Thursday, July 18, 2013

Greenwald's Microsoft NSA Bombshell is Frustratingly Coy and Deliberately Deceptive

Greenwald's Microsoft NSA Bombshell is Frustratingly Coy and Deliberately


By Bob Cesca . July 17,2013


It keeps happening. Last Thursday, Glenn Greenwald published another

bombshell article in The Guardian based on one of Ed Snowden's leaked

documents. The article details how Microsoft has provided user data for

NSA's PRISM surveillance database. Then, before the ink was dry on the

article, Greenwald issued Snowden's ridiculous threat against the U.S.

government, thus obliterating any debate about the Microsoft documents and

skewing the debate back to Greenwald and Snowden. And all the while,

Greenwald continued to hector anyone who dared to write about the duo's

antics in lieu of writing about the new documents.


Okay, fine. Let's talk about the new documents.


Like most of The Guardian's previous NSA articles, the reporting is full of

clever omissions intended to lead readers to believe something that's not

backed up by the article itself. Take the lede for example:


    Microsoft has collaborated closely with US intelligence services to

allow users' communications to be intercepted, including helping the

National Security Agency to circumvent the company's own encryption,

according to top-secret documents obtained by the Guardian.


Once again, we're being duping into believing that Microsoft is handing over

all user communications, including content, without any warrants or

oversight. Readers have to descend 13 paragraphs into the article to

discover this line: "Targeting US citizens does require an individual

warrant." Worse, readers have to dig to paragraph 32 before the we see the

word "metadata." Not unlike the classic use of search warrants against

suspected criminals, or, say, FBI eavesdropping on suspected organized crime

syndicates, data belonging to people who are suspected of wrongdoing is very

likely what's being collected here. But ssshhh! Greenwald wants you to think

they're spying on you personally.


On Tuesday, Microsoft issued a statement that included the following



    -If a government wants customer data - including for national security

purposes - it needs to follow applicable legal process, meaning it must

serve us with a court order for content or subpoena for account information.


    -We only respond to requests for specific accounts and identifiers.

There is no blanket or indiscriminate access to Microsoft's customer data.



    -All of these requests are explicitly reviewed by Microsoft's compliance

team, who ensure the request are valid, reject those that are not, and make

sure we only provide the data specified in the order.


The article resurrected the "direct access" claim and referred to PRISM as

"the top-secret Prism program." We've since learned that there is no "direct

access" to tech giant servers, even though Greenwald continues to cling to

the idea suggesting that the drop box explanation "makes no sense." Here's

Microsoft on the "direct access" claim from its Tuesday statement:


    We do not provide any government with direct access to emails or instant

messages. Full stop. [...] When we receive such a demand, we review it and,

if obligated to we comply. We do not provide any government with the

technical capability to access user content directly or by itself. Instead,

governments must continue to rely on legal process to seek from us specified

information about identified accounts.


The article also revealed that NSA can "intercept web chats" without saying

anything about what kind of warrants, individual or otherwise, are issued or

who's participating in the "intercepted" web chats. Are they between two

Americans? Two foreign targets? Who? Are they actually "intercepted" or

handed over by Microsoft?


Then there's this line: "One document boasts that Prism monitoring of Skype

video production has roughly tripled since a new capability was added on 14

July 2012." The phrase "PRISM monitoring of Skype video" contains no context

or explanation. Again, they want us to believe this is happening to everyone

who uses Skype. They don't say whether individual warrants are issued or who

specifically is being monitored.


I should clarify here that Greenwald isn't the only reporter on the byline.

He shares credit with not one, not two, but four other reporters: Ewen

MacAskill, Laura Poitras, Spencer Ackerman and Dominic Rushe. So to be fair,

all five reporters are collectively guilty of presenting yet another piece

of shoddy, agenda journalism that, while presented as hard news, barely

stands up to scrutiny.


All five authors are complicit in this murky, leading article, which is made

even more opaque by the fact that they ballyhooed "top secret documents" and

"files provided by Edward Snowden [that] illustrate the scale of

co-operation," yet decided not to post any of these monumentally important

documents. The article described the documents as "NSA newsletters" that

were issued by the Special Source Operations (SSO) division. Snowden once

called SSO the "crown jewel" of NSA, which makes a visual taste of the

newsletters even more tantalizing.


Instead, the Greenwald Five quoted just nine brief sentences from the

newsletters (or documents or files or whatever), while simply paraphrasing

everything else.


The day after the article was posted, Greenwald wrote on Twitter: "The doc

is one long entry/bulletin system - we quote all the parts relevant to the

story." Also, "About primary docs: 'document' for the Microsoft story is an

[internet], ongoing NSA bulletin over 3 years - we quoted all relevant

parts." So is it one long newsletter or many documents as in "top secret

documents" plural? Who the hell knows. Because he's refused to tell us.

Again, naggingly weird, coy and distracting.


The internet is uniquely suited for providing screen grabs of important

passages captured from the documents, or a PDF of the entire series of

newsletters. Being able to actually read the documents would've provided

context and first-hand documentary evidence. But Greenwald et al chose not

to let us see the evidence itself. Why?


Glenn Greenwald recently said, "I approach my journalism as a litigator.

People say things, you assume they are lying, and dig for documents to prove

it." This one statement sums up his style quite well. He writes like he's

preparing a legal case, which, for many readers seems to resonate, while for

others it's often a forced-march to wrestle through his seemingly bottomless



Most of Greenwald's writing is opinion journalism and not an objective hard

news. So he's absolutely entitled to take whatever approach he chooses to

engage in his mission to persuade his jury - in this case his loyal readers.

The editorial standards for subjective, polemical opinion articles are

vastly different from straight reporting. Now he's serving in the latter

capacity where, for the first time, he's had to pursue a source, ask

questions, examine documentary evidence and compile it all into objective

news copy - the who, what, when, where, why, how complete with a lede and an

inverted pyramid flow.


His articles fail to hold up to objective, textbook hard news standards. And

this with four other reporters helping him. The result? Articles with

scare-headlines and deceptive, incomplete claims guiding readers away from

the truth instead of closer to it.


(Hat-tip to JM Ashby.)



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