President Set to Announce NSA Reforms, Greenwald Insists Nothing Will Change

FILED TO: Headline Articles

On Friday, President Obama will announce a slate of reforms aimed at the National Security Agency’s surveillance operations, as well as the FISA Court that oversees it. These changes are expected to be closely related to the recommendations published by the administration’s NSA review panel last month.

From what we know now, the president will announce the following:

1) He’ll reform bulk collection of metadata by limiting NSA’s access to it. A source told The Washington Post that the president will say that “NSA’s bulk collection of phone data — which includes numbers dialed but not call content — is not something that the government should rely on except in limited circumstances.”

2) He’ll call for privacy measures to foreign intelligence gathering.

3) He’ll create a public civil liberties advocate on the FISA Court as a counter-point to NSA requests.

But the president is wisely not planning to unilaterally turn over bulk collection to private sector corporations, as the panel had proposed. Instead, he’s going to leave this in the hands of Congress to decide. I’ll come back to this point.

At the time, the panel’s recommendations were applauded by a practically giddy Glenn Greenwald and his supporters who believed the findings vindicated the national security leaks by Edward Snowden. Here’s Glenn Greenwald on CNN after the recommendations were made public:

“It’s extremely important especially in the wake of the federal court ruling earlier this week that found that the bulk collection program is unconstitutional or likely so, and now you have a panel of the White House’s hand-picked advisors concluding that the program in its current form should stop, that it poses a serious danger to core liberties…”

But now that the president has decided to implement most of the panel’s top shelf recommendations, including (and to repeat) limiting the bulk metadata program, which is arguably the Greenwald crowd’s primary gripe, the president is evidently not changing anything. Literally nothing, says Greenwald.


The president is “keeping everything the same.” Even though he’s, you know, not.

And here’s Greenwald’s reaction to a rather misleading headline from Mother Jones:


Bashing the president for his oratory is the pundit equivalent of a stand-up comic telling airplane peanut jokes, but okay, we get it. Nevertheless, the president is doing nearly all of the things which Greenwald applauded last month, yet this also amounts to doing nothing.

Put another way, last month it was ebullient kudos when Greenwald said the “extremely important” panel recommended that “the program in its current form should stop,” and now, when the president appears to be doing exactly that by reforming bulk metadata collection, Greenwald says the president’s not changing anything.

Confused? I am.

But I’m definitely not surprised by the flip-flop. This is the brand of intellectual dishonesty we’ve observed from Greenwald even before June when the Snowden story began. Whether it’s his misleading headlines and ledes, or wild exaggerations like the debunked “War on Whistleblowers” meme, Greenwald clearly slithers in whatever direction best suits his agenda, consistency be damned. I honest to God don’t care how Greenwald comports himself — whether he’s a jerk or a bully or a saint — but I’m definitely concerned that his readers are taking his hard news reporting at face value when he appears to have issues with accuracy, not to mention contempt for the basic textbook rules of journalism.

I also want to know why Greenwald applauded a report that included the privatization of bulk metadata storage, and why he’s now angry that it’s not going to happen — at least not as a part of the president’s reforms. To repeat, this is really the only big ticket item missing from the president’s forthcoming reforms — the only thing from the “extremely important” report that’s now missing. And it’s not even really missing, since the president is leaving it up to Congress.

And it’s important to note that while many of the panel’s recommendations were solid, to call for the privatization of metadata was astonishing, especially knowing that NSA could still access it with presumably a similar process it uses for its PRISM database.

To further sanction corporate data collection, when corporations already enjoy eerily unconstrained access to analyze, sell and distribute our private data to a degree far more invasive than anything NSA has ever done, is a very, very bad idea.

The lopsided focus on government surveillance (with, yes, its many layers of oversight) has distracted from a far more serious privacy concern: corporate surveillance without any oversight whatsoever. During a year-long span when surveillance was perhaps one of the most debated issues in the news, we’re no closer to reining in corporations, many of which have compiled massive data clouds on all of us without warrants or oversight.

But on the government front, it’s clear that no degree of NSA reformation will satisfy those who’ve constructed lucrative careers for themselves around the issue. After all, when you take the issue away, the clicks, book deals and revenue evaporates. So clearly nothing the president or Congress will do to balance liberty and security will be good enough for the Greenwald crowd.


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  • Jason Edwards

    Will you criticize those who agree with Greenwald? Like the NYT, LA Times, CBS News, Kevin Drum (which GG linked to), Charlie Savage, Foreign Policy, WSJ, The Daily Beast, Democracy NOW, etc?

  • condew

    Another reason why very little change is required might be that no laws were being broken.

  • Frito

    This is odd. I’ve been following Bob’s coverage on the NSA and I had the impression that there was nothing wrong with it, that everything was fine and dandy, and that Snowden is a traitor. Why reform something that is working perfectly?

    Strange indeed…

    • Bob Cesca

      Never said everything was perfect. You’re a liar.

      • Frito

        Well. I apologize if I missed your criticism of the NSA. It must have drowned in the midst of your ill-targeted anti-journalism campaign posts.

        • Bob Cesca

          You can lecture me about journalism when you put your name to what you write. I’ve worked in journalism–web, print and broadcast — since 1989. Greenwald wrote his first hard news story in June. I think I know what I’m talking about when I point out bad journalism. And both Greenwald and The Guardian have been atrocious. In fact, Greenwald had to start his own venture in order to continue to get away with his hyperbolic crap. By the way, he’s also stealing Glenn Beck’s Goldline business model. You know, because he’s all about journalistic integrity.

          • Reilly

            It’s understandable that you want to defend yourself, Bob, but it’s a complete waste of your energy. These commenters are in thrall to Greenwald, The Manichean King. Therefore, the validity of your arguments, to them, begins and ends with whether they are in agreement with whatever indictment Greenwald is making at the time. Regardless of the nuance or critical thought of your arguments, they are reprocessed to reflect some deficiency in you rather than Greenwald’s writings. Greenwald throws the Outrage Frisbee and they chase it, completely incognizant of whether he threw it left handed, right-handed or underhanded. And when you, or anyone else, critique the thrower or point out the faulty mechanics of the throw, they turn to protect their master. There’s nothing you can do to change that.

            Now, let me suggest your time would be better spent reading this new article by Mark Ames. Here’s a taste:

            In comedy, timing is everything. In farce, it’s all about scale and pushing the limits of believability. Here, the scale of Snowden’s hypocrisy is so mind-boggling surreal it veers into unbelievability, and that is what makes it such good farce.

            And if any of you good Frisbee-chasers venture to read it, I’ll be listening for your howls of discomfort.

          • nicole

            An awesome piece.

          • Charlie B

            “In fact, Greenwald had to start his own venture in order to continue to get away with his hyperbolic crap.”

            Citation, or it never happened.

          • Frito

            Don’t hold your breath.

        • Jason

          hehe yeah….it really does seem to be a case of volume.
          Bob manages some half arsed minor criticisms of the NSA couched in a barrage of anti Greenwald propaganda

          • Bob Cesca

            So Media Matters can only relentlessly criticize Limbaugh if they also agree with some of the things he says?

      • Jason

        Come on now Bob, your entire shtick has been, and i paraphrase, “move along, nothing to see here”

        • Bob Cesca

          Nope. I’ve simply been correcting the misleading, hyperbolic journalism that’s been occurring since June. And that includes the fact that Greenwald was not the first to break the story about Verizon or the story about PRISM. That might sound like “move along” to you because you desperately want to pigeonhole my views into a straw man, but sorry, not the truth. Meanwhile, I’ve written repeatedly about my dissatisfaction with the FISA Court, and wrote just last month that the bulk collection doesn’t seem effectual and therefore needs reformed.

          I’m not nearly as shocked by the revelations as you might be because, unlike you, I’ve read numerous books and articles about NSA prior to June 2013 and knew generally what was going on.

          • Jason

            As i said Bob, i was paraphrasing.
            I am not certain that your exposure inspired ennui is terribly reassuring when it comes to revelations of NSA overreach.
            According to you this issue has been fading to irrelevance for perhaps 6 months now. And yet here we are, still talking about it at The Daily Banter :-)

          • Bob Cesca

            I never said it was fading into irrelevance. It’s always been out there, but Greenwald and Snowden added carefully orchestrated layers or drama, hyperbole and sensationalism turning it into an overblown spectacle for the sake of clicks, book-deals and $250M startups.

          • Jason

            “or the sake of clicks, book-deals and $250M startups.”

            This reeks of projection. One of your first comments to me was “Thanks for the clicks”

          • Bob Cesca

            Another “Bob is just jealous” straw man. What’s next? “Obamabot?” So clever, especially in the absence of a factual case.

          • Jason

            It is as much a strawman as your comments regarding Greenwald seeking clicks, book deals and money. You also have no facts backing up Greenwald motivations. Once again, it just reeks of projection.
            The only difference here is that Greenwald is actually getting the clicks, book deals and money

          • Bob Cesca

            You have no evidence that I’m jealous. But Greenwald’s motivations are self-evident, as you yourself wrote.

          • Frito

            You missed the onslaught of strawmen further downthread.

            Here, I’ll quote it for you to save you the hassle:

            Greenwald had to start his own venture in order to continue to get away with his hyperbolic crap. By the way, he’s also stealing Glenn Beck’s Goldline business model. You know, because he’s all about journalistic integrity.

          • Jason

            Bob is the king of projection.
            I am guessing Huffington Post wouldn’t accept much of the stuff Bob chooses to publish at the banter and he assumes that is why Greenwald left The Guardian.

          • nicole

            You, Jason, are the king of stupid and childish.

            Bob can’t tell you, but I will.

            You and your pal Frito Lay can go fuck yourselves, you arrogant jackass. You aren’t fit to shine Cesca’s damn shoes, and I sincerely hope he bans your silly asses so we can stop wasting time on responding to you.


          • Jason

            Calling someone “the king of” anything is kinda childish. I will wear that.
            As for banning me, on what grounds? I am not even remotely as abusive as many of the regular commenters here,

          • nicole

            Calling someone “the king of” anything is kinda childish


            Are you a child? Is that why you called Bob “the king of projection”?

          • Jason

            Geebus nicole. Remind me never to agree with you again.
            While my phrasing was less than articulate i will stand by the sentiment.

          • Frito

            That’ll teach me a lesson

          • Charlie B

            That’s very mature of you, Nicole. You’re a little girl who has a lot of growing up to do!

          • Charlie B

            So, was James Clapper lying when he said called the news stories about the telephone metadata programs “literally gut-wrenching?” If so, are you going to call him on it, or the other members of the Obama Administration who have lied to Congress and the public during this debate?

        • Frito

          I guess we’ve arrived to the stage where Bob pretends he was critical of the NSA all along. Kinda like Di-Fi complaining about the influence of Israel in US foreign policy.

          • Bob Cesca

            Another straw man from an anonymous coward. You really, really wish that was the case to fit you’re little hipster meme that anyone who sees nuance in this thing is an apologist. Read a book for a change.

          • Frito

            Bob, what are u saying? My real name is Frito.

          • Bob Cesca

            Your full name is Frito? Okay.

          • Frito

            Goldstein. Frito Goldstein.

          • Jason

            I think i had top go through this formal introduction rubbish when i first started posting here as well. Apparently you need a last name if you seek to disagree with the Banterers. :-)

          • Charlie B

            Yep. Just like Nicole’s full name is Nicole, repugnicant’s full name is repugnicant, and missliberties’ full name is missliberties! But you don’t call them out, do you?

          • Charlie B

            And you’re nuanced? Man. that’s really rich. When people disagree with you about corporate surveillance being much, much worse than government surveillance because government can do some pretty nasty things to you, they get compared to Alex Jones.

            I’m not sure if you understand the meaning of the word “hipster”. It’s not “Someone who criticizes me, Obama, or the Dems from the left.”

  • WiscoJoe

    I believe this is how the Greenwald/Sirota/MotherJones spin is going to work:

    Obama fails because he absolutely nothing has changed, which proves that Snowden has succeeded because he absolutely changed everything.

    Also, since nothing has changed and the NSA will continue to constantly spy on every single American no matter what we do, shouldn’t you really consider donating to our cause or buying some internet privacy security software from one of our vendors?

    • D_C_Wilson

      And then Sirota will work some reference to Ghostbusters in.

  • CL Nicholson

    Greenwald, Scahill and their followers will not be satisfied until the President completely closes the NSA, scraps all drones, resigns from office and performs Seppuku in the Rose Garden, much like the Tea Party cranks. Anything short of Obama perp walking himself to the UN and turning himself as a war criminal is a farce. Their concerns aren’t based in anything remotely happening in the real world, so why should their demands be reasonable and cogent.

    Much like the Occupy Wall Street Activists who demanded that Obama publicly tar, feather, lynch and burn the CEO’s of banks and hedge fund managers then name Elizabeth Warren Secretary of the Treasury – no real world solution will satisfy them.

    Also, ultimately, Greenwald doesn’t really give a damn what Obama actually says or does, he’s made a small fortune cranking hyperbolic vitriol on government spying for years now. Much like Manning did for Assange, the Snowden story has always been Greenwald’s meal ticket to fame and fortune. And pointing out that Greenwald is a high paid contrarian rabble rouser and not a true journalist will only welcome the rabid ire of his fanboys.

  • i_a_c

    I thought Greenwald favored a privacy advocate to argue in front of the FISA court. That was on the top of my list of reforms as well. I hope it comes to fruition–shame that Greenwald is now dismissing something that would be a positive force in the medium-term.

    • Churchlady320

      Well the ‘wrong guy’ is doing it. That’s all this has ever been about.

      • raina


  • Razib_Taif1

    Also, I always thought there was something familiar about Glenn’s new business partner other than paypal. I did a Google search (and now a corporation knows what I’m viewing on the Internet) and it turns out that he is that douche bag who wants to develop out half of Hanalei Bay for luxury mansions for hyper rich fucks.

  • Razib_Taif1

    I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this before, but I work in Silicon Valley. Many of my clients are ex-Googlers, Apple engineers, etc. They’ve consistently told me that the NSA doesn’t come close in terms of the wide swath of behavioral data collection on their users (i.e. everyone under 85) the major tech companies obtain. Google, Apple, etc, just can’t bug your smart phone like the NSA. But then again, why would they need to, they’ve built the operating systems, they are the smart phone…

    • i_a_c

      Long, impenetrable Terms of Service “agreements” killed privacy a while ago. Right now, the only requirement is that the ToS be clearly displayed on the page, if it’s a website. There will need to be legislation that reforms these practices, either with new privacy laws or at minimum something similar to the new requirements for credit card and health insurance companies to provide plain-language information to their members.

      • condew

        I think the only way to keep some privacy is to create an anonymous identity on the internet, and periodically abandon that identity and create a new one. Even so, private spies have still got you the moment you buy something.

  • missliberties

    The DudeBros and the political agenda, whatever it is, are hurting businesses.

    • lex

      the neocon hate for human rights is disgusting

  • repugnicant

    Lucrative careers is right. Enter the Blackphone.

    • nicole

      Spot.On. That is, after all, what the whole thing has been about.

      Fucking bastards.

      • repugnicant

        Yeah, doesn’t it seem, based on the sequence of events that happened after Snowden fled, that this was all pre-planned? The evil NSA is spying on EVERYONE! oh, by the way, we now have phones and software you can BUY to protect yourselves..

        • nicole

          I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if it comes out that Snowden was on Greenwald’s (and/or the payroll of some other libertarian/right wing thug) payroll from the beginning, i.e., when Snowden first applied for his job.

          • raina

            My theory, based on what has been told, and the many holes in his story is that he was originally a spy for the Chinese gov’t, which would explain why he went there in the first place. “Whistleblower” was his cover story if he ever got caught. CT, speculation, etc, yes, I know, but to quote Peggy Noonan: Is it irresponsible to speculate? It would be irresponsible not to.

          • condew

            It would make a lot of sense that Snowden’s sudden departure for China was triggered by some hint he that that his mass copying of sensitive documents had been discovered. He thought his cover was blown and he went home.

            I wonder if the Chinese paid him in bitcoins.

    • condew

      Those who sell you turn-key security can also be using or selling back door access. That you shelled out extra for security only tells the seller that your information just might be worth examining or selling.

      I find it hilarious that android has all these check boxes where you can enable or disable location tracking by GPS, cell tower, or WiFi access points. There is absolutely no reason to believe those check boxes do anything but stop the device from telling you you’re being tracked. In fact, the battery is sealed in and the button that turns the device off only asks the software politely to shut down, you can’t even be sure the tablet or phone is off and will stay off when turn it off.

  • Frederic Poag

    Greenwald won’t be happy until President Obama pardons Snowden, resigns from office, declares himself to be a war criminal, and is locked away in a maximum security prison for life. He’s no different than a wingnut.

    Might I provide an alternate theory since that seems to be all the rage? His partner is the founder of Paypal, which arguably has a lot of metadata laying around. The new venture Greenwald is involved in will sell security software. A boatload of cash is in government contracts. Why not get paid a shit ton of money selling it to the US government? It’s okay though! You can trust them! They’ve hated Obama from the beginning! It’s different!

    • trgahan

      Well, our business oligarchy has always worked hard to privatize (or put a profit margin on) the functions of government. They succeeded with defense and the criminal justice system. They have made great in-roads in privatizing education, infrastructure, and medical while the grand prize of social security is still firmly in their sights.

      So yeah, I can see turning to our homeland security apparatus (Booze-Allen had dropped all its other service lines for it) as the next great thing. Probably the reason for Glenny et al. need to sell the internet data collection issues as evil government tyranny but private sector A-OKAY!

    • nicole

      Actually, Paypal was founded by Max Levchin, Peter Thiel, Luke Nosek, and Ken Howery, with Thiel being more or less the face of the company.

      Paypal was acquired by eBay in 1998, I believe, which certainly supports your point that Omidyar did control Paypal.

      Omidyar founded eBay.

      Omidyar has done some really scurrilous things in his pursuit of more, more, MORE MONEY, as Mark Ames & Yasha Levine have documented here:

  • trgahan

    I sympathize with Greenwald.

    Making his living off selling rubes that the federal government (since 2008 only please!) is a tyrannical monolith bent on enslaving middle to upper middle class white people is a tough job. Especially when the sinister head of that government does things like appoint independent review panels then integrates their recommendations into actions and sends appropriate portions of those recommendations to congress work out and enact.

    I’ve said it before, President Obama just isn’t that good at this whole tyranny thing and it makes Glenn’s job harder, especially now that he has a media empire to build.

    I am sure it is also a bit of desperation on Glenn’s part. He only has so many months left to prove his role in the orchestrated NSA freak out affected poll numbers and claim his Think Tank “split the 2014 progressive vote” prize money. Penthouses above the unwashed masses of Rio aren’t cheap.

    • Gavin B. Smith

      Bravo, take a bow.

    • MrDHalen

      I think we can narrow this line down to: “enslaving middle to upper middle class white MEN”.

    • Frito

      What an utter pile of garbage. Downvoted.

      • Victor_the_Crab

        Right back at you, asswipe!

      • trgahan


    • condew

      I’m not sure where you are coming from on this. Does dark skin give you magical immunity from data collection?

      • trgahan

        Actually, my point is, and has always been, U.S. minorities and low income bracket citizens (due to their marginalization in government) have been living under a way worse surveillance for decades under the pretense of keeping the rest of us “safe.” Many a civil liberty advocates have fought for these groups, but the results has largely fallen on deaf ears and certainly none have been brought into head multi-million dollar media ventures.

        Pre-2008 protests of everything the newly formed Homeland security apparatus was doing was met with “if you not doing anything wrong, you have nothing to worry about” rebuttals. No screamer headline fantasy’s of where it could all go or faux-libertarian reaction.

        • condew

          So basically you were trying to inject race into an issue that has nothing to do with race.

          • trgahan

            ….no…but that seems to be what you want to read from it, so enjoy….

  • Jon Fox

    Greenwald won’t be happy until the Supreme Court of the United States declares him final arbitrator of what’s right and correct in the universe along with being dictator for life.

    • Vipsanius



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