Glenn Greenwald’s Fish Tale

Over the past few days, there’s been a major burst of outrage regarding the “NSA leaks” from a young tech named Edward Snowden, as published in The Guardian by Glenn Greenwald.  The claims were that the NSA is monitoring every American, and that there’s a “secret” program called PRISM which enabled Snowden (among others) to wiretap into anyone’s communications.  Along with that, that the government had “direct access” to all the major internet services servers.  Aside from the fact that it was Greenwald publishing it, there were a number of things that Snowden and Greenwald were claiming that made me smell a distinct odor of fish.

A little personal background.  I’ve been a computer geek for over 30 years, both professionally and as a hobby.  I’ve worked on and with major data systems, as well as having been responsible for security.  I’ve also had security clearances and had more than my share of security briefings.     Which is why the initial story didn’t smell right to me.   More than a little fishy, in fact.

Why?  Let me explain some things.  First and foremost, even without “national security,” no one gets the sort of complete access that Snowden claims he had.   Things are compartmentalized.  You may have access to some systems, but not others.   I’ve been a systems administrator in a fairly large IT section, and from experience, while I had complete access to everything on my systems, I didn’t on other administrator’s systems.   What access I did have  was extremely limited, and everything was audited at some point.   I can’t imagine NSA is any less compartmentalized.

Secondly, you have to understand the sheer volume of information that’s currently being sent around the Internet.  We’re not talking a few gigabytes here and there, we’re talking millions of terabytes for the US, and tens of thousands of petabytes for the world.  Any idea that the NSA is storing all that, let along monitoring it all, is ridiculous on its face.  The sheer cost of doing so would be a significant part of the country’s budget,  and the number of people necessary to do it would solve the unemployment problem in this country.   That’s aside from the reality that the majority of that traffic amounts to “nothing of interest to the government.”  The NSA doesn’t really care that you’re watching movies on Netflix, that you’re downloading porn, that you’re writing pithy blogs or commenting on them.  They’re “meaningless” in overall terms, and keeping tabs on that is rather idiotic.

Well, what about the “telephony metadata” you may ask?  All that is is a list of phone numbers, which numbers they  called and the length.  No personal information or content.  Even that is a large data set to sort through, so without a key to start the search, it’s mostly just a bunch of numbers.  Unless there’s a key, or some reason to track a given number, there’s not much of interest in the rest of it.  They don’t care that you called the local Domino’s for delivery.   What’s a “key?”  It’s a set of terms or values you use to narrow your search.  For example, do a Google search for “John Smith.”  You’ll get 14,800,000 results.  “John Smith” is a “key,” but you still have too many.  So unless you know more about the particular John Smith you’re searching for, you’re going to have to page through almost 15 million results to see if you can find who the heck you were looking for.

The third point was Greenwald’s claim that the NSA had direct access to the servers of Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Facebook, and others.   Considering how these companies regard their customer data as “crown jewels,” a major portion of their revenue, it wasn’t something that sounded likely.  Even more, they most definitely would have fought in court any such access, and the idea that it would have been “a secret” for any length of time was ridiculous.  One or all of them would have made statements to the press along those lines, setting off a firestorm years ago.

Did I know that the NSA was collecting telephony data?  Well, yes.  As it turns out, this wasn’t “new  information.”   It was publicized in 2009 in the Wall Street Journal.  There were even stories about it back in … 2006.  So this was “nothing new” despite the assertions being made by Greenwald and his supporters.   It also turned out that others, most notably Bob Cesca and Charles Johnson (LGF), were (and are) looking into it, and finding out that the claims weren’t quite what Greenwald was saying.   In the interim, Snowden has been busily “leaking” information to the Chinese and others, while still attempting to portray himself as a whistleblower.   There’s a difference, since he’s now busily giving secrets to foreign countries, instead of attempting to work through the press.

Then came the responses from the companies who supposedly let the NSA have direct access:  They didn’t.  Not Google, not Facebook, not Microsoft, or others.  As it turns out they only – after their own lawyers looked them over – responded to a certain number of requests from all governmental agencies, on the order of 18-20,000 in the last 6 months.  These are companies with over a billion users, so we’re not talking big percentages and we are talking about local and state police agencies, courts, the FBI, and others as part of that total.

So there was a lot about this story that didn’t add up from my experience, right from the beginning.  Now, as Snowden keeps making news by spilling information to the Chinese, and tech people and the press begin to look very hard at his and Glenn Greenwald’s claims, things are falling apart.   Greenwald is trying to walk back some of his earlier statements, except that he’s being caught out as a liar.

What about Snowden?  Well, he’s managed to make himself look like what he is:  An idiot who decided to betray his country.  Not a hero, not a whistleblower, just another turncoat.  It’s been obvious for years that Greenwald has a vendetta against President Obama.   He must have thought he had in Snowden the best “fish story” in existence.  The problem?  Like most fish stories, the reality wasn’t close to the story.  In fact, it’s beginning to look like Glenn was selling some rather long-dead fish.  There are still many questions to be answered, including just what Glenn’s role was in Snowden’s action, and whether he instigated it.  The “timeline” Greenwald has stated (although I’m sure he’ll backtrack on that) has some serious legal implications, in terms of “Did Glenn Greenwald set up Snowden’s actions?”   Glenn may have more problems than just trying to defend his leaping to conclusions because he thought he finally had something on the President.  And it couldn’t have happened to a better person.



Filed under Politics, Technology

48 responses to “Glenn Greenwald’s Fish Tale

  1. Thanks so much for this, Norbrook. I’ve been saying some of the same things to folks for the last week, and being pooh-poohed at best, snarled at at worst. I’ve characterized Snowden (in my kinder moments) as a self-serving little twit; as for Greenwald — consider the source. I’ll be passing this along.

    • You’re welcome. One of the points brought up elsewhere was that a possible explanation for Snowden’s comments about Hong Kong being a bastion of freedom 🙄 was that Snowden has been reading a lot of libertarian works, and was apparently a Ron Paul supporter. A couple of the rankings that some of the libertarian think tanks put out had Hong Kong as being #1 in … economic freedom. Which is not the same as “valuing free speech” and “freedom.” As the idiot would have found out with some simple searches. But, he deserves whatever fate he gets.

  2. I think he’s really flailing now, and it wouldn’t surprise me if Greenwald has turned him loose to sink or swim (continuing the fish metaphor) in a furrin country that isn’t likely to be impressed with him. Too bad, in a way, as it’s perfectly possible that he (Snowden) was at least to some extent set up so GG could make some hay for himself (mixing metaphors now).

  3. see above

    Not a geek but more knowledge than the average person having spent a major portion of my time in “technology” I have to agree that the idea one person had the access Snowden claimed left me slightly speechless and unbelieving. Even the security departments of most corporations have walls. My main concern had nothing to do with the what was claimed but rather who was claiming it.
    Ever since the days of “government is the problem” Ronald Reagan when the push for privatization started I had concerns. Government is not a business it’s a non-profit and most of the employees understand that and take a loyalty oath they consider sacred. That our government is willingly contracting this kind of work to private corporations whose only allegiance is to the dollar is what bothers me most.
    It’s almost never cheaper to contract for work and there are contractors who further contract out the work. To me the contracting of this type of work is the gorilla in the room not what some supposed “whistleblower?” claims he had access to.

  4. aquagranny911

    Norbrook, I’m so happy you distilled your comments at TPV into this excellent diary. I will book mark & share with people who are confused about these issues.

  5. Snoring Dog Studio

    “An idiot who decided to betray his country” — my thoughts, too. People all over the U.S. and elsewhere were waiting for this kind of juicy tidbit so that they could get their panties in a bundle over a non story – over some weak notion of a vast conspiracy. How quickly do so many people want to believe that their government is so sinister! What a wasted amount of energy to focus on this nonsense. Snowden is a pathetic young man who desperately needed attention and now his life is irrevocably changed for the worse.

    Thank you, Norbrook for covering this so well.

    • aquagranny911

      Nailed that! I would try to muster some pity for this young man but he is old enough to know that actions have consequences. If he has not learned that yet he will now.

      • Snoring Dog Studio

        Yeah, I’m not able to feel sorry for him, either. He’s making a name for himself and drumming up a sizable following. But I don’t think he should take any pride in what he’s done to his country. I for one don’t feel like he did me any favors.

        • He’s rather paranoid that the US government is going to have him killed. The reality is that he’s going to find out that his “freedom” is going to be, if he’s not extradited, is to live in a country where every move he makes will be closely monitored by that country, and he’s seriously restricted in his communications.

          • Snoring Dog Studio

            That’s the utter irony of the situation and the abject naivete of that young man. Or hubris. Who knows? But I’m convinced that his motives weren’t sincere. His beef with Obama over not closing Gitmo is hardly a good reason to divulge classified info. That’s an excuse for something else that’s driving him. Yeah, life won’t be like what it was for him when he was making more than 120k a year to sit somewhere comfy and commit a crime. You’ve got to wonder – is he going to find a country to live in anywhere where no one spies? Or is it just egregious because the U.S. is doing it? Apparently it’s okay that Russia and China are. Stupid kid.

  6. Philosopher Mouse of the Hedge

    He sounds a bit flaky the more that comes out.
    But you can surprisingly wander around/among systems depending on how bored you are and how diligent the administrators are – many are pretty slack. People/systems should be vigilant and have secure barriers and compartments
    Best just to assume it’s open season on information once it’s out there….people are aware of that, right?
    This guy sounded like he was on a mission – so might have put more effort into it.
    Google and all of them will give up any information anytime – no secret – been going on a long time. So what’s the surprise/outrage there?
    But what they are talking about is a massive amount of info. No time to look at it all – but it’s all dumped somewhere and is searchable.
    Hong Kong does seem an odd choice. A little funny.
    You are right. More will be spilling out…and if we are really really bored, maybe we’ll read it.

    • NSA is not terribly slack, as a rule. However, he was “inside,” and what he apparently had access to were some files that were on a system he did have access to. What he did was to copy them to a thumb drive and carry them out. The thing that doesn’t ring true is that no matter how “bored” he was, he couldn’t have had the access or capabilities he was claiming right out of the gate.

      You’re right, it does sound like he was “on a mission.” This was apparently, from his statements, something he planned on doing when he took the job. Now, the big question is what was Greenwald’s role in this, because from Greenwald’s statements, he knew what Snowden was planning (or egged him into it) before he took the job.

      • aquagranny911

        I’ll take $500 for that one, Alex. What is, GG could be in some deep caca. I would not put something like this past him at all.

      • I get a feeling that if Snowden is extradited, and starts babbling like the scared kid he’ll be, our extradition treaty with Brazil will become relevant.

    • “This guy sounded like he was on a mission – so might have put more effort into it.”

      All this. He came in looking for something.The whistleblower part is just a cover.

  7. I’m not sure I would refer to Snowden as a traitor. Other than violating his pledge to the private sector security firm he worked for, what has he done to be tried for treason?

    Before you answer that you may want to review this NYTimes opinion on the subject

    • I think that’s excessively legalistic, but one can most definitely charge him with any number of violations, particularly regarding the release of documentation regarding intelligence operations to the Russians and the Chinese.

      American spies based in the UK intercepted the top-secret communications of the then Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev, during his visit to Britain for the G20 summit in London, leaked documents reveal.

      The details of the intercept were set out in a briefing prepared by the National Security Agency (NSA), America’s biggest surveillance and eavesdropping organisation, and shared with high-ranking officials from Britain, Australia, Canada and New Zealand.

      The document, leaked by the NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden and seen by the Guardian, shows the agency believed it might have discovered “a change in the way Russian leadership signals have been normally transmitted”.

      While he was violating the terms of his employers, the other thing is that he was also stealing classified information from the United States Government, not his employers.

      • “While he was violating the terms of his employers, the other thing is that he was also stealing classified information from the United States Government, not his employers”

        No doubt but as we have found from the Wiki-leaks revelations, much is classified that is meant more to keep embarrassing faux pas from public officials out of the public’s eye than it is used to prevent harm from our adversaries.

        If Snowden has released information that causes physical harm to any American then he should be justly tried for it. But let’s not pretend either that spying is not part of how all governments work to protect their citizens and other things of lesser importance. I’m sure that much of what our government does in terms of surveillance is not all that different than what our political friends and foes do with us.

        One thing is for certain. There is far too much power and secrecy with that of the NSA and many of its sister units that gets missed with the limited congressional control the law allows. It is also becoming so interwoven and complicated that many within the intelligence services are often confused. Perhaps it is a good thing every now and then that someone rattles their cages and reminds them who it is they ultimately serve, and I don’t mean the corporate special interests that are often the ones who benefit from such spying as part of the military-industrial complex.

        “Thousands of technology, finance and manufacturing companies are working closely with U.S. national security agencies, providing sensitive information and in return receiving benefits that include access to classified intelligence … .

        Makers of hardware and software, banks, Internet security providers, satellite telecommunications companies and many other companies also participate in the government programs. In some cases, the information gathered may be used not just to defend the nation but to help infiltrate computers of its adversaries.” SOURCE

        • What he did was not morally justifiable, despite his attempts to paint it that way. The reality is that there were a) warrants issued by the legally constituted courts; b) the warrants were examined by the lawyers for the corporations; c) the program was not as extensive or as obtrusive as was painted; and d) there was congressional oversight of the program.

          So legally, all the i’s were dotted and the t’s were crossed. In fact, the 2009 WSJ article was about the additional controls that were put in place by the incoming Obama administration. Now, one may debate whether the extent allowed by law was a good one, or overreaching, but that requires a change in the law. I might also note that Snowden has pretty much removed that debate from the public by his actions since then, and Greenwald has been notoriously attacking anyone who is questioning him

          Any claims by various members of Congress (Wyden, for example) that they were “shocked, shocked!” turned out to be a case of “didn’t bother attending the briefings.”

        • I am baffled at why you seem adamant in attacking Snowden and in essence defending this violation of privacy rights. People smarter than you and me are equally baffled about the alarm going out following Snowden’s release of this spying programs.

          Richard Clarke, top counter-terrorism czar under Presidents Clinton and Bush – stated that he’s “troubled by the precedent of stretching a law on domestic surveillance almost to the breaking point. On issues so fundamental to our civil liberties, elected leaders should not be so needlessly secretive.

          The argument that this sweeping search must be kept secret from the terrorists is laughable. Terrorists already assume this sort of thing is being done. Only law-abiding American citizens were blissfully ignorant of what their government was doing. SOURCE

          The author of the Patriot Act and chairman on the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations – Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner, who I am no fan of, says “the government has gone far beyond what the Patriot Act intended, and that section 215 of the act “was originally drafted to prevent data mining” on the scale that’s occurred. SOURCE

          The former head of the NSA’s global digital data gathering program, William Binney says “that revealing the details of the spying program will not harm national security … and that government officials are only mad because it exposes their overreaching and that “massive surveillance doesn’t work to make us safer”

          Democratic Senator Jon Tester of Montana, a member of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, and the Approrpriations Committee’s Subcommittee on Homeland Security – says Snowden didn’t harm national security, and that his leaks were helpful:

          “The information that they wrote about was just the fact that NSA was doing broad sweeps of foreign and domestic phone records, metadata. [T]he fact of the matter is is I don’t see how that compromises the security of this country whatsoever.

          And quite frankly, it helps people like me become aware of a situation that I wasn’t aware of before because I don’t sit on that Intelligence Committee.”

          And Thomas Drake – a former senior NSA executive and a decorated Air Force and Navy veteran – writes:

          ”What Edward Snowden has done is an amazingly brave and courageous act of civil disobedience.
          Like me, he became discomforted by [the NSA’s] direct violation of the fourth amendment of the US constitution.
          The NSAprograms that Snowden has revealed are nothing new: they date back to the days and weeks after 9/11. I had direct exposure to similar programs, such as  Stellar Wind, in 2001. In the first week of October, I had an extraordinary conversation with NSA’s lead attorney. When I pressed hard about the unconstitutionality of Stellar Wind, he said:
          ‘The White House has approved the program; it’s all legal. NSA is the executive agent.’
          It was made clear to me that the original intent of government was to gain access to all the information it could without regard for constitutional safeguards. ‘You don’t understand,’ I was told. ‘We just need the data.’”

          Top National Security Experts: Spying Program Doesn’t Make Us Safer, and Spying Leaks Don’t Harm America

          I know there is a tendency here Norbrook to protect President Obama from his right wing critics but this goes beyond that concern I feel. I have no regrets voting for Obama compared to what the GOP offered but I am finding more and more that he’s not the leader most of us hoped he would be, especially when it comes to pushing back on the military might in Congress and in the private sector. He has also failed miserably in prosecuting those financial institutions responsible for the malfeasance they engaged in that brought down the global economy in 2008.

          • No, this is not a “right wing” critic thing, and President Obama doesn’t need the “protection.” The basic truth is that there is no “extensive domestic spying” by the NSA, and that has been borne out by statements across the board, from politicians who have been briefed, the companies involved, and even news reporters. Snowden’s claims weren’t credible from the get-go, and his statements since then have devolved into libertarian conspiracy theories. What, exactly “public purpose” and “informing the voters” is served by letting them know (along with Russia and China) that we are … spying on Russia and China?
            I should also point that Sensenbrenner was one of the representatives who managed to … skip … all the briefings on the subject, so basically he, like Keith Ellison and Ron Wyden, are talking out of the hat. They have no idea of what the actual scope was, they’re just reacting to what was in the news. And yes, they were all offered the opportunity. As a matter of fact, in a followup briefing on Friday, 53 Senators managed to decide to take off early to go home. Sorry, but any Representative or Senator who didn’t avail themselves of the information when it was offered to them has lost credibility. Here’s what Al Franken said:

            “There’s certain things that its appropriate for me to know that its not appropriate for the ‘bad guys’ to know…So anything the American people know, the ‘bad guys’ know…I can assure you that this isn’t about spying on the American people. This is about having the data available so that if there are suspicions about foreign persons or persons that have connections with terrorist organizations that we can connect the dots.”

            • “What, exactly “public purpose” and “informing the voters” is served by letting them know (along with Russia and China) that we are … spying on Russia and China?”

              I would think any American who doesn’t already know we do and have been spying on Russia and China for years lives a fools life, so what harm has it done exposing something that shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone. The same essentially goes for the idea that we have alerted the terrorists we are spying on them. If those who would do us harm are that ignorant of the means we are using to intercept their communications then they too are mere fools and not much of a threat to us.

              “They have no idea of what the actual scope was, they’re just reacting to what was in the news. “

              Though there is news that says the U.S. is prepared to charge Snowden, as yet they have not. Yet so many who have rushed to judge Snowden have already convicted him in the court of public opinion. He is likely to be charged under the 1917 Espionage Act like Daniel Ellsberg was, but today most Americans don’t view Ellsberg as a traitor and in fact many see him as a hero for revealing the lies the government was presenting the American public about the Vietnam war at the time.

              “Snowden’s claims weren’t credible from the get-go, and his statements since then have devolved into libertarian conspiracy theories.”

              Oh to be sure, the right wing, libertarian element in this country will use any and all of this poorly to push their extreme views but let’s not let that fact override what is at stake here. Snowden hasn’t shown himself to be any foil-cap libertarian and we both know Greenwald is far removed from that ideology. But I think you stretch your case here Norbrook when you assert that Snowden’s claim weren’t credible and any other argument that asserts he was totally in the wrong.

              “For years, three whistle-blowers, Thomas Drake, William Binney and J. Kirk, all former NSA officials, have told anyone who would listen that the NSA collects huge swaths of communications data from U.S. citizens. They had spent decades in the top ranks of the agency, designing and managing the very data-collection systems they say have been turned against Americans. When they became convinced that fundamental constitutional rights were being violated, they complained first to their superiors, then to federal investigators, congressional oversight committees and, finally, to the news media.

              They say the documents leaked by Edward Snowden, the 29-year-old former NSA contractor who worked as a systems administrator, proves their claims of sweeping government surveillance of millions of Americans not suspected of any wrongdoing. They say those revelations only hint at the programs’ reach.” SOURCE

              Until all the facts are laid out there for us, I currently see Snowden only as someone who has embarrassed a lot of public officials by revealing that our government may be involved in practices that are not tightly monitored by the FISA court (one that during the Bush administration was accused of rubber-stamping everything the NSA sent them) and could be in violation of undermining the basic premises of the 4th amendment. You might also want to read this piece about how one retired federal judge feels our faith in the FISA court is misplaced.

              The jury is still out as far as I am concerned and for anyone who feels Snowden’s actions have hurt us, I would simply say we may never know because too much of it will never be revealed for proper consideration. Likewise, we may also never know how what he did benefitted us.

  8. gn

    You’re a zillion percent vindicated, because apparently Snowden has begin to walk back some of his/GG’s horse manure himself during the Q&A today:

  9. That explains a lot, and I agree that the volume of info on the ‘Net’ is more than anyone could deal with, let alone monitor effectively.

  10. @lbwoodgate:

    Snowden hasn’t shown himself to be any foil-cap libertarian and we both know Greenwald is far removed from that ideology. But I think you stretch your case here Norbrook when you assert that Snowden’s claim weren’t credible and any other argument that asserts he was totally in the wrong.

    Um, I think you need to read his latest interview, before you start saying Snowden isn’t a foil-cap libertarian. He’s exactly that, and he’s even started to have to walk back some of his claims. Other commentaries have pointed out that he sounds like a combination of Rand Paul and Alex Jones.

    Secondly, if you think Greenwald isn’t a libertarian, you haven’t followed him for long enough. He’s a hard-core died-in-the wool libertarian, who managed to get himself “progressive cred” by attacking Bush after he’d been a big supporter of the Iraq War and the Patriot Act. He also was a big supporter of Ron Paul in 2012.

    I’d also point out that Bush was doing warrantless monitoring, which is not the case under Obama. Now, we can – and should – have discussions as to the level of those protections, and whether there’s proper oversight or the necessity. But that’s not what’s being done here.

    What we have is a nitwit who decided that he knew better than anyone, made a ton of bullshit claims, and Greenwald was more than willing to push it because it fits his notion that Obama is worse than Bush.

    • Norbrook, we’re going to have to agree to disagree on this one.

      Regarding Glenn Greenwald, I have read him for a couple of years now and I have seen nothing in his works that makes him a patron of the extremist element in the Tea Party or astro-turf libertarians funded by the likes of the Koch brothers. I have no problem with true libertarians like Paul or true conservatives like Goldwater, no more so than I have with liberals who see the real threat in this country comes more from special corporate interests.

      Too may politicians have sold out to the idea that free-markets are our only true salvation and though Obama is indeed head and shoulders over what the GOP offers, he is at heart a neo-liberal, like Clinton is, who fails to do battle with those monied interests that threaten his political career.

      My only opposition to someone like Paul, which I have yet to see in Greenwald, is the libertarian view that there is no place for government to aid the general welfare of the country, especially with social safety net programs like Social Security and Medicare. Nor do they feel there should be some government oversight of banks too big to fail or any business for that matter. I have yet to see Greenwald take such a stand but perhaps you can show me something he’s written that I may have missed that reflects this in his overall view of government.

      • Hmm.. maybe you missed this one. Greenwald has been, and remains, a major hypocrite. For example, he was in favor of the Iraq war, because he “believed we should given the President the benefit of the doubt,” a claim he now denies ever making – published articles to the contrary. His claim to being a “major civil rights attorney” turns out to have been based on his defense of a white supremacist in a civil case where he unethically taped witnesses and ended up getting censured by the bar and the judge. Later on, he compared a white Jewish blogger to a Nazi propagandist, and has made a number of other derogatory comments about women and race. I could also point out that he was one of the founders of “Accountability Now,” which was supposed to be recruiting and funding “real progressive” candidates, but whose main functions seemed to be to pay Jane Hamsher and Glenn Greenwald.

        For a noted “progressive” and “civil rights” activist which he claims to be, it’s amazing how he manages to blithely ignore anything about the country where he currently lives. Brazil.

        Snowden’s claims keep getting failing marks for the same reason I outlined in this blog post. They don’t stand up to technical scrutiny. The more he talks, the more he undercuts his original claims. That Greenwald rushed all of this into the public eye without background vetting and checking on the veracity of the claims does not speak well of him, although that is and has been his usual mode of operations.

        • Norbrook, here is the link to the preface of Greenwald’s “How Would a Patriot Act?” in which he admits his support for Bush’s war — because they attacked MANHATTAN, where Greenwald lived at the time.

          Similarly, he also displays his dumbfounding ignorance of American history by A) claiming that prior to Jose Padilla, it wasn’t possible to hold a U.S. citizen indefinitely without trial (hundreds of thousands of Japanese-Americans circa WWII could have told him differently) and B) uses an epigram from Abraham Lincoln — you know, the guy who suspended habeas corpus and whose commander-in-chief decisions ended the lives of a whole lot of American citizens not named “Anwar al-Awlaki” without benefit of due process.

          Greenwald is an opportunistic, narcissistic, thin-skinned hypocritical snake-oil salesman. That he is so eagerly embraced by so-called progressives is depressing to me. Then again, as a feminist of over 30 years’ standing, I have tangled with lots of non-voting glibertarians like Greenwald as they dismiss my civil rights and bodily integrity as part of what Nader sneeringly referred to “Gonadal politics,” (Hint: Dems tend to keep abortion rights intact.) I have long known that there are many (not all of course) white men on the left who remain hungry to see “one of their own” in Hero/Martyr Mode and are hence willing to believe the worst of a black president. Even when, as you’ve pointed out here, Norbrook, it doesn’t pass the smell test.

      • nabsentia23

        He supported Ron Paul. So, yes, he is a foil-cap libertarian. The Pauls aren’t even real libertarians to begin with. They are neo-Confederate idiots.

        And if he has the audacity to call Hong Kong a “bastion of free speech,” then he’s clueless. He seems to have forgotten that the British gave Hong Kong back to the Chinese in 1999. And as we all know, the Chinese government love capitalism, but can’t stand free speech.

        This ridiculous assertion alone was enough to raise my suspicions.

      • Okay then. These links do paint a picture of Greenwald I admit I haven’t seen before so I will temper my perception of him and scrutinize his writings more closely. Thanks for taking the time to patiently win me over (somewhat) and we’ll see how this Snowden thing plays out.

        • You’re welcome. I think what is becoming clear is that most of the statements being made in support of Snowden were in response to his original statements, as promulgated by Greenwald, being taken at face value. As someone who is a long time computer nerd, who has had security clearances, way too many briefings on “security and espionage” and “system security,” very little of what he said sounded right. What it turns out is that he was not only not right, he is conflating possible for actual.

        • nabsentia23

          I’ve come to the conclusion that Glen Greenwald is a fraud. He has little or no credentials, yet was able to fool so many. He’s never even called himself a progressive but doesn’t correct people when they do. He’s a libertarian in masquerade-mode.

          Look, these are serious issues and they need to be discussed. However, Greenwald is not the person to lead such a discussion. And he’s a hypocrite. He illegally audio-taped witnesses in case where he defended a white supremacist. Yet, he has no problem preaching the importance of civil liberties to our government.

          The dude has issues and this whole thing is more about his hostility towards Obama and not the serious issues raised by NSA. My hope is that more left-leaning eyes are opened to see that Glen Greenwald is no a friend of the Left or civil liberties.

          • nabsentia,

            ”I’ve come to the conclusion that Glen Greenwald is a fraud.”

            Okay. Based on what? A personal relationship you have with him or only on what you read of him by others who don’t like him either along with your perception of him based on his own writings?

            ”He has little or no credentials,”

            Really? What are these?

            . He’s a political journalist for a reputable paper, The Guardian after having written for an equally reputable website,
            . He’s worked as a constitutional and civil rights litigator
            . He’s written four books, three of which have been New York Times bestsellers
            . He’s won an Izzy Award for independent journalism (2009) and the 2010 Online Journalism Award for Best Commentary
            . He’s been invited to speak at the Harvard Law School, Yale Law School, the University of Pennsylvania, Brown University, UCLA School of Law, the University of Wisconsin, the University of Maryland and others.

            Now granted, I took these from the Wikipedia website that Greenwald himself may have contributed to but unless you can disprove any of these I think these will suffice to debunk your notion that he has no credentials.

            ”He’s never even called himself a progressive but doesn’t correct people when they do.”

            I’m not sure why you think this is a bad thing. He does indeed hold some progressives views. Is it that you can’t pigeonhole to meet a narrow perception of what you view as being “progressive”?

            ”He’s a libertarian in masquerade-mode.”

            A perception you hold based on your narrow interpretation of what you view as being a “progressive”?

            ”Look, these are serious issues and they need to be discussed. However, Greenwald is not the person to lead such a discussion.”

            I never presumed he was leading it. In fact he is but just one more voice that has raised the specter of privacy right violation being engaged in by government agencies. You may not like the fact that Greenwald has once again brought the public’s attention to this matter but why kill the message by attacking the messenger?

            ”And he’s a hypocrite. He illegally audio-taped witnesses in case where he defended a white supremacist. Yet, he has no problem preaching the importance of civil liberties to our government.”

            I don’t know all the details of this talking point that is going around by those who hate Greenwald. I do know that attempting to get evidence to support his client is only a sin if it’s wrongly admitted as evidence where the law declares such. It is also an apples to oranges comparison about what he did to a handful of people in a singular incident and what the government is doing to millions of Americans everyday

            “The dude has issues and this whole thing is more about his hostility towards Obama and not the serious issues raised by NSA”

            Again, is this your personal presumption based on things other than a knowledgeable and close relationship with him?

            ”My hope is that more left-leaning eyes are opened to see that Glen Greenwald is no a friend of the Left or civil liberties.”

            So, you want “left-leaning eyes “ to see Greenwald as you see him and your definition of what “left” is supposed to look like?

            I know you mean well nabsentia but I’m 64 years old, have a political science minor, read way too much and been around the block a few times. I clearly don’t know everything that theres is to know about Greenwald or Edward Snowden for that matter. I’m pretty sure you don’t either. But I am quiet able to discern who is yanking my chain or not and how much credibility to give someone on subjects that I am not a total fool about.

            I also know that one of the first things people want to do when their ideals are being challenged within reasonable expectations is to discredit the the challenger rather than the challenge. Believe what you will but you, and Norbrook I’m afraid, are going to have be much more convincing before you can declare me a devotee of your take on this incident concerning government spying. That is after all what we should be focused on

            • You have to understand that those of us who have had dealings with Greenwald in the past have a quite … different … perception of him. He’s a seriously nasty piece of work, who responds by viciously attacking anyone who questions him. A look through various twitter battles he’d conducted over the years, along with his habit of “blocking” anyone who dares to question his “facts” would rather than correct himself or apologize. His recent tirades have been against Bob Cesca, Charles Johnson, Kevin Drum, and Joy Reid, none of whom could be called “conservatives” or “apologists for the Obama regime.” 🙄

              He has never been “a journalist.” He’s a commentator, and as such, more interested in pushing his agenda than in actually reporting things. Snowden has turned into an example of this.

              For example, Snowden’s original claim was that the NSA – and anyone working for them – could monitor and tap anyone’s phone conversations and electronic communications, and was actively doing so. For everyone in the United States. In followup interviews, it turns out that was not the case, that it was his belief that it could be done, if it weren’t for all those policies and procedures standing in the way. In other words, both Snowden and Greenwald presented this as actually happening, raising all sorts of hysteria, when it turns out that not only did they not have proof of it, much of what they presented was a hypothetical to begin with. Yet Greenwald failed to not only adequately background and double-check this, even to the little extent of asking someone technically literate to evaluate the claims, he ran with it. Why? Because it fit his agenda.

              Now, since then, Snowden has been busily releasing information to the Chinese and others regarding intelligence operations against other countries, which, last I looked, was NSA’s mission to begin with, and has nothing to do with any monitoring of US citizens.

              • No doubt that there are those who have rankled Greenwald. I dare say not everyone is courteous in their claims they make toward those who they disagree with. But I agree that Greenwald should contain his composure and simply ignore those he chooses too rather than come across as “seriously nasty” to some.

                I really don’t want to dwell on Greenwald Norbrook because again he is just one in many others that have, in my opinion, raised credible concerns about government spying on private citizens. I’m not sure either that you get to define who is and isn’t a “”journalist”. I have found a view on this I concur with that I’s like to share with you.

                ”Leaders from both political parties called Assange a “high-tech terrorist.” Chief among them, California Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein wrote an opinion piece — eerily similar to Rep. King’s claims — for the Wall Street Journal on December 7, 2010 demanding the WikiLeaks founder be prosecuted under the Espionage Act.

                ‘Mr. Assange claims to be a journalist and would no doubt rely on the First Amendment to defend his actions,’ she wrote. ‘But he is no journalist: He is an agitator intent on damaging our government, whose policies he happens to disagree with, regardless of who gets hurt.

                The fundamental difference between Greenwald and Assange rests on the philosophical question: What qualifies someone as a journalist? This is a philosophical debate — now more than ever, in the era of Internet and citizen-journalism — because there are no concrete and universal requirements to be sanctified in the media profession.

                Traditionally, a journalist was recognized as someone who compiled information to be presented as news through a chosen medium. The transmission vessel could be a newspaper, a television or a radio.

                But let’s look at that definition through a contemporary lens. Anyone (you, myself and even my 83-year-old grandmother) today can gather information and share it through a chosen medium. See something cool happening? Write 140 characters and tweet it. Snap a picture of an interesting protest? Put a fancy filter on it and share it through Instagram.

                Mainstream journalists (I used to be one) like to believe they are special. After all, many of them graduated from prestigious journalism schools, where “journalism ethics” have been hammered into their brains. But a lot of journalists actually don’t hold journalism degrees. Some don’t possess college degrees at all. Yet we’re all part of this ever-changing landscape of that profession formerly known as the Fourth Estate.

                Now, new media altered the idea altogether of who can be a journalist. I like to believe everyone can be and should be journalists. When we see something important, we should write about it, photograph it, or record audio and share it with as many people as possible.

                That’s what both Greenwald and Assange did. They held important information that showed ways the U.S. government was lying to the public, and revealed it. Assange showed the slaughter of civilians. Greenwald revealed spying on Americans.”

                What I would like to call you on is your surprising belief that when the government does go in and single out individuals that they scrupulously have “all their I’s dotted and the T’s crossed”. The FISA court has likely been nothing more since Bush but to serve as a rubber stamp for any spying request put in front of them by the NSA

                The law originally established after the Watergate incident under Nixon was meant to insure that warrantless searches were no longer considered constitutional. This was when the FISA court was extablished to “review government requests for warrants”.

                ”If the government wanted to listen in on conversations or other communications in the U.S., it had to get a warrant from the foreign intelligence court based on individualized suspicion and probable cause to believe that national security was being compromised.

                After 9/11, the Bush administration circumvented that law; President Bush authorized new surveillance programs without submitting them to the foreign intelligence court. After news reports blew the lid off the administration’s dodge, Bush submitted to Congress proposed changes in the law, which were adopted in 2008. Those changes allowed the government to conduct the so-called PRISM program and monitor any and all conversations that take place between the U.S. and someone in a foreign country. No longer is there a requirement of individual targeting, observes Jameel Jaffer of the ACLU.

                “It’s a very different role that the FISA court is playing now than it played five years ago,” Jaffer says. “The FISA court is just reviewing at a very programmatic level: Is the government targeting only international communications, or is it impermissibly targeting domestic ones? That’s the only question that the FISA court asks.”
                In short, the FISA court is now far more removed from the specifics of targeting people for surveillance.”
                SOURCE –

                Even the liberal NYTimes editorial board noted this problem and hoped it would change following a lawsuit pushed by those who could unjustly be affected by such searches, including “lawyers and human rights, labor, legal and media organizations engaged in work that requires them to be in communication with colleagues, clients, journalistic sources, victims of human rights abuses and others outside the United States.

                The lawsuit the Justice Department is trying so hard to block concerns the 2008 statute amending the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The new law retroactively approved Mr. Bush’s legally dubious warrantless wiretapping and conferred immunity from prosecution on the telephone companies that cooperated in the program.
                The measure gave the government broad and unprecedented power to intercept the communications of Americans without individualized warrants based on probable cause or any administrative finding of a terrorism connection. It lowered the burden of proof for government wiretapping of suspects, weakened judicial supervision, and failed to set adequate limits on retention and dissemination of acquired information. The statute discarded traditional constitutional protections for the privacy of innocent people, and chilled the exercise of the core democratic rights of free speech and association. SOURCE

                See also:

                Why We’re ‘Shocked, Shocked’ At NSA Surveillance Revelations


                Source Watch’s links regarding the FISA court under Bush

          • mdblanche

            You can add Rick Perlstein to the list of people he’s been tirading against for questioning him.

        • nabsentia23

          How do I know that Greenwald is a fraud?

          Because I was once a libertarian and even an admirer of Ayn Rand. Also, I have an affinity for libertarian places on the internet. I know the differences between libertarianism and liberalism. And I know something about progressivism. And Greenwald’s views are libertarian (even down to the wishy-washy contradictions libertarianism is notorious for). I also saw, with strange fascination, how emoprogs labeled him a “progressive,” but he doesn’t correct them or confirm the label. Sorry, but those involved heavily in politics usually identify their political persuasion (even if they are just speculators). Greenwald has conveniently allowed ambiguity to exist surrounding what his real views are.

          And he supported Ron Paul. Even if Paul isn’t a real libertarian, liberals and progressives simply don’t support guys like that. There is nothing liberal or progressive about both Pauls. Especially since Paul’s political views are more in common with David Duke’s than anything else.

        • nabsentia23

          And let’s talk about Greenwald’s “credentials.”

          He practiced law, but the one big case he had, he lost. In that case, he illegally audio-taped witnesses. Yet, he sits there and judges the US government for violation of civil rights?

          And just as Norbrook said, he passes himself as a journalist when he’s really just a commenter. Most commenters don’t do this (well maybe on Fox News, but I digress).

          Maybe it’s just because during my work, when experts are needed, their backgrounds and experience is much more than Greenwald’s? Sorry, but I have pretty high standards in this regard and GG just doesn’t measure up. Even Bill O’Reilly has higher journalist credentials than GG, but he ended up on Fox News because his temper got the best of him when he was actually a real journalist.

          And I don’t want to get into the personal, online encounters Norbrook speaks of. I still haven’t gone over his outrageous comments about rape.

        • nabsentia23

          You only minored in Poly Sci?

          Well, I majored in it and I live inside the Capital Beltway!

          I’m not as old as you, but I’ve been around the block a few times myself. I’m here in the trenches while Greenwald is living it up in Brazil. You don’t have to be inside the Beltway to be in the trenches, but Greenwald isn’t even based in the States. He complains about civil liberties here, but is silent on violations happening in his backyard.

  11. And I don’t see anyone on the left arguing for LESS oversight with FISA courts. I applaud the ACLU suit in this. In fact, I’d say most people I know want to overturn the Patriot Act. However, some of us ALSO recognize that the greatest ongoing assault on civil liberties in this country comes through the prison/industrial complex that keeps thousands of people not named “Bradley Manning” in solitary confinement and other horrifying conditions day in and day out for years without a peep — let alone a daily barrage of outrage — from the likes of Greenwald. (Who, as Norbrook already pointed out, has been noticeably silent on security forces in Rio killing poor kids on the street.)

    We also recognize that the race-based intrusions of stop-and-frisk and other racial profiling in everyday police activity has a disproportionate negative influence on the lives of young black men, particularly those in poorer inner-city neighborhoods. Though Trayvon Martin could also tell us about how “stand your ground” works in the real world to make it easier to kill young black men on sight – if he hadn’t been killed by an armed vigilante, that is.

    That reality of being stopped and inconvenienced at best and killed at worst because you happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time is actually more harmful to the lives of many brown and black citizens in America than white people wondering about the hypothetical possibility of somebody in NSA reading their emails. (Honestly, a lot of the armchair revolutionaries should learn that their words are nowhere near as dangerous and incendiary as they believe.) So to fire back at many of my white progressive friends who remain mystified why we aren’t all screaming our support for Snowden and his “whistleblowing” from the rooftops — where’s the outrage about the decades-long abuses of black men and poor people in the criminal justice system?

    I don’t like everything that Obama has done in regards to civil rights and ending the negative impact of the war on drugs. (Though there is this crazy little thing — and I do mean “crazy” since 2010 midterms — called “Congress” with which to contend.) But I can credit his DOJ with fighting back on stop-and-frisk and him for signing the Fair Sentencing Act to reduce the penalties for those arrested with crack, rather than powder, cocaine. For starters.

    • Thank you. 😀 I agree we need more oversight – possibly some sort of “adversarial process” and review – built into the FISA courts. One thing people tend to forget is that they’ve been in existence since 1978. There are definitely quite a number of things built into the Patriot Act that I seriously want done away with or modified.

      But the idea that we shouldn’t have intelligence services, or get the vapors because the agency tasked with doing signals intelligence is doing … signals intelligence … is rather inane. I’d rather expect them to do it, and no, I don’t feel any urge to be told specifics on everything. In fact, I recognize that there is a need for secrets, and that “transparency” does not mean “blab everything to everyone.”

  12. Dancer

    THANK YOU…I have been checking in here since this story “broke” wanting to read your take on it. Never a fan of Greenwald (I find him smarmy and self-serving and, frankly quietly nasty) I have suspected there would be more to the story and he might just figure into it more from it’s inception. So glad to know I wasn’t just being led by my own bias…

  13. @lbwoodgate: The problem with Assange is that in many ways, he’s a sociopath. He really doesn’t care about consequences, and it showed when his release of documents regarding the Kenyan elections was one of the triggers of the riots which killed several thousand people. Greenwald hasn’t shown he’s done “a great public service,” since he hasn’t proved that the government was lying at this time. None of the surveillance issues were “unknown” and I might also note that the act was revised again after 2008. Snowden has been a very, very shaky “source,” and anyone who is hanging their reputation on his assertions is on very thin ice.

    That point has been noted by any number of other people, which is why Rick Perlstein called it “Greenwald’s epic botch.” Now, you keep dancing around in defense of Greenwald and Snowden, and this is the main point that you’re avoiding: You don’t have to like it, but there is zero evidence that anything being claimed by Greenwald was true, and further, what was done wasn’t within the parameters allowed by the law, with court and Congressional oversight. Now, you don’t like the law? Neither do I, but that is what the law allows. There’s a lot of “Obama=Bush” in this, and what we have been shown is that whatever Bush was running with, is not what Obama is doing.

    • ”what was done wasn’t within the parameters allowed by the law, with court and Congressional oversight. Now, you don’t like the law? Neither do I, but that is what the law allows. “

      I think you meant to say “was within the parameters allowed by the law”, at least I hope that’s what you intended.

      But I’m still curious Norbrook how you seem to be so certain of this? What has been said and by whom that has convinced you that this surveillance program has been on the up and up, having “dotted all their I’s and crossed all their T’s”? Whose word are we taking on this?

      For the record too. I was focused more on raising the problems such a surveillance program’s constitutionality presents, not defending Snowden and Greenwald, at least no more so than you seemed to be focused on killing the messenger while ignoring the concern they raise.

      • Thanks for the correction. I’m sure there have been “oops” moments, but if anything, all that has come out since Snowden’s “revelations” is that there was “no there, there.” As it is turning out, there are increased levels of rules and regulations to prevent that. The “concern” they raise is neither news or new. It’s been an ongoing thing for over the past decade, and there are court cases winding through the system around that. I seem to be among the few with a functioning memory of those battles, since the idiots over at DK and other places are still hyperventilating.

        As to “killing the messenger?” If it seems that way it’s because any number of journalistic “dot the i’s and cross the t’s” were skipped by Greenwald and others, and that Snowden has since proven to be … less than credible … as a source. The person who wrote the book (Kurt Eichenwald) on this issue has been one of the leading debunkers of both of them. As to why I would take the word of people like Al Franken over others, well, it’s not just that. It’s also that their story didn’t make sense from what I know about security, computer systems, and in particular, the major internet services.

        Now, the concern they raised? It wasn’t genuine, it was a Chicken Little gambit. Any actual discussion of the issues has to be based around reality, not someone claiming the sky has fallen.

        • I agree. And, in fact, they made themselves the message. Because their information was not correct, was not fact-checked and their actions did not bear out their words, they discredited the message themselves.

  14. Just now reading this and all the comments. Norbrook, I agree with you entirely. I would like to address the comment that Snowden committed an act of civil disobedience. I’d like to quote from Martin Luther King’s “Letter From Birmingham Jail”, from Smartypants’ blog post here:

    “One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.”

    Since first hearing this term applied to Snowden it has stuck in my craw and this quote explains my discomfort elegantly. No, it is not civil disobedience if you run away from the consequences of your action. The rest of the post is well worth reading, as always. Here’s the link: One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.