. It does, however, serve as an open indictment of our news media. Lots of documents, no context. It’s the “we report, you decide” brand of journalism that permeates journalism these days. As a result, we have documents, which is the “what” of journalism, but we don’t have the who, when, why or how of their existence. We know they exist, but we don’t know if they were used, how they were used, who generated them, or eve where Snowden found them. There si a difference if Snowden found them in someone’s recycling bin and if he found them as an attachment to an email with a red flag  from the Director of the NSA.

Keep in mind, all of this happened before we got to meet Edward Snowden.

The Source – A Whistleblower, a Traitor, or Just a Thief?

We met Edward Snowden just a few days after Glenn Greenwald started posting about his documents. I’d call it “reporting,” but I prefer to tell the truth. I’ll get to Greenwald later. The man was hyped up about taking credit for this, he couldn’t even manage to wait a week before reveling himself as the source of these terrible documents. Here was his introduction to us, which was released on YouTube on Sunday, June 9.

For someone to be a whistleblower, he or she must show wrongdoing in the organization on which they are blowing the whistle. The first problem with Snowden’s narrative is that no evidence exists that suggests anything illegal., at least on the part of the NSA.

A whistleblower must also be honorable and credible, because we have to believe their story. This is especially true when said “whistleblower” is making accusations of wrongdoing having to do with secret plans. Here’s the problem with reporting on secret wrongdoing; no one in government will ever confirm or deny anything, because their oath forbids it. Therefore, the “whistleblower” must be beyond reproach.

Snowden’s actions since his introduction to us, combined with his actions since, and what we’re finding out about his actions before show him to be anything but credible.

His actions leading up to the release of documents through Greenwald and the Washington Post are not those of a principled person; they are those of a coward and a troublemaker. His and Greenwald’s lies and obfuscations at the beginning of this journey are quite appalling.

For example, Greenwald says the following about Snowden early on:

The individual responsible for one of the most significant leaks in US political history is Edward Snowden, a 29-year-old former technical assistant for the CIA and current employee of the defence contractor Booz Allen Hamilton. Snowden has been working at the National Security Agency for the last four years as an employee of various outside contractors, including Booz Allen and Dell.

Greenwald’s recitation of Snowden’s resume is a bit “exaggerated,” to say the least. But the video introducing Edward Snowden to us was also full of lies. He strongly implies that he’s an NSA analyst, and he and Greenwald try to convince us that he’s spent “almost a decade” working in the intelligence community. Greenwald asks him what he does and what his experience is, Snowden replied:

I work for Booz Allen Hamilton, as an ‘infrastructure analyst” for NSA.

I’ve been a systems engineer, systems administrator, senior advisor for the Central Intelligence Agency, solutions consultant and a telecommunications information systems officer.

Really. A high school dropout who’s not yet 30? Anyone who’s ever applied for a position at the CIA or the NSA knows it’s not that simple, even for a “computer wizard.” If you weren’t sufficiently skeptical of his claimed resume, you should have been so when Snowden strongly implied that he essentially had roughly the same access to information as an NSA analyst:

When you’re in a position of privileged access, like a systems administrator… you’re exposed to a lot more information on a broader scale than the average employee.

Any analyst at any time can target anyone…. Where those communications will be picked up depends on the range of the sensor networks and the authorities that that analyst is empowered with. Not all analysts have the ability to target everything. But I, sitting at my desk, certainly had the authorities to wiretap anyone: From you or your accountant, to a federal judge, to even the president if I had a personal email.

You are not even aware of what is possible. The extent of their capabilities is horrifying. We can plant bugs in machines. Once you go on the network, I can identify your machine. You will never be safe whatever protections you put in place.

These claims simply don’t pass a smell test, especially given what we have found out  about Snowden subsequently.

Snowden’s personal story largely fell apart within days. He wasn’t an analyst at all, but a low level contractor – basically, he was an IT guy. When Booz Allen Hamilton fired him – the day after the video hit YouTube – they noted that his salary was $122,000, not the $200,000 Snowden had claimed. Since the CIA and the NSA would never confirm or deny such employment, whether we believe him depends almost entirely on Snowden’s credibility, and while that was quite suspect at the beginning, these days his reputation is toxic, if one is being honest.

For example, Snowden apparently forgot when he was in the Army. Though he clamed he joined the Army in 2003, according to Army records, he enlisted on May 7, 2004 and was discharged on Sept. 28, 2004. According to Snowden, his next job was as an NSA security guard, then he claims to have been an IT security tech at the CIA. All of the information about Snowden’s career path comes courtesy of Snowden himself, via a resume that has only been reported second hand. Nothing can be verified, and it all could be made up. Even if it’s not made up, then he’s essentially spent loads of time honing his hacking skills. He spent time at the NSA as a security guard, and a couple of year as a contractor working for Dell, which is highly unlikely to include access to systems and classified material.

The only thing that has been verified is that Snowden used fraudulent means to get the documents he’s been peddling for the last six months. It started with his method for getting hired by Booz Allen Hamilton in the first place. In an interview with the South China Morning Post on June 12 (it was published on June 25), Snowden admitted that he took the job with the express purpose of accumulating documents.

“My position with Booz Allen Hamilton granted me access to lists of machines all over the world the NSA hacked,” he told the Post on June 12. “That is why I accepted that position about three months ago.”

During a live global online chat last week, Snowden also stated he took pay cuts “in the course of pursuing specific work”. He said: “Booz was not the most I’ve been paid.”

In other words, he joined the NSA contractor with the express purpose of stealing NSA documents. And for those of you (like me) who wonder how an IT guy got hold of so many supposedly secure documents, we are now finding out Snowden apparently used his position as a computer professional to con others. According to a story from Reuters published Nov. 8, 2013, sources close to a government investigation of Snowden and NSA security, Snowden apparently used the pretense of having to fix their computers to get at least 20-25 NSA employees in Hawaii to give him their login and password information, so that he could use those to get access to documents. That’s illegal behavior, and not worthy of a “whistleblower.”

He also fraudulently left the job at Booz Allen, lying when he told them he had to get treatment for his epilepsy.  He had already planned to leave the country to distribute the documents. Real estate agents claim he left his house somewhere around May 1, and he headed for Hong Kong, China on May 20, with the NSA documents distributed among four laptops.

His credibility continued to come into question. In The Week, Marc Ambinder noted that Snowden’s knowledge of the security apparatus at the NSA was lacking, to say the least. The way Snowden describes an NSA analyst’s capabilities, for example, is not based on reality. As Ambinder put it:

I don’t know if Snowden’s claim is accurate. As a systems administrator, he certainly is entitled to the benefit of the doubt when it comes to an assessment of the NSA’s internal information security.

The NSA has, in fact, built a separate, secret internet for signals intelligence, one that relies on fiber and satellite channels that are segregated almost completely from the plain old telephone system. Called NSANet, it allows analysts deployed almost anywhere to access virtually everything the NSA’s extremely vast databanks contain. It has its own bridges, routers, systems, and gateways.

According to several current and former officials who’ve worked on NSANet, every keystroke is logged and subject to random audits. “Screengrabs” are prohibited. Documents can be printed with special facilities but that, too, leaves a record. As a mission support specialist, Snowden would have had access as part of his jobs to the physical servers and hard drives that contain material.

If he did not want to leave an audit trail, he might have disconnected a hard drive containing temporarily cached documents, brought them into an area that included desktops and hardware not cleared for such access, connected them, and then printed documents out. It is also possible that he disabled, under the guise of fixing something, access privileges for auditors. He could have temporarily escalated his own access privileges, although this would have raised flags among his superiors.

In theory, this would have alerted NISIRT, the NSA’s Information Systems Incident Response Team, which maintains a 24/7 watch over the backend of NSANet. Operational branches, including Special Source Operations (domestic and compartmented collection programs), Global Access Operations(satellites and other international SIGINT platforms), and Tailored Access Operations (cyber) have their own NISIRT team.

This lack of basic knowledge doesn’t square with a resume claiming as much as four years inside the NSA, as well as several years working inside the CIA. And with what we now know about his methods for getting these documents, how could anyone suggest Snowden had any credibility? What we have, at best, is a liar and a con man. At worst? I avoid using the word “traitor,” because what we know about him doesn’t rise to that high level. But we have to reserve judgment, at this point, because it is a possibility.

While Greenwald and several others want you to focus on the documents, the fact is, Snowden is a story, because the credibility of the leaker matters. Secret documents are only important when the people releasing them can help us understand what they mean. But for that to happen requires a high level of knowledge, understanding and credibility.

This was the problem with the Bradley/Chelsea Manning document dump, as well. He downloaded  thousands of pages of documents, but had no idea what was in them. Manning essentially left them to someone else to interpret. That’s not a whistleblower, that’s a leaker. Snowden is a leaker and a thief, not a whistleblower. But he may be far worse. High school dropouts aren’t necessarily stupid,  of course, but experience does matter. How did Snowden find out which documents to download? Who’s pulling his strings?

Why aren’t journalists asking about this? Why aren’t they asking a number of other questions, as well? For instance, Snowden has claimed to have thousands of pages of documents, and we haven’t seen nearly that many. What is he doing with them when he’s not giving Greenwald an occasional morsel? So far, he’s been to China and Russia, both allies, but in a very tenuous way, and both of which would pay a lot of money to get hold of American intelligence secrets. He claims he didn’t take the documents to Russia with him, but who believes that, really? He seems to have had a lot of help from outside sources besides Greenwald. And isn’t it also possible he has lot more documents, including more consequential ones?

The Documents

If Snowden has any truly damaging documents in his possession, he has yet to reveal them. The initial disclosures, to the Guardian and the Washington Post, were treated as if they were really earth-shattering, but they really weren’t. It’s been about posting a lot of relatively worthless documents, then making up context that fits Snowden’s and Greenwald’s Libertarian narrative.

Start with the FISC court order that started it all, requesting that Verizon turn over metadata to the NSA. Though Greenwald’s Guardian article claims the order shows that “the communication records of millions of US citizens are being collected indiscriminately and in bulk,” the order is actually quite restricting. Greenwald also makes the claim that the order gives “the government unlimited authority to obtain the data for a specified three-month period ending on July 19,” but the order actually lays out specific parameters for what may be collected. The order – like the law it was based on – prohibits any violation of the Fourth Amendment, by not allowing Verizon access to identifying data or content on Americans. Oh, and it’s also not a “blanket order,” as Greenwald describes it. And is it necessary to point out the contradiction in claiming that an order is “unlimited,” when it contains an ending date of July 19?

Look at the collection of PRISM documents the Washington Post has collected over time. The slides simply say that the NSA collecting data. What’s troubling about this collection of documents is how little the journalists who put them out there seem to know about them. Look at the description of the first slide, which the Post entitled “Upstream Program.”

Upstream program

This slide shows PRISM as only one part of the NSA’s system for electronic eavesdropping. The “Upstream” program collects from the fiber-optic cable networks that carry much of the world’s Internet and phone data. The underlying map depicts the undersea cables that connect North America to the rest of the world.

Thank you, Post journalists, for that fascinating insight! We are so grateful. Of course, there is no “Upstream program.” The term merely describes the direction in which the data moves – upstream, into the NSA servers. All of the slides have the same problem. No one knows any context, so they make up a description, based on their own interpretation of what’s there, and not what the slides actually mean. Snowden downloaded them and gave them to the Post, so they had to do something with them, right?


We don’t know where they came from. We have no context. Documents can’t be stories unless the reporter can tell us what they mean. A news organization is supposed to do the research and provide context. That’s why journalists work on stories for months or years before publishing them. Without proper context, documents are open to interpretation, thus making them worthless. The rest of the slides follow the same pattern. A slide showing nothing consequential, accompanied by a lame sentence or two describing what’s in it, showing that the Post doesn’t really know what’s in it. There is literally nothing in any of these slides indicating a size or scope that is troublesome, and there is absolutely zero context to any of this. There is nothing in any of these documents that indicates a massive, uninhibited data collection, because we don’t know anything about the documents.

The XKeyscore “Training” presentation is a great example of this phenomenon. First of all, like many of the documents Snowden has provided so far, it’s dated Feb. 25, 2008. The FISA Amendments, which changed the law regarding data collection, was passed in Dec. 28, 2008, which makes this document largely irrelevant. Yet, this document was touted by The Guardian as consequential proof that the NSA was overstepping its bounds. Did anyone at the Guardian read this thing?  While the Guardian asserts that they are “training materials,” the presentation reads more like a sales pitch. Where is the “training” part? The presentation tells the reader what XKeyscore can do, but there is nothing in the slideshow suggesting how such things can be done. It’s possible this came from an outside contractor, who was trying to sell them something, and not from anyone inside the NSA.But we have no context, so that’s just a guess.

Recently, Snowden documents caused a rift with Angela Merkel, because it revealed that the NSA had collected phone numbers from world leaders and had done surveillance on them. Unfortunately, the document was dated October 2006. I discussed this in another post, here. I’ve also discussed a recent Snowden document “scoop” that supposedly revealed that the NSA had gone beyond its authority thousands of times. I won’t rehash it here, except to say, if Greenwald and Snowden are trying to show us a rogue agency that’s out of control, they’re failing miserably.

In fact, the most damning evidence of occasional NSA overstepping comes courtesy of the NSA itself, in the form of a blistering order from FISA court judge John Bates, finding that the NSA was “likely acquiring tens of thousands of discrete communications of non-target United States persons and persons in the United States,” and that doing so violated the Fourth Amendment. You know, exactly what it was supposed to do. The Judge also insinuated in the order that this wasn’t the first time. Now, the same people who were  once excoriating the FISA court for not doing its job are now squealing with glee because the NSA has tried to go beyond its mandate and has been slapped down. Let’s speak from both sides of our mouths, shall we?

The documents Snowden has released thus far is a confirmation of what we already knew. The NSA is building a database of metadata regarding phone calls and emails, so that it can uncover terrorist plots, and perhaps head them off. As anyone in a world with 7 billion people that is nearly completely connected technologically might expect, the database is huge. It would have to be. But the documents shown so far actually demonstrate a greater-than-expected attention to detail and regard for the law, and a willingness on the part of the FISC to smack them down when they try to go over the line. Given the NSA’s past history, one perusing Snowden’s documents do far should be pleased and surprised by the relatively few times they seem to have tried to push the envelope.

The “Programme” Isn’t One…

So, what is this PRISM thing, anyway?

First off, it’s not a “program,” no matter how you spell it. It’s also never been secret. The details of day-to-day operations of those anaysts using PRISM are secret, but its existence never has been. While many believe that anything the NSA does is secret, that hasn’t been the case for decades. PRISM is the name given to the computer system the NSA uses to handle data collected under the specific rules for the NSA set out in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which is pretty specific:

(a) Authorization

Notwithstanding any other provision of law, upon the issuance of an order in accordance with subsection (i)(3) or a determination under subsection (c)(2), the Attorney General and the Director of National Intelligence may authorize jointly, for a period of up to 1 year from the effective date of the authorization, the targeting of persons reasonably believed to be located outside the United States to acquire foreign intelligence information.

(b) Limitations

An acquisition authorized under subsection (a)—

(1) may not intentionally target any person known at the time of acquisition to be located in the United States;

(2) may not intentionally target a person reasonably believed to be located outside the United States if the purpose of such acquisition is to target a particular, known person reasonably believed to be in the United States;

(3) may not intentionally target a United States person reasonably believed to be located outside the United States;

(4) may not intentionally acquire any communication as to which the sender and all intended recipients are known at the time of the acquisition to be located in the United States; and

(5) shall be conducted in a manner consistent with the fourth amendment to the Constitution of the United States.

The law is very specific, and anything beyond that would be illegal. And unlike many characterizations of the NSA’s surveillance, they don’t just do what they want. Anyone who tells you computer and phone companies are just giving the NSA everything they want is either ignorant or lying. Everything the NSA collects is in response to a subpoena, and these companies don’t give the NSA anything that isn’t in that subpoena, because to do so would put them in legal jeopardy. The subpoenas are approved by the FISA court, which turns out isn’t actually the “rubber stamp” court that many perceive. The NSA also reports to Congress on a regular basis, as well, and everyone coordinates what they may do, based on the law.

Before the FISA amendments were passed in 2008, Bush and the NSA essentially did whatever they wanted, without oversight. Now, there is plenty of oversight. Claiming that NSA surveillance is off the charts spying when it really isn’t just undermines that argument.

The “Reporter”- Rabble Rouser Libertarian Greenwald

At the center of this “story” isn’t Snowden, it’s Glenn Greenwald. A cardinal sin for any journalist is to become part of the story, but Greenwald’s massive ego makes him incapable of understanding that. If a journalist wants to write a book about how s/he got the story later, go for it. But while reporting on a story, the journalist has to be an outside observer, not an inside instigator. And Greenwald has been an instigator since the beginning of this story, when he began with exaggerations and outright lies, as noted earlier in this tome.

Greenwald has been touting himself as a “journalist” from the beginning of this story, to the point that he was openly butt-hurt when the New York Times referred to him as a “blogger.” But he’s not writing as a journalist, he’s doing so from the point of view of an opinion columnist or activist. He’s taken a number of documents Snowden has given and attached “context” to them, based on exactly no evidence except his bias. The job of a journalist isn’t to posit that the current Administration is a tyrannical group trying to take down the American way of life, and then giving the documents he has that sort of phony “context.” The reporter’s job is to find a story and tell us about it. What Greenwald should have done, as a journalist, is to take the Snowden documents, investigate and build a story around them – a story based on fact, not conjecture. Talk to former NSA people, or document experts, and find out what they mean. Instead, the story is the mere existence of the documents, sans any sort of context.

If Greenwald’s articles had been on a personal blog, or an op-ed page, it wouldn’t matter. But Greenwald’s posted NSA BS were presented by the Guardian as hard news, even though they read like Greenwald’s usual Libertarian (Capital L, not small l) blog posts. This undermined their news value, and made the newspaper look more like a gossip rag than a reputable news organization. I’m glad they got rid of him. Greenwald’s writing places him closer to Fox News’ “We report and decide for you” techniques than anything resembling Cronkite or Murrow.

The need for his opinions to be “right” means more to Greenwald than actual facts. This is evidenced by the fact that he can’t even argue in a straight line. As noted previously, when he started with this story, he claimed that the NSA could basically target anyone without an individual warrant, and that their scope was unlimited. When those claims were proven false by facts, Greenwald himself admitted it in a column, without so much as a retraction or correction. He just said it. In that column, Greenwald attempts to parse two documents provided by Snowden; Justice Department documents that had been submitted to the FISC in response to a subpoena. See the problem? Only Greenwald’s lickspittle fans don’t see this.

Greenwald simply lied about what these documents say. For example, one document details NSA procedures when it comes to targeting foreigners for surveillance, while the other one details the “minimization” process for used to protect the privacy of Americans. Greenwald conveniently focused on the first document and downplayed the second. He also makes a massive (logical?) leap, not based on any available evidence, when he claims that data accessed accidentally by analysts can be used against you in court. Read the documents, they say no such thing. Not only that, but the existence of a court and subpoenas and the Constitution would indicate that such a thing was impossible.

Greenwald’s treatment of these documents as proof of what the NSA can do is also undermined by the same problem many Snowden documents have. As is the case with the document that upset Merkel, both documents are dated Jan. 8, 2007, nearly two years before the FISA amendments were passed. In other words, even if he wasn’t exaggerating what the NSA could do with PRISM, the memo is too old to be valid. The issue isn’t what the NSA could do before 2008; it’s what they can do now.

All of this happened before Greenwald seemed to have melted down in mid-July. During an interview with an Argentinian newspaper La Nacion, Greenwald issued a paranoid and not-so-subtle threat.

“Snowden has enough information to cause harm to the U.S. government in a single minute than any other person has ever had,”


“The US government should be on its knees every day begging that nothing happen to Snowden, because if something does happen to him, all the information will be revealed and it could be its worst nightmare.”

Yes, folks, an American expatriate who lives in Brazil, who was blogging for a British newspaper, and who claims to be a Libertarian patriot, actually threatened to bring down the government if Snowden “disappears.” First of all, since when has the United States government “disappeared” citizens? But also, consider the layers contained in this little hissy-fit.

First off, he’s telling you that he, a so-called journalist, is holding back on his readers, and that his “scoops” so far were kind of meaningless, compared to what he hasn’t told us yet. He also obviously believes the US government, run by Barack Obama, would attempt to assassinate Snowden. Keep in mind, this is the same government that was accused of “torture” by many because they were worried that Bradley Manning might commit suicide, and they refused to allow that to happen.

But more than that, we have another example of Greenwald’s massive ego overwhelming any journalistic sensibilities he may have been trying to convince us he possessed. A nation that has survived and thrived in the wake of, a revolution, a civil war, a number of depressions, the Nazis and the presidency of George W. Bush, should cower at the knowledge that the NSA is spying on us? Which revelations might Snowden have that would bring us to our knees? What can anyone call that but a meltdown, especially when he’s clearly making Snowden the story, and not the NSA, and three days later, he excoriated the rest of the media for obsessing on Snowden and insisted that they start focusing on the NSA? Then, to follow up, he penned a column in which he “summarized” the NSA “scandal” by claiming that the NSA wants to collect “all forms of human communication,” and by supporting that thesis by misrepresenting a Washington Post article about NSA Director Keith Alexander? In that artticle, Alexander marvels at how well they were able to use data to track down bad guys in Iraq. I  wrote about this issue a month ago, so go here for the details.

His paranoid fantasies about the NSA and the US government dog his writing, and color his “journalistic” pursuits in a way that taints any credibility he may have once had. For example, he was interviewed by Andrea Mitchell earlier this month, and actually said the following:

“He (Snowden) is doing very well, he’s obviously very happy for the obvious reason that he’s not going to be subjected to the standard whistleblower treatment that the United States government gives to people, which is to put them in a cage for decades and render them incommunicado.”

Then, just two days later, on This Week with George Stephanopoulos, Greenwald told Martha Radditz, he repeated something similar, again, with no evidence to back it:

“Well I think the concern is that whistleblowers in the United States have become the number one public enemy of the United States government, which is incredibly disturbing. McClatchy has been reporting great things about how the Obama administration equates whistleblowing with treason, with all kinds of programs.


Whistleblowers in the United States are put into prison for decades and basically disappeared, as we just saw with Bradley Manning…”

This is just a bald-faced lie. To find anyone Obama’s “put into prison” at all, It’s necessary to redefine the word “whistleblower” as a synonym of leaker, which it isn’t. And until Bradley/Chelsea Manning received 35 years (she’ll probably serve 8 more), the longest sentence for a leaker under Obama was 30 months, which is not “decades.”  On the other hand, the same day the NSA story broke, a Department of Labor whistleblower agreed to a settlement of $820,000 in an actual whistleblower case. In fact, the NDAA that Greenwald has beenlying about for nearly two years, claiming that it gives the government the power to round up and detain us all actually expanded whistleblower protections for the second time in Obama’s presidency. Zero leakers and stealers of government documents have been put “in a cage for decades and render(ed) incommunicado.” They’ve all been tried and convicted in a court of law and sentenced by a judge, just like everyone else who commits a crime. One would think a “journalist” would have a better grasp of facts.

But nothing Greenwald has done to date should seal his reputation as a charlatan more than the drama in which Greenwald actually used his husband/partner, David Miranda, to courier top secret documents for him,and then threw a lying fit when security people did exactly what they were supposed to do. One could make the case that nine hours was too long, but the rest of the incident is just shameful for both Greenwald and the Guardian.

Greenwald and the Guardian have repeatedly lied about this story, which started off as so outrageous that even the usually measured Rachel Maddow even took umbrage at the idea that a “journalist” could be detained for nine hours under suspicion of terrorism, without a lawyer. Miranda isn’t a  journalist, and neither is Greenwald, but I understand her beef. At first, that was the story. But since then, many more details have come to light, showing that Greenwald’s and the Guardian’s versions both had a strong fishy smell to them.

The first Guardian report, which was almost certainly told from Greenwald’s point of view, failed to mention the fact that Miranda was carrying top secret documents, or that he had been offered a lawyer and water, but refused both because he claimed distrust in the government. The only things mentioned were that Miranda was detained for nine hours under the Terrorism Act, that “officials confiscated electronics equipment including his mobile phone, laptop, camera, memory sticks, DVDs and games consoles,” and they tried to tie the detention to the articles Greenwald has been writing about the NSA, while providing zero evidence that it was a factor. Oh, and did I tell you the Guardian rewrote that article a couple of times? The first version didn’t mention that the Guardian had paid for Miranda’s trip. Oops.

For his part, in a later version of the same article, Greenwald is quoted as saying:

“To detain my partner for a full nine hours while denying him a lawyer, and then seize large amounts of his possessions, is clearly intended to send a message of intimidation to those of us who have been reporting on the NSA and GCHQ. (British intelligence)”

Once again, Greenwald just plain lied. Miranda wasn’t denied a lawyer; he refused one. His possessions were seized because there was suspicion that Miranda was carrying top secret documents belonging to the United States government (meaning us), – which, it turns out, he did have, because Glenn Greenwald himself put them there. How do I know he put them there? Because Greenwald himself  told the New York Times:

“What’s amazing is this law, called the Terrorism Act, gives them a right to detain and question you about your activities with a terrorist organization or your possible involvement in or knowledge of a terrorism plot,” Mr. Greenwald said. “The only thing they were interested in was N.S.A. documents and what I was doing with Laura Poitras. It’s a total abuse of the law.” He added: “This is obviously a serious, radical escalation of what they are doing. He is my partner. He is not even a journalist.”

Let’s think about this for a minute.

Greenwald, who thinks of himself as a “journalist,” gives his partner, who is not a “journalist,” and who apparently, by many accounts, only speaks some English, a ton of top secret documents that he has to know the government wants back, and then sends that partner off to commiserate with Laura Poltras, who has been working on the Snowden documents with Greenwald for a while. So what was the purpose of this idea? Because he’s too well known, so let’s send my partner; no one will suspect him? And why is the Guardian claiming this is an attack on journalism, when Greenwald, who arranged the entire thing, sent the documents with Miranda, because he’s not a journalist. Oh, and the Guardian paid for the trip in the first place, so they don’t get to feign outrage. At all.

The lies, the obfuscation and the misrepresentation of the facts in the NSA story and even the story about his partner should give everyone pause when it comes to trusting anything Greenwald writes. Just because you like it, and it fits your narrative doesn’t mean it’s true. Always check the stories you read, and never take anything at face value, and that includes this piece. A healthy skepticism about everything is always wise. Snowden is a liar and a thief, and apparently committed fraud on a number of levels to get the documents. And the facts in this case just don’t rise to the level of “the government is spying on me.” But don’t just take my word for it. Check it out for yourself.

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  1. I’m no expert in this stuff at all. But I’ve known programmers most of my life, starting in the punchcard days. And those I trust generally think that Snowden’s stuff is not surprising.

    > I do not get the desire to load up this administration
    > with the sins of the previous one.

    But that’s the only reason I see to hope. I recall John Kennedy telling an interviewer not long after he got into the White House that they’d been telling the country during the election how bad things were in Washington — and when they got in, they found out they were a lot worse.

    My guess — purely a guess, purely to keep hope alive — is to guess that Obama’s people got into the White House and found things horribly bad, beyond anything they wanted to let the public know about, and got caught up in damage control.

    Back in the 1960s, one of my high school classmates got admitted to the Air Force Academy. During our freshman years, when we were both home for Christmas, after putting away the altar boy outfits after Midnight Mass, I told him I was starting to reread Catholic just war theology and think about filing as a conscientious objector. He told me that his USAFA cadet class had been sworn to secrecy, and told things that, if the American people found them out, would end the Vietnam war in three days.

    He never broke secrecy; he resigned his commission, got drafted, sent overseas and killed in some sort of accident on base. I always wondered what he knew.

    I got my I-O draft status, four years later.

    Ya have to wonder, how much are they covering up.

    My guess is Obama found out how much the Bush administrations had been covering up, and was and is struggling to manage a huge mismatch between what Americans think we are, and what we’ve actually been, in the world.

    Just a guess and a hope.

    We won’t know what’s going on. History is opaque to those living it.

    I’ve always wondered what he learned, and whether we yet know what he knew.

  2. Thank you for the most comprehensive summary of this fiasco, misrepresentation, and sensationalism to date. I also appreciate the references to NDAA – the hype over that caused me to send endless links to the actual bill language to people who began to fear even TALKING to their Muslim neighbors and colleagues for fear of mass roundups. The desire to believe groundless and baseless lies baffles me, but given the rotten reporting, at least I can see why someone who did not know how to or did not bother to do the digging needed might have been hornswoggled. Some time ago Mother Jones or the Nation (can’t remember which) posted a snarling attack on this administration claiming it used torture – and every single case cited – EVERY ONE – was under Bush not President Obama. I do not get the desire to load up this administration with the sins of the previous one. And I equally do not get the lack of outcry about what the Bush administration did as it was doing it. Posts such as this are incredibly important in establishing the accuracy of events AND a critical corrective to the interpretations that are so flawed. Thank you.

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