Glenn Greenwald ballyhooed the results of a new Pew poll on Monday and while Americans still generally support the National Security Agency’s surveillance operations, they’re increasingly skeptical of the agency to say the least, indicating “a shift” in public opinion, as Greenwald described it. The poll also highlighted several disturbing trends, which I believe have been exacerbated if not directly caused by the shoddy, misleading reporting that’s plagued this story from the beginning.
Before we get into that, the poll showed that 56 percent of Americans believe “federal courts fail to provide adequate limits on the telephone and internet data the government is collecting.” I actually agree here, and I believe the primary legislative task moving forward ought to be reforming the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC).
Naturally, Greenwald also uses the results of the poll to yet again scold Democrats who support NSA’s efforts. In classic form, Greenwald shamed Obama supporters and party loyalists as hypocrites for having condemned Bush era trespasses but who are currently supporting (or at least not screeching about) what Greenwald considers to be the same, or worse, policies. Among other tsk-tsking, Greenwald wrote:
[S]uch is life in the Age of Obama: one of his most enduring legacies is transforming his party from pretend-opponents of the permanent National Security State into its most enthusiastic supporters.
Greenwald is being shockingly (and probably deliberately) nearsighted. It’s shouldn’t be surprising to anyone with even a passing knowledge of politics that some Democrats distrusted the Bush administration’s approach to counterterrorism, considering how these Democrats had little or nothing in common with the Bush administration in terms of policy positions and values. Likewise, it’s not surprising that these Democrats are more accepting of the Obama administration considering the obvious Venn Diagram overlap between their personal values and positions, and the values and positions of President Obama, Hillary Clinton and the rest. This dynamic is probably why the author of the USA PATRIOT Act, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI), is suddenly really, really concerned about overreach in the war on terrorism: because it’s being conducted by an administration he distrusts and general opposes. (Sensenbrenner also supports imprisoning journalists who print national security secrets. Indeed, Greenwald chooses very strange bedfellows.)
Greenwald continued by mounting his favorite pre-Snowden hobby horses, accusing some Democrats of being “vocal cheerleaders of Obama’s drone kills and even Guantanamo imprisonments.” Yes, the same old con about Obama’s record on Guantanamo. It’s funny considering how Greenwald’s precious Amash-Conyers Amendment would’ve been attached to a national defense appropriations bill that included a ban on closing Guantanamo. Greenwald would’ve had no choice but to support the NDAA and a line item that would’ve kept Guantanamo open for business.
Look, just because some of us aren’t histrionic about the president and condemning him as a war criminal doesn’t mean we aren’t concerned about the potential for national security overreach or the UAV collateral damage or whatever other Greenwald panic button issue comes up. Speaking for myself, I simply believe in a very different path to achieving change, and the changes I’ve prioritized don’t match up with Greenwald’s. As you might’ve observed, I have fundamental gripes with Team Greenwald’s approach to politics, journalism and activism, as well as Greenwald’s narrow, privileged roster of policy priorities. His unflinching outrage-porn and unhinged tactics are aggravatingly counterproductive; he’s willfully ignorant of both history and politics; and his attempts at hard news reporting are irresponsibly misleading.
Regarding the latter, several of the Pew poll results serve as confirmation that the collective misinformation campaign orchestrated by Greenwald and his acolytes might be working.
A full 70 percent of respondents believe NSA is using its data “for other purposes” beyond “anti-terror.” Among those “other purposes,” these respondents believe the government is using NSA’s signal intelligence (SIGINT) for being “nosy,” for “targeting…religious groups,” and for “marketing.” Clearly there are quite a few paranoiacs in the United States who, for some reason, have failed to understand that NSA’s mandate is foreign intelligence. You’d think that’d be obvious considering all of the talk about the, you know, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
Another poll question showed that only 18 percent of Americans believe the government is collecting metadata alone, while 63 percent believe NSA is gathering the content of phone calls and emails (it’s unclear whether the words “warrants” or “court approval” were included in this question).
But that’s not the really shocking part. Of that 63 percent, nearly half believe NSA analysts have “listened” to their individual calls and “read” their individual emails. Once again, I can’t help but to believe that in the age of social media, Americans have become so self-aggrandizing that their thoughts and deeds are more worthy of attention than is probably deserved.
Contributing to this gross misunderstanding of what NSA is doing, variations of the phrases “listening to your calls” and “reading your emails” in the context of NSA surveillance are rampant. Some examples:
Mother Jones: Britain’s NSA Is Listening to Your Phone Calls
Red State: The NSA IS Listening To Your Phone Calls
Political cartoonist Ted Rall posted a radically unglued column for Anewdomain.com in which he declared, “It isn’t enough, it turns out, for the government to read everything you write and listen to everything you say. And yes, I said listen.”
This isn’t happening, nor is NSA capable of listening to everyone’s phone calls or reading everyone’s emails. It’s impossible.
Snowden himself said in his Hong Kong interview, “I don’t want to live in a world where everything that I say, everything I do, everyone I talk to, every expression of creativity or love or friendship is recorded.”
After so many screamer headlines and misleading articles in which the truth about a very complicated subject is scattered all around and buried deep within each post, no wonder so many people have inferred that NSA is doing nefarious things for which there’s zero evidence.
By the way, as a corollary to this poll, Pew conducted an experiment in which it asked respondents about NSA surveillance using both very descriptive language and very vague language. It turns out, when Pew described surveillance in a more descriptive way, incorporating the words “metadata,” “court orders” and “anti-terrorism,” NSA received higher levels of support. But as Pew gradually removed this language, support declined precipitously. This might tell us something about why Greenwald and others appear to be so coy about details. Vagueness, it seems, generates support for Greenwald’s agenda.
So it appears as if the Snowden/Greenwald misinformation campaign is gradually turning more and more Americans into the paranoid, ill-informed foot-soldiers needed to successfully pursue the duo’s nihilistic, burn-down-the-village agenda.