A libertarian assault on the notion of government lies behind the reporting of the NSA 'revelations'. The left needs to step up, expose the con and defend government as a force for good.
The line (it's either Mark Twain or Winston Churchill) is never more true than now: "A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes."
Promoted ad nauseam by The Guardian and reproduced without question, the link-bait 'revelations' about the American National Security Agency (NSA) are convincing more and more people that we live in a conspiracy, Jason Bourne world rather than the mundane reality.
Real life spying, according to MI6 agents I've read, is more bland, actually boring, but we think differently because, as the brilliant film maker Adam Curtis puts it:
Journalists and spies concocted a strange dark world of treachery and deceit which bore very little relationship to what was really going on.The "aura of secret knowledge", Curtis writes, is a con, a way of maintaining power. Which puts the journalist at the centre of the current imbroglio, Glenn Greenwald, in a whole different light, as does the fact that he seems to operate unmolested by fellow journalistic stars (more of that later).
N'est ce faux pas
What has been 'revealed' by The Guardian has either been debunked or is actually no 'revelation' at all or has already been reported. Or makes no sense. It 'could be' but there's no evidence it has been. That's Greenwald's entire schtick: Chicken Little, the sky is falling.
Take his first 'exclusive' from the Edward Snowden files, about how the NSA can literally - literally - search the massive databases of the big US Internet companies.
Various tech industry publications ran lengthy technical demolition jobs of this claim. They said that the evidence pointed to the obvious - tech companies shift legally requested data to a 'drop box' (a computer server, following a legal request) and thence to the NSA through 'direct access' (one phase on one file Greenwald had from Snowden).
Duncan Campbell, the legendary British investigative journalist who revealed the Echelon program, called foul on that Greenwald baseless over-claim in The Register. Another person who is normally a Greenwald fan, historian and journalist Rick Perlstein, called him out. The Washington Post, the other port Snowden initially called into, did a correction.
The Guardian even walked that one back, though buried in a tech article and not as a prominent correction nor anywhere near Greenwald's content. Greenwald's original agreement with the Guardian was to be - uniquely - unedited and also, uniquely, to controls his BTL (comments). But after that first n'est ce faux pas the Guardian did, natch, assign James Ball, the Guardian journo who became a cult of Assange refusnik, to watch Greenwald more closely, not that this move has yet to mean anything
Greenwald himself appeared temporarily rattled as the techies called him out but ... the hits (clicks) just keep on coming ...
Around the world, correction later
Or take the 'exclusive!' (actually, old news) about collecting phone metadata, the basic records on anyone's phone bill. As David Simon (creator of The Wire) pointed out in a lengthy demolition, governments have been collecting 'metadata' for decades. That's how they find out which numbers are calling other numbers of - say - known drug gang members. Or terrorists.
They get a court order to do that looking-for-needles-in-hay-stack job then get another one to actually tap the phones and listen to calls. Of foreign terrorism suspects. The 'metadata' collection was approved by the Supreme Court in 1979.
Xkeyscore? Same again, debunked. Much of this debunks itself. Only it is presented otherwise, in headline and lede, tabloid style.
So what to make of a recent Pew survey of Americans:
Despite the insistence by the president and other senior officials that only “metadata,” such as phone numbers and email addresses, is being collected, 63% think the government is also gathering information about the content of communications – with 27% believing the government has listened to or read their phone calls and emails.Why would they think that? Well maybe it is because it is not just some tinfoil fringe putting this out there, it is Greenwald going unchallenged when he says stuff like this in an interview on a major US TV network:
"It's all done with no need to go to a court, with no need to even get supervisor approval on the part of the analyst. There are legal constraints for spying on Americans..."
They're listening into your stupid phone calls! But Greenwald actually said they don't! Weren't you listening? Didn't you hear though the fog of Greenwaldian massive over-claim?
Why is this any different from the 'fear' which was used in the last decade to mislead us and profit from and wage war from? Why should we not question ALL those who would make us fear in order to drive their policy agenda?
Should we all just worship without question at the shrine of the (Pulitzer awaits!) Greatest Living Journalist?
- "Building this massive spying apparatus completely in the dark and with no accountability."
- "Only one goal, and that is to destroy privacy and anonymity, not just in the United States but around the world. That is not hyperbole. That is their objective."
- "A worldwide surveillance net that allows it to monitor what all human beings are doing and how they’re behaving and interacting with one another."
- "The objective of this is to enable the NSA to monitor EVERY SINGLE CONVERSATION AND EVERY SINGLE FORM OF HUMAN BEHAVIOR!"
Plus, of course, there was the rant that the US government should “be on its knees begging” that Snowden releases no more documents ... and the claim that 'whistleblowers have been tossed in cages for decades'.
As this post goes through, Greenwald's TV appearance have been monumental hyperbole ... and he has been completely unchallenged.
Pew actually conducted an experiment in which it asked respondents about NSA surveillance using both very descriptive language and very vague language. In the former the NSA received higher levels of support, the latter saw a huge drop off in support.
Bait and Switch
Screaming something with no evidence and burying that, yes Virginia, there actually are rules and laws and protocols is Standard Greenwald as it is Standard Snowden. Bob Cesca points out in The Daily Banter:
The only way that mundane news about NSA software can achieve big headlines and big traffic is for it to be packaged in sensationalism and misleading claims delivered with frantic urgency and melodrama. That’s Greenwald’s con. If nothing else, he knows how the Internet works and he routinely exploits the idea that most online and social media observers only read headlines and excerpts. From there, misinformation spreads virally and a tsunami of outrage sweeps over the Internet.To review:
- There is no evidence of illegality, none of 'warrant less' surveillance of Americans, just Greenwald (and Snowden) hyperbolic claims;
- NSA staff are keystroke audited and they have fired people who've broken the rules;
- Obama tightened the rules right after he was elected;
- It is impossible to read everyone's emails and listen to everyone's phone calls (let alone "EVERY SINGLE CONVERSATION AND EVERY SINGLE FORM OF HUMAN BEHAVIOR");
- Obama approved a whistleblower law, and signed an executive order, which Snowden could have used (if he really was a whistleblower);
- The security court in Washington DC, FISC, has ordered data destroyed and has asked for warrant changes before approval. It needs reform but it is not a 'rubber stamp'.
- A few months back Obama delivered a major address calling for an end of the War On Terror (WOT) and announced new policy on issues like drone strikes and said he didn't want the power he had from The Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) any more.
Sticking his fingers in his ears and singing "La-la-la-la" so as not to hear information that contradicts his Obama Derangement Syndrome.Same with the much publicised recent US Congress vote on defunding an NSA program. Did you know that voting for it would have meant voting for Guantanamo to be permanent? No? You wouldn't know if you read the Guardian (or the BBC). In fact anywhere. Perhaps those politicians were just reacting to a Greenwald sourced media storm to (be seen to) DO SOMETHING?
As William Foxton put it in The Telegraph, talking through the holes in one of the Snowden 'bombshells':
Journalism isn't just about writing good copy, it's about actually finding the truth, and accepting that sometimes it won't be a truth you like.There exists a cult of Greenwald which The Guardian has tragically stoked through seriously sickening content like this survey about him which included questions like this beauty:
Your favourite adjective to describe Glenn's personality?A question I can answer.
Greenwald retweeted and refused to apologise. Here's the history that Greenwald is wildly litigious. There's much, much more. Google/DuckDuckGo it. When he was recently described as a "jerk" - the fans went nuts - t'was because there is ample evidence of his jerkishness.
His fans refuse, under all circumstances, to question and they regard him as, prophet like, infallible. I think that fits the definition of a cult?
Thankfully some of the Guardian's readers have used the very oddly unmoderated survey opportunity to take the piss. Bless.
Burn down the village in order to save it
Snowden is a major disaster for American (and, by extension, us) intelligence. Says John R. Schindler, who would know: "There has never been anything quite like this in the annals of American espionage."
To be clear, there is widespread agreement that what should be secret and what need not be must be reexamined. That what can be surveilled and what should not be needs review. That oversight has issues.
I'm no mug and most lefties don't like domestic, political surveillance for solid, historic reasons. But that is not what this is about.
Snowden/Greenwald claim to have started a debate. This is rubbish. Just one month before Snowden appeared Obama made his big speech on terrorism which covered reining in surveillance. Plenty of others have been reporting on the NSA, in fact much of what is being sold as new 'revelations' has already been reported.
simply untrue, as many appear to believe (even with mass jail breakouts, or whatever it was, causing those embassy closures) that no terrorism threat exists.
As Andrew Sullivan put it:, replying to an earlier Greenwald excess
I do not believe, as Glenn does, that we are not at war with a vile, theocratic, murderous organization that would destroy this country and any of its enemies if it got the chance. I believe it would use WMDs if it could get its hands on them. I believe the thousands of innocents – mainly Muslims but also Western non-Muslims – whom this terror machine has murdered make the idea that this is not a war a ludicrous, irresponsible and reality-divorced claim that I have never shared. And I believe it is the duty of the commander in chief to kill as many of these people actively engaged in trying to kill us as possible and as accurately as possible. I have a very strong record against war crimes of any sort by any country. But I am not a pacifist.Charles Johnson notes a line in one Greenwald article and points out that:
On several occasions, Greenwald has mocked NSA claims that their surveillance programs worked to catch terrorists. But the statement that XKeyscore had been successful in capturing 300 terrorists comes from a secret document. The NSA would have no reason to lie about this in a document not intended for the public to read.There is plenty of other evidence about plots averted. The idea that the entire reason that this edifice, or panopticon (which seems to be the latest meme), was erected was simply to spy on Joe/sphine Smlo in anywhere USA is insane.
Former colleagues, well-known Obama critics, fellow NSA-watchers, respected journalists (Carl Bernstein!), well respected campaigning lawyers, ex(?)-friends and others who've dared to question, they have all been "slimed", to coin a Greenwald favourite. Many have been critical because they, rightly, think that Greenwald's over the top rhetoric and mistakes are doing more harm than good for genuine debate about where to draw lines regarding security and privacy.
It has been strongly, convincingly argued that the existing privacy protections, the result perhaps not of Greenwald alone but certainly of the caste he represents, are diverting attention from real threats. I have yet to see this, you would think, serious concern explored anywhere in the MSM.
The complexities of where to draw the line in what the NSA actually does have been barely touched, except in screaming hysterical ways. What 'overreach' amounts to and what lines to draw is far from simple as J.M. Berger explains in this complex piece for Foreign Policy which explains how from one data point (his example is acquiring the phone number of an al Qaeda fundraiser in Yemen) tens of thousands of connections spin out. His example produces dozens of questions and, as he puts it: "None of them lends itself to polling or punditry".
Our technological capabilities far exceed the wildest dreams of the authors of the Fourth Amendment, and neither the courts nor our laws have kept pace.It is hard to have a 'debate' when, as Paul Krugman put it in the New York Times when he was attacked over another issue, as yet another Greenwald anti-Obama 'revelation' fell apart once examined:
If America can't muster the energy to tackle these questions thoughtfully, we are likely to lose control of the outcome and become less free, less secure, or both.
And no one will be able to explain why.
If everything is a scandal, nothing is a scandal.Cesca:
Had Snowden kept his head down and either gone through proper channels or inconspicuously leaked his documents to a journalist whose instincts, chops and IT expertise were vastly more honed that Greenwald’s, we might be having a very different debate about surveillance and FISC. I’d like to think it would’ve been a more reasonable, rational debate with the correct historic perspective. Sadly, it appears to be too late for that.'Bros' and white privilege
As well as those who are already intimately involved with this issue who've objected to Greenwald, there are some, too few, liberals and progressives who have called out his political aims.
emoprog'. These African-Americans cite this focus as a reflection of libertarian values whose roots lie inDixie.
See Melissa Harris-Perry, Goldie Taylor, Imani Gandy, Joy Reid, and particularly Ta-Nehisi Coates on Ron and Rand Paul's Jeffersonianism (Greenwald loves the Pauls). Writes Rad-Femme Lawyer:
Hearing these critics air their feelings of being “targets” for the first time is offensive to those from communities that have lived under the gun for generations, especially because these feelings exclude points of view from those communities. If you are privileged enough to suddenly feel scared of the government, you are complicit in denying the violence against marginalized people that has always existed.Dr. James Peterson told Martin Bashir:
I have a really different take on this entire sort of NSA thing. I really find it to be quite a privileged discussion and it's not that I'm not interested in transparency in terms of how our government surveils its people, how our government prosecutes the war on terror. I do think this conversation is important, but I just believe we needed to have had this conversation a long time ago. And I believe that poor people and people of color are under a different type of surveillance in this country.Civil liberties cases like this or this of police terrorising minorities, or massive police militarisation, or the horrific treatment of LGBT migrants and refugees, or stop and frisk get scant or zero attention compared to the trio of NSA/drones/Manning with the libertarians and the left cheering for Greenwald - and the MSM who amplify them. The sharp racial divide in America in reaction to the Trayvon Martin case, which has also been reflected in sickening ways with some of Greenwald's fans, has only underlined that, for some, certain civil rights/liberties are more important than others.
When you think about things like 'stop and fris' and a relationship on the interface between policing forces in the communities of color and poor folk, there's a tremendous amount of physical surveillance that goes on in our nation every day. So I would love to be able to transmit some of this energy around the NSA and around transparency with the government in terms of how it prosecutes the war on terror to think more critically about how poor folk and people of color are under constant physical surveillance in this nation that we live in.
Black people have also had more than a little bit of a problem with the invidious comparisons between Snowden and civil rights icons, particularly over what constitutes civil disobedience and whether you face the consequences or flee, as Snowden did.
The Greenwaldian response (aside from de rigeur patronising derision) has been that Amerikka would murder Snowden or torture him, ignoring that all the other government 'whistleblowers'/'leakers' punished in the great Obama crackdown™ on freespeech have got light sentences or none (the most has been 30 months, for naming CIA agents). Oh, and Obama signed the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act last year. Plus ending rendition and torture was one of Obama's first acts.
(Yes, Manning. But he got military justice, note, and how people think a massive document dump. fun though it was, could have no negative consequences or that any government should tolerate its diplomacy being opened for all to see is beyond me.)
Jonathan Chait in New York Magazine captured another reason for liberal and progressive wariness, comparing G to Ralph Nader, the consumer champion turned politician who most believe denied Al Gore the Presidency in 2000 and who now wants another Ross Perot to run for President:
Greenwald, like Nader, marries an indefatigable mastery of detail with fierce moralism. Every issue he examines has a good side and an evil side ...Saying that Democrats and Republicans are the same - Greenwald's shtick - ignores just which party has been the war party and which has been the one forced to prove they're no pussy.
This way of looking at the world naturally places one in conflict with most liberals, who are willing to distinguish between gradations of success or failure. Nader and Greenwald believe their analysis not only completely correct, but so obviously correct that the only motivation one could have to disagree is corruption. Good-faith disagreement, or even rank stupidity, is not possible around Greenwald. His liberal critics are lackeys and partisan shills. He may be willing to concede ideological disagreement with self-identified conservatives, but a liberal who disagrees can only be a kept man.
Let's be clear about the source of our warmongering. Only one party stands ready to capitalize on any foreign policy setback by calling for a more belligerent posture. Only one party actively hopes for a terror attack so they can paint the other party as weak and feckless.Both Snowden and Greenwald have made standard Libertarian attacks on US foreign policy alongside defences on Libertarian domestic policy. (Greenwald supported the Supreme Court 'Citizens United' verdict on corporate money in elections. Snowden's ranting prior Internet history was found.)
Conservative Republicans are the devil on America's shoulder, whispering constantly about the danger from people who don't look like they look and don't believe what they believe. And, yes, they consistently succeed in getting Democrats to do dumb, violent things that they otherwise would not do.
This has been the case my entire life, and for most of my parents' lives, too. If you interpret this history to mean that there isn't a difference between the two parties, you're missing the entire dynamic at play in the formation of U.S. foreign policy.
Greenwald has defended Snowden's leaks about US standard operational spying of foreign governments, which Snowden says is because America and only America shouldn't perform the second oldest tradecraft. Russia is called a 'bastion of freedom', as is Hong Kong. Snowden has a FSB linked, Putin supporting lawyer. Putin fans cite Snowden as a reason for greater control of the Internet. The Russian opposition? They think Snowden is an "infantile leftist".
Yet on Snowden as hero, Greenwald seems to have failed. The number of Americans agreeing that he should be charged has gone up at the same time as NSA scepticism has gone up. Hardly surprising when it's pretty clear that Snowden has defected. Also, hardly surprising that this PR failure won't reflect badly on Greenwald.
... Then there are the gaping holes and contradictions in the timeline of how the players got together ...
The real MSM failure
The BBC reporting has been dire, its language mirrors that of Greenwald (why does the NSA 'trawl', rather than 'search'). When they reported on the Heathrow detention of Miranda, Greenwald's partner, they completely omitted - as did The Guardian - that Miranda was carrying documents Snowden had stolen. The BBC's Washington DC journos are 100% Beltway and they see this as, like 'Benghazi', or 'IRS': just another (fake) Obama 'scandal'.
The rest of the UK press has said nothing bar a couple of Telegraph writers who, unfortunately, the otherwise excellent leftie blogger Tim Fenton assumes must be wrong because they're critiquing someone writing for The Guardian. Like our team (e.g. The Guardian) never gets it wrong. Therein lies the punch :[
To the Guardian's credit they have published one - one- Greenwald critical piece by a US Guardian journalist, Michael Cohen, although it was buried and pulled its critical punches. It's lack of impact can be judged on social media. Oh and there exists this piss-take of the Guardian on Twitter.
Other than the few (sorry peeps) marginal journalists I am representing here, the MSM has just failed to examine Greenwald's reporting in the midst of a (their words) 'major debate' on national security.
Some of the reporting has been shockingly inept and lacking in common sense, such as ...
- This Observer cover story which actually got printed but withdrawn online because inept editors discovered too late that it came from a conspiracy kook who thinks (among other things) that Anders Breivik was an Israeli agent.
- Or then there's the Guardian's claim that civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis supported Snowden when he did not.
- Or this derp which thought that GCHQ was collecting 21 petabytes of data per day tapping undersea cables.
- Or that MSM 'NSA Admits Listening to U.S. Phone Calls Without Warrants' headline, which they didn't (caught corrected, by source CNet at least).
- Or the Washington Post's "White House spokesman defends wiretapping program" headline (caught corrected).
- Or a CNN star saying the NSA is 'reading your emails' (uncorrected).
- Or the journalist who said a web search for 'pressure cookers' got her house searched (wrong).
Tommy Christopher accurately calls this MSM 'reporting' style "scandal-fluffing" or Scandalabra™. It's working out very nicely for The Guardian.
Yet even though Greenwald has no biz without "a lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes" and the MSM ain't asking him hard questions he thinks he's being ignored! He whines all the time, complaining that 'they're all focused on the Snowden soap-opera' and not his stunning 'revelations'.
When both Greenwald and Snowden are making claims without evidence then we're entitled to consider the integrity of the witness when judging those claims. Not that anyone seems to be asking the witness ...
Or maybe the MSM is ignoring him because the MSM think (but don't say) that there is no 'there' there.
Or maybe the MSM is plain scared of him. Witness the weak questioning on his numerous (yeah, they're ignoring you Glenn!) TV appearances. Or maybe the MSM should read this from Chez Pazienza: The Daily Banter’s Official Helpful Media Guide for Interacting With Glenn Greenwald.
It has to be said that the government's (UK and US) responses have played catch up and have been pretty weak or clumsy. Benjamin Wittes argues in his debunking of a Washington Post NSA story:
In the fevered environment in which we are now operating, the NSA can’t catch a break ..Here's the problem
But if the administration can’t be troubled to defend it in a full-throated and serious way, why should anyone pause to ask whether we’re pervasively confusing minor technical mistakes with real civil liberties infringements and whether we’re confusing a remarkable big picture portrait of self-policing and intelligence collection under the law with a portrait of rampant spying on Americans?
Simply put, the left should take the fight to those who back Greenwald because they need to wake up and realise that he is not on our side.
drone of the conservative media machine, lets him deliberately and selectively single out government - and particularly the Democratic President - as the baddie.
This is happening whilst people have little consequential complaint about 'privacy' when it comes to Facebook etc, or in America about the immensely intrusive behaviour of insurance companies or immigration enforcement which requires that everyone's residency status be checked.
People have had no had real complaint about commerce invading privacy for over a generation. But, but - this is the Greenwaldian's answer - 'corporations can't arrest you or have you killed'! That's the response. Tell that to Karen Silkwood or Kim Dotcom. Or the South and Central Americans faced with paramilitaries that US corporations hired. The last and only time a corporation was charged with murder in the USA was in 1980, yet 56,000 Americans die every year on the job or from occupational diseases, often due to corporate negligence. Never heard of corporate murder? Arrest? Heard how retailer Best Buy got these innocent customers arrested?
Once you get people to distrust government in one policy area it is so much easier to turn them off in another - like healthcare or economic stimulation. This lets in corporate control which those banging on about the evil government have either shown little or no interest in (see the stupid pat response I just dealt with) or have cloaked, bait-and-switch style, their real positions.
Why is the left falling for anti-government paranoia? Why is it failing to challenge and why are, frankly, some of them, merging in with Alex Jones/Glenn Beck/David Icke tinfoil hat lizard land?
Unchallenged, Gov=evil won't lose any of its appeal. Especially, but not entirely, in America, it will only grow. This is damaging for progressives and liberals who back government, for, you would think, obvious reasons, as those Pew numbers cited earlier show and as Nate Silver has suggested may be going on in falling Obama approval numbers.
And government includes a whole lot of things including policing and security and fighting those who would kill us all. The left can't pretend that spooks are not needed.
But it is
No one has polled this in the UK but I would be shocked if Greenwald's work has not impacted trust in government here as well. At least in the US there are some voices challenging the falsehoods, in the UK who is doing this?
Says Cesca, who has been - shockingly I think - one of a very few progressives prepared to do battle with Greenwald:
If I were to define the central motivation for why I’m covering this story so extensively it’d be this one: I don’t want the left to descend into a liberal version of the tea party, possessed by zeal above all else, and an exuberant willingness to nihilistically burn down the village in order to save it. However, if the left can approach these issues with thoughtfulness, smart accountability, pragmatism and laser-accuracy, it’ll avoid that fate and progressive legislation will slowly but surely win the day. But if it becomes increasingly guided by kneejerk screeching and flailing carelessness, it’ll simply de-evolve into an incoherent, self-defeating mess. These issues, including and especially the effort to roll back the national security excesses of the post-9/11 era, are too important to be sacrificed upon the altar of derangement.A point made by none other than Obama himself (in 2005):
I firmly believe that whenever we exaggerate or demonize, or oversimplify or overstate our case, we lose. Whenever we dumb down the political debate, we lose. A polarized electorate that is turned off of politics, and easily dismisses both parties because of the nasty, dishonest tone of the debate, works perfectly well for those who seek to chip away at the very idea of government because, in the end, a cynical electorate is a selfish electorate...Riffing off Cesca, blogger Smartypants makes this point:
The US government is portrayed as a "them" doing evil things that he [the influential media commentator Prof. Jeff Jarvis] is calling on corporations to protect "us" from. Regardless of your thoughts about the surveillance programs, the minute we concede the "government as them" argument, we've lost WAY more than our privacy. We've lost the democratic ball game.The left, on both sides of the Atlantic, needs to lift its game and challenge the Greenwaldians.
> Also read how a Guardian journalist complaining about 'scare tactics' around NHS use of Big Data for medical research is deeply ironic.