Bob Cesca has a take down of Glenn Greenwald’s weekend appearance on ABC, where he tried (once again) to shill the story of an “out of control” National Security Agency.
Okay. So we’re supposed to be shocked by the idea that a spy agency employs analysts who can search and read signal intelligence (SIGINT) that was previously gathered? Crazy, I know. It stands to reason that if NSA gathers data, NSA analysts might actually look at that data. This is sort of like urgently revealing that FBI agents listen! to mobsters via wiretaps and wired informants.
Matt Osborne has more to offer on the subject, from his time as a military signals analyst.
What both of them (as well as Charles Johnson over at Little Green Footballs) know is that Greenwald is peddling is fear, and expecting us to panic, while not-so-coincidentally lining up to buy Greenwald’s forthcoming book.
As I’ve said in previous posts, much of this story didn’t pass a smell test with me. It’s because I’ve been in situations where I’ve had “mass amounts of data” that I was supposed to keep confidential. 15 years or so ago, I was a systems manager for a healthcare institution. My particular responsibility was the systems relating to clinical documentation. Whenever you see a doctor, or are hospitalized, there’s documentation created. The dictation systems, transcription systems, electronic signature systems, and so on were all “mine.” Over 500,000 documents annually were created or passed through my systems.
My job was to keep the systems running smoothly, and also keep track of what was going on for production recording. If I was in a document, it was because something happened. It could be because someone was trying to “game” the system. I saw it in the metadata, investigated, and they got fired. It could be because it “bounced” when being sent to another system. Once in a while, it could have just been corrupted somewhere in the process. All of which were legitimate reasons, authorized, and to be honest, a major headache. In the course of a year, I might have had to look at 5000 documents, less than 1% of what was going through. I simply didn’t have time to look at “all of it.”
What I actually looked at was “metadata,” the information about the documentation, not the actual documentation. Yes, I could tell that X document was about Y patient, that this person had created it or “touched” it. I could tell you how long they’d worked on it, whether they’d edited/changed it, and so on. That was part of my job. The only time I actually had to pull up a document – and thus creating a record that I’d “touched” it – was if there was a problem with it. What kept me from accessing any or all of them? Nothing, except laws relating to patient confidentiality, institutional policies, and that there were tracking logs of everything, which were monitored. But I could, if I didn’t care about being arrested and/or fired.
That’s what the NSA “revelations” and “scandal” that Greenwald and Snowden are pushing amount to. The idea that NSA analysts are tapping everyone’s e-mails and phone calls, and listening to them, just “because they can.” Not that they actually are, but that it’s “a possibility.” We should be frightened and panic because they could, if they were willing to violate laws and procedures, along with not caring if they’re arrested or fired when they’re caught by all the monitoring systems. Or lacking in ethics, as apparently Snowden was.
The reality? They “revealed” a program that was authorized by law, has had significant increases in protections implemented by this President, and haven’t shown that any of the “possible abuses” are actually occurring. Actual discussions about increasing legal protections, better monitoring of the process, and improving the law (or doing away with it) aren’t relevant to them. If you phrase it right, it sounds scary, so you should be afraid – and buy Greenwald’s book. Because the most important things to Glenn Greenwald are getting attention and getting paid. That part has been a success, the boring discussions of actual policies and programs are apparently irrelevant.