Predictably, the new “bombshell” article about the National Security Agency, co-authored by Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras and Ewen MacAskill, is loaded with gaping holes and irresponsible reporting, and yet, once again, nearly every major publication uncritically re-posted it practically verbatim. The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Mother Jones, Slashdot, The Daily Beast and Salon.com, to name a few, repeated exactly what Greenwald and pro-Snowden filmmaker Laura Poitras published in The Guardian Wednesday morning.
But if the editors of these publications had compared the claims being made with the actual leaked document itself, they would’ve discovered a laundry list of serious problems with the agenda-driven angle of the original article.
The post is titled “NSA shares raw intelligence including Americans’ data with Israel” (83 web bugs), based upon one of 56,000 documents stolen from NSA by defector Edward Snowden. This newly released document allegedly proves that NSA has been “routinely sharing” raw signals intelligence (SIGINT) with Israel’s NSA counterpart, the Israeli Sigint National Unit (ISNU), including content and metadata collected from American citizens. Simply put, according to Greenwald, NSA, in an obvious breach of the Fourth Amendment, is sharing your personal communications with a foreign government without processing it through “minimization” procedures (a process in which inadvertently collected data from U.S. persons is encrypted, anonymized and destroyed).
As with all of these stories, the intended takeaway is that NSA is secretly and wantonly violating your privacy rights. Typically, the misleading nature of every article is discovered via: 1) self-debunking, wherein a sentence or two buried deep within an article mitigates the outrage porn of the breathlessly histrionic lede and headline; 2) the document itself contradicts the chief claims of the article; and/or 3) the absence of any broader context or crucial unreported information, which is sometimes uncovered by other publications after the false claims virally circulate online for hours or days (see also the David Miranda story). All of this usually occurs within 24 hours, give or take.
This new article contains problems in all three areas.
First, in terms of self-debunking information, the article wants you to infer that raw data from U.S. persons is routinely handed over to Israeli intelligence analysts, who then, and without any oversight, read and use it somehow. But eighteen paragraphs into the article, Greenwald et al quote from Section IV of the document in which it quite clearly states that NSA shall “regularly review a sample of files transferred to ISNU to validate the absence of U.S. persons’ identities.” In other words, there’s NSA oversight built into the process to mitigate the presence of American identities.
What about the document itself? This is where everything falls apart.
-Primarily, the document’s stated goal is to establish the “protection of of U.S. persons” and to make sure Israel’s “handling of materials” is consistent with “the rights of U.S. persons under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution.” This is quite clearly printed in Section I, part A, at the very top of page one.
-The document is a “Memorandum of Understanding” that’s both undated and unsigned by any member of the U.S. government indicating that it could be an in-progress draft or the precursor to a longer-form document that outlines the agreement in greater detail and which binds both parties to the final terms of the partnership. It’s reasonable to assume that there might’ve been additional drafts, or, perhaps, even a rejection of the agreement altogether. There might be one authorizing signature from an Israeli official, but it’s redacted, and there’s no date noted on the date line under this official’s signature. Simply put: this document was not a final, executed document.
-Section III, or the “Background” section says that the U.S. “routinely sends” intelligence data to Israel, both minimized and unminimized, but this section says nothing about any data that’s collected without a warrant from Americans. Nevertheless, Greenwald and company wrote in the lede that NSA “routinely shares raw intelligence data with Israel without first sifting it to remove information about US citizens.”
-Section III, part B, quite clearly states that the sharing of unminimized raw data “requires additional procedures to meet formal requirements.” Neither the document nor the article mentions what those additional procedures are, but it’s clear that the procedures have to do with minimizing the raw data to weed out U.S. persons since, among other things, the entire memorandum is entirely about protecting the constitutional rights of Americans.
-Section IV, part B strictly forbids Israel from targeting or intercepting communications by U.S. persons.
-Section V requires Israel to inform NSA in writing when it happens to encounter the identity of a U.S. person or when it inadvertently collects a U.S. person’s data. There’s no information provided in the memorandum or the article indicating how often, or even if this happens.
As for broader context, we don’t know what the final draft (if there is a final draft) looks like. We don’t know whether this agreement was executed and implemented. And even if it was implemented as is, we’re offered zero evidence of this by The Guardian. Did Greenwald cross reference this memorandum with any of the other 56,000 documents in Snowden’s goodie bag to discover the existence of a final draft, or a longer-form agreement or anything else that might provide additional background? There’s nothing in the article suggesting that he did so. That leaves us with nothing but a random draft of something-or-another.
Furthermore, you might recall a previous Snowden bombshell from June 20 about how the Obama administration instituted stronger minimization procedures — again, procedures to anonymize and destroy inadvertently collected communications by Americans. This particular document was signed by Eric Holder and dated July, 2009. The only date mentioned in this new Israel-related memorandum is March, 2009 — four months before the Holder document. It’s entirely possible that the new minimization rules were implemented before the Israel memorandum was executed, therefore it’s possible that the new rules eliminated the existence of unminimized, raw American data.
Ultimately, this new revelation is exactly what we’ve come to expect from The Guardian. It’s an incomplete, dishonest, journalistic travesty providing nothing of value, short of a tidal wave of traffic for The Guardian. The editors of other publications who are actively re-posting these tall-tales would do well to take a hard, critical look at the kind of reporting to which they’re linking. For Greenwald, his nihilistic ends justify his sensationalistic means and he’ll do almost anything to achieve his ultimate goal of upending the U.S. government and the American political system. In pursuit of that goal, he’s published a series deliberately specious articles and, in fact, on Wednesday, he described a far-right, racist, revolutionary militia group, the Oath Keepers, as being “a coalition of current and former military, police, and other public officials” just because the group ran an ad in support of Snowden. The sooner there’s a collective journalistic epiphany about what Greenwald and The Guardian are up to, the better, or else a lot of otherwise respectable publications could be dragged under with a rapidly sinking ship.