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Three NSA Headlines, Three Unforgivably Misleading Claims

The reporters and articles orbiting the Snowden/NSA story are trying to con you. They're grifters in pursuit of traffic, market share and, in a few cases, a burn-down-the-village-in-order-to-save-it agenda. Exposing the cavalcade of misleading claims isn't commensurate with defending NSA, it's about seeking out what's real and what's false.
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Each time I post another article in which I endeavor to correct the serially misleading claims made by alleged journalists tasked with covering the National Security Agency leaks by Edward Snowden, I'm invariably accused (mostly by a handful of anonymous trolls) of being an apologist for the government or, in most cases, an unthinking "Obamabot." Of course, anyone who's followed my work knows that neither is truly the case.

These kneejerk, ill-informed assertions are chiefly in reaction to the fact that I refuse to go along with the group-think and outrage porn surrounding this story simply because Glenn Greenwald has a large audience and knows how to use the word "pernicious," or, for that matter, because we're supposed to reflexively hate the government even when the evidence levied against it is incorrect or presented in a disingenuous way. I refuse to accept at face value the words of libertarian-leaning zealots against whom a mountain of evidence has arisen proving how they've repeatedly misled us with impunity, while exploiting the internet's attention deficit disorder, lending perpetual motion to the dissemination of those lies. Anyone who knows my work will also recall that I've never run with that crowd for these reasons and many more.

Clearly, this has nothing to do with any particular loyalty to the government or to President Obama. My only loyalty is to rationality, pragmatism and the truth.

The reporters and articles orbiting the Snowden/NSA story are trying to con us. They're grifters in pursuit of traffic, market share and, in a few cases, a fringe burn-down-the-village-in-order-to-save-it political agenda. Exposing the cavalcade of misleading claims isn't commensurate with defending NSA, it's about distinguishing between what's real and what's false. It's about exposing the rigged debate.

Anyone who willingly aligns with journalistic con men, knowing the articles are shoddy, if not entirely misleading, are forfeiting their place at the grown-ups' table.

If you need more evidence of the scam, here are three NSA headlines from the last few days. Any rational, reasonable person would conclude that these headlines flagrantly misrepresent the facts.

1) How to Keep the NSA Out of Your Computer -- Sick of government spying, corporate monitoring, and overpriced ISPs? There's a cure for that.
(Mother Jones)

The article itself, about community internet "meshes," is actually pretty interesting, so I don't necessarily have any arguments with the content of the piece. But the headline is just wrong, and the subheadline is hilarious. First of all, no, NSA isn't in your computer in the first place, so taking measures to keep it out of your computer is the stuff of paranoid delusions. It's exactly like writing a news story about Obamacare and posting it under the headline: "How to Keep Yourself from Dying Because of the Death Panel." But what's truly cringe-worthy is the subheadline, specifically the part about "corporate monitoring." As with every article at The Guardian and Salon, this article contained 26 corporate trackers according to Ghostery; 26 trackers that ascertain all sorts of demographic information about you by secretly and literally getting into your computer via downloaded web bugs.

2) NSA Analysts Intentionally Abused Spying Powers Multiple Times (Bloomberg)

This article, with its over-the-top scare headline, was uncritically cited by everyone from The Guardian to Glenn Greenwald to Firedog Lake to Alex Jones' InfoWars as evidence that, yes, NSA is deliberately and wantonly abusing its power by spying on Americans without warrants. Of course a careful reading of the article shows several things. First, this information came from NSA's Inspector General, not Snowden, thus again proving the existence of stringent oversight. Second, the total number of incidents were ten in ten years. If you're a company with 10,000-40,000 employees and there are only ten idiots in ten years, you're doing something right. And, lastly, these ten idiots were weeded out by NSA and appropriate action was taken to deal with the violators.

Incidentally, at some point after it appeared all over the internet, Bloomberg editors changed the headline to: "Lawmakers Probe Willful Abuses of Power by NSA Analysts." The 24 Hour Rule is now in play at Bloomberg. You can see remnants of the original headline in the article's URL.

3) US surveillance guidelines not updated for 30 years, privacy board finds -- Privacy watchdog points out in letter to intelligence chiefs that rules designed to protect Americans are severely outdated (The Guardian)

Once again, this "bombshell" wasn't dropped via a leaked Snowden document or even an unnamed source. The discovery was made by the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB), NSA's oversight panel created nearly ten years ago as a means of assuring that the agency complies with constitutional mandates. Furthermore, and most importantly, PCLOB didn't categorically point to all surveillance guidelines as being out of date. The panel merely cited one set of rules, enumerated in President Reagan's Executive Order 12333. Take a guess at how many times the executive order, a central detail in PCLOB's letter, is mentioned in The Guardian's article. Zero. Not once. Of course.

If you're comfortable circulating this nonsense with your name on it, be my guest. But don't expect anyone in possession of a critical, rational mind to take you seriously when you screech about how the government is in your computer, or how NSA is deliberately and illegally watching your every move or how NSA's guidelines are hand-printed on brittle scrolls of papyrus. Yes, like any government agency, there's always room for reforms and shoring up constitutional backstops. But are NSA and the FISA court populated by mustache-twirling supervillains per the myths being described by The Guardian and others? No way.

Too many privileged, epistemically-closed hysterics are being told a series of fish stories by documented flimflam artists, and it's undermining the pursuit of an informed, reasonable debate about surveillance. They can feel free to toss around pejoratives like "Obamabot" and "statist shill" all they want and it won't change the fact that they've been wholly suckered by opportunistic tabloid journalists.

Bob Cesca is the managing editor for The Daily Banter, the editor of, the host of the Bubble Genius Bob & Chez Show podcast and a Huffington Post contributor.