Greenwald’s Wet Firecracker

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.



Filed under Politics, Technology

12 responses to “Greenwald’s Wet Firecracker

  1. aquagranny911

    IMO, Greenwald may be fortunate if he is not sharing a cell with Snowden before all this is over. I still have big unanswered questions about just how much involvement he has had in this debacle. Just how far did he actually go to create this “wet firecracker?” I put nothing past him for self promotion or for making $$$.

    GG is a pay pal patriot who resides in a country that is currently exploding & he can’t be bothered to discuss it, even on Twitter. Yet, he pretends to be so concerned that NSA is spying on Americans. Spare me your angst, Glennie, I don’t believe it!

    GG should be looking for a good lawyer. I suspect that the Snowbird will sing like a canary wanting to stay out of the coal mine to cut himself a deal with DOJ. Anyone who had anything to do with his theft of these materials should be real worried.

    • That’s been one of my questions as well, and it was noted by a couple of others. From Greenwald’s own statements, he had been “working with” Snowden before Snowden took the job at Booz-Allen. That raises a lot of questions as to whether GG instigated this and what his role really was. It may not be a case of “oh, I was approached by a whistleblower with these documents,” it may be a case of “I asked him to go in and grab what he could that looks like it would make the President look bad.”

  2. majiir

    Greenwald’s major goal is to inflict as much political damage on President Obama as he can. He and Snowden are behaving as if the NSA’s surveillance program just popped up last week, when the d@mn program has been in effect, according to republican senator, Saxby Chambliss, since 2006. If the truth is to be told, government surveillance of Americans has been going on for more than 50 years, and counting. I saw Greenwald’s article as an attempt to make it seem as if the same program that operated under President Bush is somehow being abused under President Obama. I find this to be not only unfair, but very shameful behavior. All Greenwald had to say about the real abuses and missteps Bush made was that “he was my president and I decided to trust him.” President Obama is also his president, so what’s the big difference between trusting him on national security and trusting President Bush? Personally, I think it’s a matter of the difference in the amount of melanin in the two presidents’ skin, but I never expect Greenwald to admit it. It’s as if he took one look at President Obama and decided he hated him on sight. It’s either this, or President Obama didn’t deliver the little pony to him that he asked for. I’ll never understand some liberals who seem to think that, out of all of our presidents, President Obama must listen to them on every issue. I wouldn’t have voted for him if he had shown any indications of being a “Yes” man to any group of Americans.

    • That’s been my impression of Greenwald for quite some time as well. What’s been interesting is how far out on a limb Greenwald went with this, and is screaming his head off that the limb broke. His claims have not stood up to factual analysis, in fact, if anything, they show that this president has been putting more and more restrictions and protections in place for Americans when it comes to electronic surveillance.

      The other “big news” seems to be that the NSA is shockingly conducting electronic eavesdropping operations on foreign governments. Which is what their job is. I guess Glenn is stunned to find that out, but the rest of us managed to figure that out a few … decades … ago.

    • “He has to earn my vote every day.” Did they say that during the Clinton administration? Somehow I doubt it.

  3. see above

    It’s really nice reading your comments, and counting the holes you poke in the “story” that is “big news” du’jour. Are you rained in in the Northeast as badly as we are in the Midwest or was this just to irresistable?

  4. nabsentia23

    Just as I said on “The People’s View,” somebody has been watching a little too much “Scandal” and believes it to be a documentary and not a work of fiction.

    What a wet firecracker this is, indeed!

  5. Dancer

    Thank you for further illumination (which is sadly lacking anywhere else). The “scandal” that keeps me awake at night is how badly served the American public is by what passes for “media” today. How long will it take for the CONVERSATION about that to occur? Never mind, I know…NEVER

  6. Norbrook,

    I was going to respond to your latest reply on my comment over at your previous post Glenn Greenwald’s Fish Tale, but the ability to reply has disappeared – on all comments.

    What gives?

    • The 7 day commenting period ended automatically. It’s been in place for a year and a half now, and except for setting it to 7 days, I have nothing to do with it.

  7. Cappadonna

    Norbrook – Personally I think Snowden will be handed over by the Russians within two weeks, after Putin gets every nugget of spy intel out of this kid.

    And the amount of egg on his face to make a 4 person omelette brunch won’t stop Greenwald and his followers from screaming about Obama secretly looking at your Twitter feed and that they backed, ultimately, a crook.

    • I notice in particular that Greenwald is doing a lot of “I had nothing to do with this!” and “I did not have relations with him!” spinning as it turns out that his big scoop turns out to be wrong, not news, and the guy who gave him the documents is busily giving out secrets to other countries in the hope that he’ll get asylum somewhere.