Media Hypocrisy: When DC Insiders Leak Gov't Talking Points About NSA, No One Has A Cow

from the how-about-that... dept

If you haven’t seen it yet, Glenn Greenwald gave a fantastic speech last week about all of the NSA surveillance leaks. The whole speech is about an hour long, but I wanted to highlight one key point, in which Greenwald discusses how the leaks haven’t just outed the NSA surveillance, but the subservience of the DC press to the government they cover. The embed below should start right at the moment he discusses this, but if not, it’s at 42:20:

Part of what he discusses (around 45:45) is about the conversation where David Gregory asked Greenwald why he shouldn’t be arrested for “aiding and abetting” the leaks of confidential surveillance info. The ridiculousness wasn’t just in the question, but that in that very same conversation, when Greenwald had brought up the secret FISA court order that supposedly called out the NSA for failing to abide by the 4th Amendment. Gregory insisted that his “government sources” had told him what was in that secret ruling, and he proceeded to lay out what he believed was in that ruling (which Greenwald insists was factually inaccurate). However, as he notes, here was David Gregory, effectively “leaking” a classified FISA Court ruling (wrongly) based on a “leak” from an administration official. And yet, no one seemed concerned about that — just about whether or not Greenwald should go to jail.

“But what was really amazing was that 90 seconds later, he was calling for my prosecution, for having disclosed classified information, and yet, he, 90 seconds earlier, had just gotten done saying that somebody in the government had come to him and described this top secret court document, which he then disclosed to the public and to the world, by telling me what he thought it said.”

He then describes how Barbara Starr, a CNN reporter who covers the Pentagon — though, Greenwald jokingly calls her the “Pentagon spokesperson who works for CNN as the ‘Pentagon reporter'” — did the exact same thing, disclosing that US officials are claiming that terrorists are “changing tactics” following the Snowden leaks, based on claims from “anonymous” government sources. These anonymous government sources sure are busy. I had been collecting a few such examples, but Michael Calderone at HuffPo beat me to it by highlighting a whole bunch of similar stories:

Anonymous officials this week have told several news organizations -– often using nearly identical language — that the NSA leaks had prompted members of terrorist groups to change the way they communicate.

A “senior intelligence official” to ABC News on Monday:

“The intelligence community is already seeing indications that several terrorist groups are in fact attempting to change their communication behaviors based on what they’re reading about our surveillance programs in the media.”

A “senior intelligence official” to the Washington Post on Monday:

Already, several terrorist groups in various regions of the world have begun to change their method of communication based on disclosures of surveillance programs in the media, the official said. He would not elaborate on the communication modes.

A “US intelligence official” to CNN on Tuesday:

“We can confirm we are seeing indications that several terrorist groups are in fact attempting to change their communications behaviors based specifically on what they are reading about our surveillance programs in the media.”

Two “US national security sources” to Reuters on Tuesday:

Intelligence agencies have detected that members of targeted militant organizations, including both Sunni and Shi’ite Islamist groups, have begun altering communications patterns in what was believed to be a direct response to details on eavesdropping leaked by the former U.S. spy agency contractor, two U.S. national security sources said.

Two “U.S. intelligence officials” to the AP on Wednesday:

Two U.S. intelligence officials say members of virtually every terrorist group, including core al-Qaida members, are attempting to change how they communicate, based on what they are reading in the media, to hide from U.S. surveillance.

Of course, the details are incredibly sparse to non-existent. And, frankly, that’s understandable since it seems like it’s almost surely bullshit. The report from Starr claimed the following:

The administration official offered an example of one concern: Terrorists may be less inclined to communicate via “clean” e-mail accounts that have no links to them because they believe the U.S. government can track those.

But… does anyone seriously believe that terrorists are so dumb that they’re communicating via basic email accounts like that? We’re talking about Al Qaeda, who was so careful with Osama bin Laden’s communications that he typed out his emails on a thumb drive, which someone else then took far away to input into a computer. Terrorists know the US government is spying on them, and so far none of the revelations has been all that surprising or revealing about how the government spies on terrorists. The concern has been about how the public is swept up in the process.

But, really, all of those stories above seem a hell of a lot more revealing about US intelligence techniques than anything that Ed Snowden has leaked. MSNBC’s Chris Hayes is spot on in this scathing response to Starr and others, and the “media insiders” as he notes that the reports of government officials telling the world that terrorists are changing how they communicate seems a lot more revealing, but no one seems to be calling for any of the reporters above to go to jail:

As Hayes says:

This article not only self-servingly advances the narrative that the intelligence community would like us to believe — that the Edward Snowden leaks have helped the terrorists — but, in doing so, it could be seen as doing far more in alerting terror groups to what the US intelligence community knows about them and their communications than anything published by the Guardian or the Washington Post. And yet, somehow, I have not heard members of Congress calling Barbara Starr’s reporting dangerous, or pushing for her prosecution…

The whole video is great. But, between all of these things, you see the same thing over and over again. The actual leaks from Ed Snowden don’t appear to be damaging, other than to the reputations of some in DC. And the later leaks being used to tar and feather Snowden appear to be much more revealing. But, somehow the insider press is fine with “leaks” that support the government’s official position, but aren’t okay when the leaks actually challenge the government.

Funny how that works. Or, rather, not funny at all.

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Comments on “Media Hypocrisy: When DC Insiders Leak Gov't Talking Points About NSA, No One Has A Cow”

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Max O says:

Re: Obediance

… of reporters (no less than that of congressmen, judges, and CEOs) is secured by blackmail. Listen to NSA whistleblower (and former analyst) Russell Tice for details. Scary stuff. And when they can’t blackmail effectively, they resort to broad-daylight assassination, as in the recent killing of Michael Hastings.

Anonymous Coward says:


Most leaks that journalist publish are worthless, and worse, they often hurt ongoing investigations and waste the time of investigators, and sometimes, as we saw during the boston marathon bombing, they’re completely wrong. A journalist should publish a leak or inside information for one reason only, and that’s if they think it’s something that the public needs to know and the organization the leak is about does not want the public to know. I’m always drawn back to the investigation into Clinton’s relationship with Lewinsky when it was revealed that one of the leaks in the Starr investigation was Ken Starr himself. How irresponsible a journalist do you have to be to publish information coming from the lead investigator? That’s not journalism. That’s PR. And that’s largely what our media has become these days.

Anonymous Coward says:

ABC News
Washington Post

Sort of a whos who of MSM. Is it any wonder that the citizens of the US are turning more and more to the internet to get their news instead of these propaganda machines?

We often hear in the news about how bad MSM is doing but never about why, other than ‘that damned internet’ thing.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

...What someone else does not want printed

We are getting a lot of mileage from Orwell lately.

When it comes to detecting real terrorism (and by real terrorism I mean actual plots to cause lots of death and destruction towards a socioeconomic cause), I don’t see how the current surveillance scheme, as extensive as it is, is going to even detect espionage methods that are in the public consciousness, e.g. disposable cell phones and steganographic codes that make phrases or communications look like innocent emails.

Until they specify otherwise, I’m going to assume the terrorists to which unnamed officials are referring that are changing their ways to circumvent NSA prying are privacy-contentious American citizens who are seeking out methods of encryption.

Mr. Applegate says:

"Squirrel" [Everyone turns to look]

Classic mis-direction which major media and half of America gladly fall for.

No don’t be mad the government is spying on you, be mad that someone leaked the information.

Don’t be mad someone is spying on you, be mad that the reporter actually reported the news when it was leaked..

Don’t be mad someone is spying on you, be mad that your life is now in grave danger because the terrorists now know we are spying on them.

Complete and utter Bullshit!!!

Even though I have ‘known’ the U.S. Government spies on its citizens, I am rightfully (in my opinion) outraged that my theories have all been proven correct. We don’t need to worry about the terrorists or other nations, but our own government, literally throwing out the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights and then telling us it is for our own good.

We still have absolutely no idea how far down the rabbit hole this goes, we just peering in the entrance at this point.

Mr. Applegate says:

Re: Re: "Squirrel" [Everyone turns to look]

You may be right. I think half have fallen for the mis-direction, but another 25-30% are more of the mindset “My life isn’t that interesting if they want to look, I don’t care, I have nothing to hide.” They live in the world of Facebook, Foursquare and Twitter, and think everyone should know what they had for dinner, or when their last trip to the bathroom was.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: "Squirrel" [Everyone turns to look]

We still have absolutely no idea how far down the rabbit hole this goes, we just peering in the entrance at this point.

I can see this playing out three ways:

1. There’s a commission to investigate the depth of surveillance of the general population, and the NSA closes down PRISM, MAINWAY, ECHELON and all the other projects until it can be properly regulated, and the United States DoD and intelligence sector cease their security-through-obscurity based policies. As per encryption, which has to be secure when the (alleged) enemy knows your method but doesn’t have the key, I suspect we could create an effective terrorist-thwarting system of national security that can resist probes at its weakest foibles, and in which Fourth Amendment rights are preserved.

2. There’s a commission to investigated the depth of surveillance of the general population which is (as per the 9/11 commission) thwarted at every turn. Eventually, the exposed NSA operations are scaled back, or allegedly closed down, but new ones are quietly erected to take their place, and the surveillance sector redoubles their encroachments into common privacy. Eventually, however, this will be outed, at which point public unrest will escalate, perhaps explosively.

3. There’s no commission, and the Senate, the Department of Justice and the White House continue their public relations message of trust us, we’re the government. This blows over within the mainstream press, yet continues to be noted in foreign press and in the blogosphere (like here at TechDirt!). Regardless, general surveillance remains a point of contention between the state and the people, creating further unrest and cultural dissonance between citizens and local law-enforcement. Civil disobedience will increase and either become unmanageable by responders, or will be aggressively put down, at which point people will rely on more direct approaches to expressing their discontent.

It’s all very exciting. Stay tuned!

Anonymous Coward says:

Comment not too redundant?

A nice summary of the escalating FUD blitzkrieg by the Ministry of Agitprop/National Security Division, as presented to the gullible public via The Usual Certified Mouthpieces/media endpoints. It’s a bit difficult not to notice that multiple sources are employing the same thinly-disguised rhetoric, differing only in by-line. Is Chris Hayes the only one (present company excluded) pointing out the the obvious WTF?!-ness of this latest attempt to direct attention away from the actual perpetrators of this international-scale Oops?

cosmicrat (profile) says:

I think you are overestimating the intelligence of "terrorists"

I agree with the gist of this article, agree that the spying is unacceptable, and that suggesting Greenwald be prosecuted is ridiculous. However, I am sure some “targets of terror investigations” are changing their communication methods as a result of all the publicity.

Sure, Al Quaida’s leadership keep their coms well secured, same with professional criminal organizations, and most other high level players in any secret society. But these movements run deep, right down to illiterate bums shuffling in the street. I am quite sure a fair bit of intel comes from lower level associates who are too stupid, or just don’t have the means, to use really secure coms systems. Remember the old WW2 saying “loose lips sink ships”? It still applies. Heck, the NSA’s strategy has been to spy on everybody, and sting (entrapment) operations are the main method of generating DHS arrests. It kind of points up the fact that what our government would really like is to ban encryption and indeed privacy in general.

Anonymous Coward says:

Hayes is so right! what is sad though is that the government is ignoring, not forgotten, is that they are there to take care of the country and the people. they are not there to enslave the people or to do what they know the people would abhor. the idea is to be better than those that want to take us over, to oppress us and that means by being better people!

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