Early in the week I posted about my own skepticism of Glenn Greenwald’s “explosive” revelations regarding NSA monitoring of American citizens. I wasn’t the only one who was casting a skeptical eye at them. In particular, Bob Cesca and Charles Johnson have been on top of them since the beginning. The problem I had was that what was claimed was just not likely from a technical standpoint, let alone Greenwald’s rather … sketchy …. past behavior when it comes to “reporting.” Since then, it’s turning out that the “explosive” revelations are really a wet firecracker, and the only casualties are Snowden and Greenwald.
What makes me say that? Well, what Glenn has written himself, for one. Which was rather nicely pointed out by Bob Cesca:
The NSA absolutely can not intentionally target U.S. citizens without an individual warrant. Even if you’re the most vocal Edward Snowden supporter in the universe, you have no choice but to acknowledge the truth and accuracy of this statement.
How can I say such a thing? On Thursday, Glenn Greenwald wrote it deep within his latest “bombshell” article for the Guardian: “To intentionally target either of those groups requires an individual warrant.” The “groups” Greenwald referred to here are U.S. persons or residents.
What was meant by that? Charles Johnson explains:
Wait a minute — did Glenn Greenwald just debunk his own exaggerated claims? Why yes, he did.To recap, what these rules show is a surveillance agency that is greatly encumbered by many layers of oversight and legal limitations. And even though the NSA can store information (Greenwald confuses “storing” with “using”) from US citizens collected inadvertently in the course of an investigation, that information is strictly limited, and anonymized, and if the NSA wants to investigate it further, they need an individual warrant to do so.
In other words, after all the claims that Snowden and Greenwald have made that the NSA is, without warrants, monitoring all phone calls and electronic communications of American citizens on a routine basis, it turns out that … they’re not. In fact they don’t have “a direct line” into the servers of any of the major internet services, like Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, etc. What they have is a “sandboxed FTP” connection, which is in response to a court order:
Chris Gaither, a Google spokesman, said that when the company receives court orders to provide information to the government, it usually does so with secure FTP, a method of sending encrypted files over the Internet.
And occasionally, Google hands over files to the government in person, he said. (He declined to say when and why they use the manual approach.)
In other words, Google “pushes” information for the government rather than allow the government to “pull” information directly from Google’s system, Gaither said. He said the company has pushed back on attempts by governments to get more direct access, but he didn’t provide details.
In case anyone is wondering, one of the governments pushing to to get more direct access was … China. But what has been illuminating about the leak of the documents is this:
They offer a glimpse of a rule-bound intelligence bureaucracy that is highly sensitive to the distinction between foreigners and “U.S. persons,” which technically include not only American citizens and legal residents but American companies and nonprofit organizations as well. The two sets of rules, each nine pages long, belie the image of a rogue intelligence agency recklessly violating Americans’ privacy.
That is, there’s no massive surveillance operation of Americans going on, with the NSA reading every e-mail and listening to every phone conversation. Should those rules have been secret? Probably not.
William C. Banks, an expert on national security law at Syracuse University College of Law, said many of the issues raised by the leaked documents were thoroughly discussed when the FISA Amendments Act was passed in 2008 and renewed last year. But he said there appeared to be little reason for the rules to be secret.
Discussions which seem to have been forgotten by all the people currently hyperventilating about the initial reports. So the “whistleblowing hero” and the “intrepid journalist” have ended up creating … much ado about something that was already known and discussed. In fact, their claims haven’t stood up to technical scrutiny, Congressional investigation, or even what they themselves had in hand. Apparently the documentation was “too long, didn’t read.”
The “explosive” revelation that Greenwald keeps saying he has, has turned out to be a wet firecracker. The only one who has marginally benefited from it is Greenwald, because he’s managed to get himself attention. However, in terms of making his reputation as a reporter? Well, that was a botch. There are indeed issues relating to privacy, and there’s definitely a need to discuss the outsourcing of government functions – like conducting security clearances – but those aren’t the issues being brought forward. In the meantime, Glenn and his supporters will keep beating the drums saying that he was right, even as he changes his story or denies he said what is in print. The other scandal is that people will keep believing him no matter how many wet firecrackers he claims are truly nuclear.