Greenwald On The Reporting Of The NSA's Recent Denials: So, Now We Trust The Liars?

from the maybe-it's-the-uniforms... dept

The NSA has taken a different approach to addressing the recent leaks involving the surveillance of foreign officials (and foreign citizens). Rather than limit itself to bland statements about oversight and legal framework, the NSA has chosen to claim the reporting is "misleading," if not flat out wrong. (The NSA and the administration are also taking turns throwing each other under the bus. While this is very amusing, it does very little to address the veracity of the leaks…)

Glenn Greenwald notes on his blog that these recent tactics have a hint of desperation about them, considering they were only deployed after news broke of the NSA's surveillance of high-level foreign officials.

[T]hese exact same Boundless Informant documents have been used by newspapers around the world in exactly the same way for months. The NSA never claimed they were inaccurate until yesterday: when it is engulfed by major turmoil over spying on European allies.
The same documents the agency now claims are wrong or misleading have been public for months now, but it's only now, after the administration and Sen. Feinstein turned on the NSA, that Gen. Alexander and James Clapper are pushing the narrative that the documents themselves are being misinterpreted. Greenwald points out that both have been very careful not to deny the gist of the story itself (large scale collection of foreign phone metadata) but rather that the slides deployed by reporters in Spain and France are being misread.

The agency also made the dubious decision to implicate the foreign intelligence agencies that feed them information in hopes of undermining the reporting (as well as spreading the blame.
[T]he fact some of this data is collected by virtue of cooperation with a country's own intelligence service does not contradict our reporting. To the contrary: the secret cooperation between some European intelligence agencies and the NSA has been a featured part of our reporting from the start…

The NSA spies extensively with (but rarely on) its four closest, English-speaking surveillance allies in the "Five Eyes" group: the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. But for many European nations, the NSA cooperates with those nations' intelligence services but also spies on their populations and their governments without any such cooperation. That negates none of our reporting: it is simply a restatement of it.
The NSA seems to be running short on credible counter-arguments. Many representatives in DC simply aren't buying the lines about "oversight" and "legality" any more. Even its defenders have begun distancing themselves. So, it's decided to start casting doubt on those reporting on the leaks. Fair enough, I suppose. There are many rhetorical tactics it could deploy and seeding doubt by questioning the reporting is just one of them. The problem is that the press in general has been more than happy to give the NSA's responses a credibility they haven't earned.
NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander asserted yesterday that two "Boundless Informant" slides we published - one in Le Monde and the other in El Mundo - were misunderstood and misinterpreted. The NSA then dispatched various officials to the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post to make the same claim, and were (needless to say) given anonymity by those papers to spout off without accountability. Several US journalists (also needless to say) instantly treated the NSA's claims as gospel even though they (a) are accompanied by no evidence, (b) come in the middle of a major scandal for the agency at home and abroad and (c) are from officials with a history of lying to Congress and the media.
Sadly, despite a very long history (that spans several administrations) of general untrustworthiness in both intelligence agencies and administrations themselves, government officials (even those speaking from under the cover of anonymity) are instantly given more credibility than any journalist, even when those officials have the most to gain by lying.

Journalists who consistently lie or are repeatedly inaccurate tend to be speedily expelled from the system. Government and intelligence officials who lie tend to remain employed, or at worst, exit via the revolving door, landing well-paying gigs in the private sector. Journalists have the most to lose, while government officials (especially when granted anonymity) have nearly nothing to lose, not if the misstatements and disinformation help shore up the narrative.

Knowing this, why would journalists take these statements at face value? Even worse, why would they help the government PR machine by publishing a narrative handed to them by a faceless, nameless "official" who has everything to gain from spinning the story? That's not journalism. That's "reporting."

Greenwald quotes the EFF's Trevor Timm on this baffling attitude.
"Oh, NSA says a story about them is wrong? Well, that settles that! Thankfully, they never lie, obfuscate, mislead, misdirect, or misinform!"
Greenwald has taken a lot of heat for his lack of objectivity, but judging from this, more journalists need to be questioning statements coming from "officials" looking desperately for a place to plant their unreliable narratives. Four months of the NSA having to eat the words of each previous denial after each new leak should be more than enough proof that if its collective lips are moving, it's lying. At best, it's offering its least egregious "untruths."

Filed Under: glenn greenwald, nsa, nsa surveillance


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  1. icon
    art guerrilla (profile), 31 Oct 2013 @ 4:53pm

    Re:

    at AC (lonyo? is that you)
    "I understand that spying is done. I understand that pretty much all countries do it."

    oh do you, indeed ? ? ?

    please, here is a list of countries, tell me which ones you think are tapping into the main trunk lines of the telecommunications system...
    ...you know, 'cause 'they all do it'...

    Afghanistan
    Akrotiri
    Albania
    Algeria
    American Samoa
    Andorra
    Angola
    Anguilla
    Antarctica
    Antigua and Barbuda
    Argentina
    Armenia
    Aruba
    Ashmore and Cartier Islands
    Australia
    Austria
    Azerbaijan
    Bahamas, The
    Bahrain
    Bangladesh
    Barbados
    Bassas da India
    Belarus
    Belgium
    Belize
    Benin
    Bermuda
    Bhutan
    Bolivia
    Bosnia and Herzegovina
    Botswana
    Bouvet Island
    Brazil
    British Indian Ocean Territory
    British Virgin Islands
    Brunei
    Bulgaria
    Burkina Faso
    Burma
    Burundi
    Cambodia
    Cameroon
    Canada
    Cape Verde
    Cayman Islands
    Central African Republic
    Chad
    Chile
    China
    Christmas Island
    Clipperton Island
    Cocos (Keeling) Islands
    Colombia
    Comoros
    Congo, Democratic Republic of the
    Congo, Republic of the
    Cook Islands
    Coral Sea Islands
    Costa Rica
    Cote d'Ivoire
    Croatia
    Cuba
    Cyprus
    Czech Republic
    Denmark
    Dhekelia
    Djibouti
    Dominica
    Dominican Republic
    Ecuador
    Egypt
    El Salvador
    Equatorial Guinea
    Eritrea
    Estonia
    Ethiopia
    Europa Island
    Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas)
    Faroe Islands
    Fiji
    Finland
    France
    French Guiana
    French Polynesia
    French Southern and Antarctic Lands
    Gabon
    Gambia, The
    Gaza Strip
    Georgia
    Germany
    Ghana
    Gibraltar
    Glorioso Islands
    Greece
    Greenland
    Grenada
    Guadeloupe
    Guam
    Guatemala
    Guernsey
    Guinea
    Guinea-Bissau
    Guyana
    Haiti
    Heard Island and McDonald Islands
    Holy See (Vatican City)
    Honduras
    Hong Kong
    Hungary
    Iceland
    India
    Indonesia
    Iran
    Iraq
    Ireland
    Isle of Man
    Israel
    Italy
    Jamaica
    Jan Mayen
    Japan
    Jersey
    Jordan
    Juan de Nova Island
    Kazakhstan
    Kenya
    Kiribati
    Korea, North
    Korea, South
    Kuwait
    Kyrgyzstan
    Laos
    Latvia
    Lebanon
    Lesotho
    Liberia
    Libya
    Liechtenstein
    Lithuania
    Luxembourg
    Macau
    Macedo nia
    Madagascar
    Malawi
    Malaysia
    Maldives
    Mali
    Malta
    Marshall Islands
    Martinique
    Mauritania
    Mauritius
    Mayotte
    Mexico
    Micronesia, Federated States of
    Moldova
    Monaco
    Mongolia
    Montserrat
    Morocco
    Mozambique
    Namibia
    Nauru
    Navassa Island
    Nepal
    Netherlands
    Netherlands Antilles
    New Caledonia
    New Zealand
    Nicaragua
    Niger
    Nigeria
    Niue
    Norfolk Island
    Northern Mariana Islands
    Norway
    Oman
    Pakistan
    Palau
    Panama
    Papua New Guinea
    Paracel Islands
    Paraguay
    Peru
    Philippines
    Pitcairn Islands
    Poland
    Portugal
    Puerto Rico
    Qatar
    Reunion
    Romania
    Russia
    Rwanda
    Saint Helena
    Saint Kitts and Nevis
    Saint Lucia
    Saint Pierre and Miquelon
    Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
    Samoa
    San Marino
    Sao Tome and Principe
    Saudi Arabia
    Senegal
    Serbia and Montenegro
    Seychelles
    Sierra Leone
    Singapore
    Slovakia
    Slovenia
    Solomon Islands
    Somalia
    South Africa
    South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands
    Spain
    Spratly Islands
    Sri Lanka
    Sudan
    Suriname
    Svalbard
    Swaziland
    Sweden
    Switzerland
    Syria
    Taiwan
    Tajikistan
    Tanzania
    Thailand
    Timor-Leste
    Togo
    Tokelau
    Tonga
    Trinidad and Tobago
    Tromelin Island
    Tunisia
    Turkey
    Turkmenistan
    Turks and Caicos Islands
    Tuvalu
    Uganda
    Ukraine
    United Arab Emirates
    United Kingdom
    United States
    Uruguay
    Uzbekistan
    Vanuatu
    Venezuela
    Vietnam
    Virgin Islands
    Wake Island
    Wallis and Futuna
    West Bank
    Western Sahara
    Yemen
    Zambia
    Zimbabwe

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