Once again, as he did with the Bradley Manning saga, Glenn Greenwald has sensationalized and distorted a complicated story, doing the best he can to glue the very worst possible interpretations onto important facts in order to further is now-routine Libertarian attacks on Obama—and most institutions of legitimate government. I assume his new monetization scheme he introduced the day before he broke the story has benefited from all the noise he's created. But now the rest of the media, and all of us, have to sort out the relevant facts, something Glenn is rarely very interested in because they clutter up his angry stick-it-to-the-man (or at least Obama) libertarian narratives.

To be sure, violations of our privacy can be a threat to our democratic principles and ideals. But as recent events have demonstrated, so too can terrorism. The balancing act we must do will be discussed for generations to come (if we last that long). I think it's essential that we discuss them fairly, and demand that our journalists do too.

Because most of my friends and readers don't have the time to parse all this stuff, I am going to present here some simple descriptions of what PRISM, and related NSA snooping projects actually do, without all the agenda-hawking hyperbole being baked into so many accounts. None of these programs are some wholesale sweep of private data and communications that Greenwald and others have tried to suggest. I will update this page as more or better pieces become available. My personal thoughts on Greenwald and this drama appear at the end.

Overviews if PRISM

U.S., company officials: Internet surveillance does not indiscriminately mine data

According to a more precise description contained in a classified NSA inspector general’s report, also obtained by The Post, PRISM allows “collection managers [to send] content tasking instructions directly to equipment installed at company-controlled locations,” rather than directly to company servers. The companies cannot see the queries that are sent from the NSA to the systems installed on their premises, according to sources familiar with the PRISM process.

Crucial aspects about the mechanisms of data transfer remain publicly unknown. Several industry officials told The Post that the system pushes requested data from company servers to classified computers at FBI facilities at Quantico. The information is then shared with the NSA or other authorized intelligence agencies.

According to slides describing the mechanics of the system, PRISM works as follows: NSA employees engage the system by typing queries from their desks. For queries involving stored communications, the queries pass first through the FBI’s electronic communications surveillance unit, which reviews the search terms to ensure there are no U.S. citizens named as targets.

That unit then sends the query to the FBI’s data intercept technology unit, which connects to equipment at the Internet company and passes the results to the NSA.

The system is most often used for e-mails, but it handles chat, video, images, documents and other files as well.

“The server is controlled by the FBI,” an official with one of the companies said. “We do not offer a download feature from our server.”

Another industry official said, “No one wants the bureau logging into the company server.”

What is Prism (by Kevin Drum (Motherjones)

Obviously this is still a little fuzzy, but the picture that's developing is substantially different from the initial reporting. If tech companies have agreed only to build more secure ways of passing along data in response to individual FISA warrants, that explains why they've never heard of PRISM and why they deny being part of any program that allowed the government direct access to their data.

Technically speaking, this also makes a lot more sense. The process described by the Times sounds quite plausible, in contrast to the "direct access" story. Further reporting might clear this up even more, for example by explaining just how automated this system is and when human intervention is necessary.

Through a PRISM darkly: Tracking the ongoing NSA surveillance story
I'm a huge fan of tech journalist, Mathew Ingram. But while I very much disagree with some of his takes on this story and feel he's far too trusting of Greenwald (something others have learned not to do),  he's very good at presenting the more ominous side of the story without some of Greenwald's dishonest and distorting reporting.  So in the interests of presenting some balance, I include his summation of some of the technical reporting he's seen. Keep in mind, this was early on, and many new facts are coming to light daily which sap some of the "big brother" hyperbole and drama from this story as he's written about it here.

This story is moving so quickly that it is hard to keep a handle on all of the developments, not to mention trying to follow the denials and non-denials from those who are allegedly involved, and the threads that tie this particular story to the long and sordid history of the U.S. government’s surveillance of its own citizens. So we thought it would be useful to try and collect what we know so far in a single post, which will be updated as often as possible with new information.

Note: Ingram is a Canadian, so as a targeted "foreigner" in the NSA's crosshair, I feel he can and should be rightfully concerned about just how far these NSA programs can go. I personally feel most of these fears are grossly exaggerated, but I respect anyone's right to have and report on them as they see fit.

Critical Overviews of Recent NSA Revelations

NSA Bombshell Story Falling Apart Under Scrutiny; Key Facts Turning Out to Be Inaccurate (by Bob Cesca)

It turns out, the NSA PRISM story isn’t quite the bombshell that everyone said it was. Yes, there continues to be a serious cause for concern when it comes to government spying and overreach with its counter-terrorism efforts. But the reporting from Glenn Greenwald and the Washington Post has been shoddy and misleading.

FISA 702 or PATRIOT Act 215? Questions on the Guardian/Wapo surveillance scoops (by @MSNBC contributor, Joy Ann Reid)

In other words, is this about domestic surveillance or foreign surveillance? You could argue that either way, the government colluding with phone or Internet companies to sweep up “metadata” is hellafied creepy either way. But in the interests of accuracy, the reports should get the law right.

Views and Commentary

We Are Shocked, Shocked!  (by "Wired" creator David Simon)

Is it just me or does the entire news media – as well as all the agitators and self-righteous bloviators on both sides of the aisle – not understand even the rudiments of electronic intercepts and the manner in which law enforcement actually uses such intercepts? It would seem so.
http://muckrack.com/link/vBZ0/we-are-shocked-shocked

 

Personal Thoughts About Greenwald And This Story

The day before he started blogging about "leaked" information from the NSA, he announced that his Guardian-based blog would now allow "reader support."  I'll reserve further comment on that amusing coincidence for another post.

Suffice it to say that Glenn is the PT Barnum of libertarian bloggers, and credit must be given to his flair for exciting people enough to throw money at him for distorting very important stories; stories which he may have legitimately broken, for legitimate reasons, before demagoguing right out of them any and all fairness, rationality, and respect for disagreements about what the material facts might mean. As usual, rather than go do the hard work of reporting themselves, most of the mainstream media will just suck up Greenwald's reporting and use it to sell papers.

By the time anyone realizes many of the facts were completely distorted, the popular memes and misconceptions are already out there, and nearly impossible to get back. By then, Karl Rove and the conservative noise machine have been able to recast the anger they generate into weapons they can deploy against democrats and progressives.  Lee Fang's new book goes into how this works.

The result is one more huge and noisy distraction from the larger problem we all face: how to recast a global political system that is completely dysfunctional, and unable to correct the imbalances created by global capitalism run amok. None of us are comfortable knowing corporations or government have such unfettered access to our communications. But I am far more uncomfortable with the lack of focus by progressives who claim they wish to address that crisis.  They are thrilled by these hyperbolic fireworks that people like Greenwald are so good at igniting, without understand that such stories just misinform, distract, and dispirit the very voters we need to fix all these pressing  problems while we still have a habitable planet to host them.

Related

 

http://www.alternet.org/media/how-fox-news-created-new-culture-idiots

I've said for quite a few years now that Fox News was making the douchebags and assholes among us into a mainstream demographic.  And while a brilliant essay on so many levels, I will always cherish it for this brief synopsis of the social psychotic named Roger Ailes, who is single-handedly taking down America for his own amusement and enrichment..  Not for nothing does this scumbag travel in a 9-person security cocoon. 

It is not just Fox News commentators but Fox News itself that has the appropriate, in-your-face, I’m-entitled-to-do-this,especially-because-you-dislike-it vibe. Which should not be surprising from a tightly controlled outfit in which everything flows from a single source, chairman Roger Ailes. Ailes has personal flaws that do not necessarily make one an asshole but that clearly shape the coverage, including his paranoia and his extreme politics. We find more telling evidence by considering the man in a happy moment, a victory lap. In an event celebrating Fox News’s success, Ailes said of the competing networks’ talent, as though sharing in the agony of their defeat: “Shows, stars, I mean it’s sad, you know? . . . I called and asked them all to move to the second floor wherever they were working. Because when they jump, I don’t want it to hurt.” By which he meant that he wouldn’t mind at all if his competitors not only lost the contest but felt humiliated enough to kill themselves. He meant of course to gloat but also to show his contempt. He meant to broadcast his contempt and to have a laugh about his being in a position to advertise it.

The comment was at least poor sportsmanship. A longtime practitioner of blood sport media politics, Ailes has emerged as its undisputed heavyweight champion. Politics is indeed a rough sport, but there are still boundaries that while crossed are nevertheless there, or sort of there. It is possible to have a minimal sense of respect among fellow sportsmen, seen as equals off the playing field, and even to display grace in both victory and defeat. Ailes’s comment suggests that he makes little effort at this, even as he does make an effort to draw attention to the fact that he cares not. He keeps it personal, on and off the court.

Ailes is a poor sport but not in a set contest fairly won. His main victory was to redefine the whole sport itself — that is to say, to redefine news. While American TV journalism has always walked a fine line between informing the public and satisfying media capitalism’s demands for viewers, ratings, and ad dollars, the line was more or less there, and it represented respect for what some regard as the fourth branch of government and a democratic society that depends on real news. Ailes obliterates that line with his “orchestra pit theory,” which he puts as follows: “If you have two guys on a stage and one guy says, ‘I have a solution to the Middle East problem,’ and the other guy falls in the orchestra pit, who do you think is going to be on the evening news?” The implication of course being that TV can and should cover the sensation rather than the substance, that it should move still further away from professional journalism and toward infotainment in a pure ratings contest. Fox News has changed the game and won, with an ever-thinner pretext of service. (It has very little actual news gathering and reporting staff; it freely crosses its own purported division between reporting and editorializing; and it now boosts for and even instigates protest movements and financially backs specific political candidates.) For its loyalty and attunement to its fans, it has been richly rewarded with outsized profits and unprecedented political influence.

If we ask why Ailes fought so long and so hard for all this, however, the answer is not simply the ample rewards. His victory lap comment also suggests fundamental contempt. It suggests contempt not just for his competitors but for a society of people who have always counted on news with a lot of information shaped by a good-faith attempt at impartial presentation. Our fundamental need in a democratic society, for each of us to make up our own mind, now goes unmet by the whole media environment. It reflects not the minds of equals deliberating together about what together to do but the tenor and voice of a single asshole’s mind.

Read it all at Alternet

I get asked a lot why I persist in relentlessly calling on serious journalists to investigate the outrageous hyperbole and egregiously distorted facts about accused Wikileaks source, Bradley Manning. 

Well, perhaps we now have a good example of why it mattered so much to me. It seems that a famous story about Gitmo torture deaths by journalist, Scott Horton, doubted by some at the time, but which nonetheless won the National Magazine award, is now collapsing under a scrutiny that such a sensational story should have gotten when it first appeared.

Perhaps this fiasco will cause some to look again at the equally dubious Manning exaggerations now going into their 7th month.

Since last December, the Manning story has gone from a single post by Glenn Greenwald, who took ridiculous liberties with facts and his own beliefs to spin a yarn of government malfeasance bordering on conspiracy, torture, and a wanton disregard for established rules of military justice and decency. All without a single shred of proof, or even a credible source, outside of the accused's attorney, and a pretentious hacker named David House, who used 15 minutes of knowing Manning as a pretext for visiting him, then parlaying those visits into international fame by spewing psycho babble about Manning looking "catatonic" to his professional hacker's eye.

But as Greenwald often seems to do with his stories, that story had planted a seed that would then grow in the minds and blogs of the disaffected left, and particularly an angry civil liberties lobby that has welcomed any story of alleged abuse of power or other wrongdoing that could be used to shame, embarrass or inconvenience the Obama administration. 

Within weeks, the story was being aggressively shipped from, and pimped by Jane Hamsher's FireDogLake.com, Truthout, and countless other progressive and wikileaks-obsessed news sites and bloggers, all thrilled to have another new outrage that they could use to drive traffic to their web sites.

Inevitably, mainstream news outlets picked up the buzz, and without even a phone call's worth of effort to confirm a single fact or allegation, they repeated Greenwald's views and conclusions almost verbatim, and ad nauseam.

Soon enough, driven by Greenwald's grotesquely inflated reputation as a reputed expert on matters of constitutional law and torture (he wrote a book), the stories were being purportedly "investigated" by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the United Nations. Of course, in every case, the only reason these organizations were looking into it at all, were, by their own admission, because of "reports" of abuse by none other than Glenn Greenwald himself (citing the lawyer, himself, or self described torture experts from Firedoglake). Such a small world.

Never one to let ethics dampen his enthusiasm for promoting a good story, Greenwald would make a huge noise every time one of these organizations would appear to confirm his conclusions that Manning was being tortured, rarely if ever hinting to his readers that their interest was generated by Greenwald himself.

Since then, I have continually tried to use my Twitter presence and blog to alert journalists and the media to the many holes, half-truths, and outright distortions in the Greenwald and Jane Hamsher narratives about the Manning story.

Detail: About Dr. Jeff Kaye, Firedoglake, and Pfc. Bradley Manning

More of my posts: http://shoqvalue.com/?s=manning

Alas,because of Greenwald's weird popularity, driven by the blogosphere's increasingly sloppy criteria for what a "journalist"is (Greenwald doesn't actually call himself one, but dresses in the trappings of one with nearly every word he writes), and probably his legendary tenacity for attacking and bullying critics, it was only a very few columnists like Joy Ann Reid who took my bait and looked deeper:

Finally, Someone Else Has Questions for Bradley Manning & David House
 

Joy-Ann has done a lot more work since, and tells me she has some revelations coming on this case. I am eagerly awaiting them.

In the meantime, I urge every thinking person to consider this embarrassing Scott Horton fail, and realize just how deeply susceptible we have all become to these sensational stories that can gain swift traction on the Internet, but which are rarely vetted by it.

Instead, the mainstream media diligently takes dictation, happy to echo the totally free content and accrued site visitations which they receive as a result of this thin and dubious reporting from the aggressive self-promoters like Glenn Greenwald and Jane Hamsher.

I realize that liberals like to feel a kinship with victims of injustice. But we have more than enough real ones to worry about, without outrageous exaggerations, ginned-up by people always on the lookout for something which might be used to embarrass the Obama administration.

I will now head off to find some lunch, and await Greenwald's loyal minions (or Glenn himself as sock puppet), who will comment below that another "Obama cultist" has smeared their Dear Leader again.