Note: I wrote this back in February for a blog I maintained as a part of a class assignment. That blog was set to “private,” so only the instructor and a few classmates saw it. Before I delete it and/or forget the login info, I plan on salvaging whatever is still timely and not terrible and reposting it here.
If you can’t respond to their arguments, poison the well. Critics of National Security Agency contractor turned whistleblower Edward Snowden have resorted to retroactive well-poisoning as the increasingly indefensible activities of the U.S. government’s surveillance program are unfolded before the public.
Last summer, NBC’s David Gregory demonstrated what was to many another example of how the Washington press corps has sided with the government on the surveillance leaks with an astoundingly brazen leading question to Glenn Greenwald while hosting Meet the Press and suggesting that Greenwald isn’t a journalist.
Then, two weeks ago, Mr. Gregory again gave his critics on the NSA story evidence of his deference to Washington’s elite. On a segment of January 19’s Meet the Press, Gregory interviews House Intelligence Chair Mike Rogers and Senate Intelligence Chair Dianne Feinstein on President Obama’s speech on intelligence reform:
The entire Rogers interview is worth watching, but I’m going to be referring to 3:30 to about 6:00. The transcript of the episode is available here.
The amount of distortions and misrepresentations on top of the unfounded speculation that David Gregory fails to even acknowledge makes a proper critique of this interview rather challenging, but let us try.
Rogers begins with a patently ridiculous analogy comparing Snowden to a janitor at a bank who “figured out how to steal money.” Snowden “was a thief,” declares Rogers, “who we believe had some help, who stole information the vast majority had nothing to do with privacy.”
It’s impossible to prove a negative, but all of the NSA documents made public so far deal with surveillance which is inherently related to privacy, or more precisely, the elimination of it. A more apt analogy would be a janitor at a bank who discovered the banksters were collecting and selling customer data in violation of the bank’s policies.
“Our Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines have been incredibly harmed by the data,” claims Rogers, “that he has taken with him and we believe now is in the hands of nation states.”
Rogers repeats this assertion elsewhere in the interview, elaborating that terrorists have changed their methods, making them harder to monitor, which puts our military at risk. That claim would have more credence if Western intelligence agencies hadn’t already issued public reportswhich explain that terrorists avoid online communication services from companies that have been known to provide access to the U.S. government on request. Terrorists tend to use the “Deep Web,” parts of the Internet not indexed by search engines, and use custom encrypted messaging software to communicate.
Gregory catches the accusation and asks “Who helped him?”
To which Rogers says, “Well, there were certain questions that we have to get answered. Where some of this aid, first of all, if it was a privacy concern he had, he didn’t look for information on the privacy side for Americans. He was stealing information that had to do with how we operate overseas to collect information to keep Americans safe.”
If I may adapt Rep. Roger’s analogy further, this is like the bank’s management, after the janitor revealed they were lying about their various crimes to their oversight board, complaining to the press that the leaked information was vital to the bank’s operations.
The Michigan Congressman continues saying, “that begs the question. And some of the things he did were beyond his technical capabilities. Raises more questions.”
Actually, how Snowden obtained the documents was revealed last November: his colleagues at the NSA gave him logins and passwords after he asked for them.
Next, Rogers drops some sexy spycraft jargon. Rogers said he was investigating how Snowden “arranged travel before he left. How he was ready to go, he had a go-bag, if you will.”
How? He bought a plane ticket to Hong Kong, ultimately headed for Iceland. WikiLeaks and Russians with ties to the Kremlin only reached out to Snowden after he became stuck at a Moscow airport when the U.S. government revoked his passport. Still no evidence of foreign orchestration in all this.
Now for this “go-bag” business. What could that be? It couldn’t be a rather boring item about which information is widely available, including pages on public-facing government websites, could it? Indeed, as Snowden says in this interview with the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer, he had one packed for his work. I would be surprised if Rep. Rogers was not aware of all of this too.
Gregory then asks Rogers to speculate on his speculation asking, “But how high level, do you think?”
Rogers indulges Gregory, declaring, “I believe there’s a reason he ended up in the hands, the loving arms, of an FSB agent in Moscow. I don’t think that’s a coincidence, number one.”
It certainly isn’t a coincidence that Snowden needed Anatoly Kucherena, a lawyer with ties to the Russian security services (assuming anyone can do anything in Russia without ties to the security services). He was stuck in the Sheremetyevo airport because the U.S. government revoked his passport….
Gregory then states plainly what the Congressman is insinuating: “You think the Russians helped Ed Snowden?”
To which Rogers dodges with “I believe there’s questions to be answered there.” More JAQing off from the Congressman.
David Gregory reminds the viewers that this is “a significant development if it’s true.” A good journalist reminds his audience that unverified allegations are just that. Whether they could be “significant” is immaterial if there is no proof.
Gregory then lets Rep. Rogers give a final unchallenged string of untruths and deception:
The oversight that is conducted, that’s what is the interesting thing about this. With all the disclosures, we find out, holy mackerel, the court’s involved. Both the Senate and the House committees are involved. There was plenty of oversight of the programs. And it was very restrictive, only 288 times that they even used the business records in 2012.
It turns out the “involved” courts were deceived about the data the NSA was collecting, our fully-briefed Congress has to bring in outside experts to get a grasp on the NSA’s capabilities, and government agencies don’t need to request business records when they simply break into private data centers anyway.
And not one peep from David Gregory.