Fear! Panic! Greenwald Edition

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.



Filed under Politics, Technology

15 responses to “Fear! Panic! Greenwald Edition

  1. aquagranny911

    Word on the humble streets where I live is that no body gives a flying roasted fig about Greenwald. No body ever heard of him & if you want your privacy violated go apply for food stamps or other public assistance.

    • Pretty much the reaction around my area. It’s only in the blogosphere and in various media enclaves that it “matters.”

    • nathkatun7

      Thanks Aquagranny for expressing so well the reaction of people I am intimately associated with. You want to talk about privacy, how about talk about all the Cameras on the streets that are purportedly aimed at capturing people who violate traffic rules. Guess what, all the cars that go through these traffic cameras, including those driven by people who abide by traffic rules, are photographed. I suppose a twisted traffic cop could manipulate those photos for nefarious purposes.

  2. Chris Andersen

    “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.”

    Thanks. I hadn’t really thought about the fact that what Greenwald wants us to be afraid of is that the NSA is chockful of people that are as ethically compromised as Snowden when it comes to accessing information they are technically capable of accessing but aren’t authorized to do so. The truth is probably more prosaic: that most of the people at the NSA are quite aware of what they could do if they wanted to but they don’t do it because it would be unethical, illegal and just downright stupid.

    • Greenwald wants us to believe that, and that there’s no controls in place or monitoring that prevents people from doing it, or doing it very long. That’s why I used my own experience as an example. I knew I was subject to being audited by someone, even though I wouldn’t have done it in the first place. The person who got fired was someone I found because they’d done something that was “odd” when I was looking through the metadata. A look at other metadata on that person showed a pattern of “odd,” which I then took to my boss. That led to me doing a “forensic audit” of that person, including looking at what they’d done for the past three months. What I found was that they’d been “cooking the books” so to speak, to gain themselves extra overtime pay. That evidence (several pages of it) served as the basis for termination. Their first words? “That’s not me.” Um, yes, it was.

  3. Vic78

    Why does the media entertain buffoonery? At what point do they say enough? Does he realize he ruined Snowden’s life? Greenwald isn’t saying anything that people who study politics don’t already know. Why won’t anyone call this putz out on tv?

    • I don’t think Glenn cares that he ruined Snowden’s life. To him, Snowden was a useful fool. It’d be much more to Glenn’s benefit (he thinks) if Snowden were to be extradited to stand trial (more pontificating, TV appearances, and fundraising), than if Snowden were to be granted asylum and “drop from public view.”

  4. “…the most important things to Glenn Greenwald are getting attention and getting paid.”

    him and whatever her name was at firedog…they were and still are self centered pricks.

    It has been a while Norbrook…good to see ya telling it like it is buddy! Cheers!

  5. churchlady320

    Very good analysis and a GREAT story, Norbrook! GG wants us to hate the government, but ONLY the administration taking care of our rights. He was so down with warrantless wiretapping under Bush, he nearly wet his pants in joy.

    Metadata is the safest thing your “numbers” could be buried in. Unlike yesterday when I clicked on something from Overstocks.com that set off endless ads from Overstocks aimed at ME, the gubmint is NOT able to track me unless I’m routinely phoning or being phoned by a known terrorist number. Even NPR today fell into the great swamp of self deceit pretending “they” are listening to us all.

    Metadata is less linked to you than is the phone book.

    Your comment about time used to review data goes to logic. (Sorry – you’re logical.) If NSA were listening to all of us or reading our stuff, there’d be NO unemployment crisis whatsoever. There are over 300,000,000 of us. Think how many people it would take to monitor every teenybopper’s text messages and pompous CEO’s email. The job possibilities are almost endless. And therefore the speculation is absolutely ridiculous. Let’s be honest – almost NONE of us is that interesting, that much a threat. Believing otherwise is soooo egocentric it’s ridiculous. But apparently it’s damned fun.

    • Vic78

      If they were monitoring phone calls like that, everyone’s working. We’ll have to pull all the Wal-Mart greeters and all of the homeless to make it work.

    • Thanks. Anyone who has worked with very large data sets knows how dumb Greenwald’s claims are. My responsibilities were the hardware and software, with a side of producing production numbers for management. The “data about the data” was an enormous database in and of itself. Just keeping up with that took a lot of time, and any time I had to “drill down” to the actual document was something that meant “time I didn’t really have.” So even though I technically could have seen the documentation on someone’s hospital stay or clinic visit, actually doing so was a case of “I have to fix this.”

      The idea that NSA analysts have enough time to sit around and listen in to people’s phone conversations or read their e-mails about their pet’s cute behavior is ridiculous. As is the idea that they can do it without someone knowing.

  6. Snoring Dog Studio

    Excellent article on this topic, Norbrook, and I am so relieved to read the comments of such intelligent, rational readers who also get it! Aquagranny can also add: sign up for Facebook and Twitter if you want your privacy violated.

    This NSA story needs to go away. It’s a nonstory and always has been. Other than throwing Snowdon’s butt in prison, I’ve seen all I want to. Sadly, there are enough conspiracy theorists and anti-government loonies out there who’ll line up for Greenwald’s book. And then there’s the made for TV movie…

  7. Cappadonna

    Heads up – the Emo’s are going to weeping and wearing sackcloth because, despite not being convicted of being a spy, Bradley Manning, gasp, is still going to jail for breaking military codes and federal law.

    So let me get this straight…..the Professional Left are glad that the military court didn’t throw the book at Manning, but are pissed because he was found guilty of things he already plead guilty to?

    I’m going to pretend the pretzel logic doesn’t make my head hurt.

    • Considering they came up with his “moral justification” for him, and then proceeded to make believe that he was “a whistleblower,” their logic is suspect in the first place. 🙄

      • aquagranny911

        Correct me if I’m wrong but shouldn’t Manning & his estupido supports be thanking their lucky stars that he did not get convicted of “aiding the enemy” which might have gotten him the death penalty since we were still “at war?”

        I read that some of the leaked documents were found in Osama’s stuff when the SEALS cleared the compound. Even if a person does not ‘sell’ information, providing the information by other means could make that person liable for “aiding the enemy.”

        I think the military court did not want to go that far since Manning already plead out to the other charges. He will be doing some major time & that works for me.