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So-called NSA scandal a cause for concern — but not the bombshell it’s been made out to be

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As I’ve opined here on several occasions in recent days, there’s been a lot of overreaction from both the left and right of the political spectrum to revelations concerning surveillance programs conducted by the National Security Agency.

The problem with this “scandal” is basically two-fold: 1) There’s been too much scare-mongering about it, and 2) The details have been badly misreported by certain media.

On that latter point, Bob Cesca of the Daily Banter has much to say HERE:

It turns out, the NSA PRISM story isn’t quite the bombshell that everyone said it was. Yes, there continues to be a serious cause for concern when it comes to government spying and overreach with its counter-terrorism efforts. But the reporting from Glenn Greewald and the Washington Post has been shoddy and misleading.

We shouldn’t shrug off our weakened privacy as a merely a side effect of the digital age, either. We ought to fight to preserve as much of our personal information as possible. So if there’s any benefit to the NSA news, it’s to serve as a reminder that, yes, the government is serious about attaining information in its war on terrorism and that we should be aware of what’s going on — checking it when it gets out of control.

But with new contravening information emerging since the original stories were posted by Greenwald and the Washington Post, it’s clear that the reporting by each news outlet was filled with possibly agenda-driven speculation and key inaccuracies…

Canonizing bad reporting as a means of inciting a debate is as bad as no debate at all. Attachment to empirical reality must remain a central trait of the left, otherwise the progressive movement is no better than the non-reality based propagandists on the right who will say and do anything to further the conservative agenda. So perhaps some positive changes on domestic spying are eventually achieved, but at what cost? Greenwald, who doesn’t really care about “left and right,” isn’t concerned with anything other than his personal agenda and clearly he’s willing to do whatever it takes in pursuit of those goals. Specifics presently.

It’s a shame because there’s a way to have this debate without selling out to misinformation. Instead, we appear to be careening way off the empirical rails into hysterical, kneejerk acceptance of half-assed information.

Cesca goes on to explain in considerable detail the problems with the story, and then adds  this:

To summarize, yes, the NSA routinely requests information from the tech giants. But the NSA doesn’t have “direct access” to servers nor is it randomly collecting information about you personally. Yet rending of garments and general apoplexy has ruled the day, complete with predictable invective about the president being “worse than Bush” and that anyone who reported on the new information debunking the initial report was and is an Obamabot apologist.

Speaking for myself on that front, I’m not apologizing for anyone. I’m merely noting that Greenwald and the Washington Post reported inaccurate information.

Meanwhile, Ed Bott of ZDNET similarly parses the Washington Post’s coverage of the scandal in great detail and FINDS IT WANTING:

On Thursday, June 6, the Washington Post published a bombshell of a story, alleging that nine giants of the tech industry had “knowingly participated” in a widespread program by the United States National Security Agency (NSA).

One day later, with no acknowledgment except for a change in the timestamp, the Post revised the story, backing down from sensational claims it made originally. But the damage was already done.

The primary author of the story, Barton Gellman, is a Pulitzer Prize winner, and the Washington Post has a history in investigative journalism that goes back to Watergate and All the President’s Men. On a roster of journalistic failures, this one has to rank near the very top.

(Snip)

Declan McCullagh of CNET examined the Washington Post story independently and concluded that the Post story was wrong.

Those reports are incorrect and appear to be based on a misreading of a leaked Powerpoint document, according to a former government official who is intimately familiar with this process of data acquisition and spoke today on condition of anonymity.

“It’s not as described in the histrionics in the Washington Post or the Guardian,” the person said. “None of it’s true. It’s a very formalized legal process that companies are obliged to do.”

The real story appears to be much less controversial than the original alarming accusations. All of the companies involved have established legal procedures to respond to warrants from a law enforcement agency or a court. None of them appear to be participating with widespread surveillance.

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8 Comments

  1. Robert

    Is this the delicious post that’s supposed to implode the growing concerns about the NSA leak or just the prelude? cue – laughter

    Robert the pc guy

  2. Chuck Sweeny

    The Fourth Amendment has been repealed. It IS a big deal. This is not a left-right ideological divide. This is potentially the end of the democratic republic.

  3. Chuck: I’m more inclined to agree with this:

    “These were legally authorized programs; in the case of Verizon Business’s phone records, [Edward] Snowden certainly knew this, because he leaked the very court order that approved the continuation of the project. So he wasn’t blowing the whistle on anything illegal; he was exposing something that failed to meet his own standards of propriety. The question, of course, is whether the government can function when all of its employees (and contractors) can take it upon themselves to sabotage the programs they don’t like. That’s what Snowden has done.” Jeffrey Toobin, legal analyst for The New Yorker.

  4. Chuck Sweeny

    Pat, the above link is to Daniel Ellsburg’s op-ed in The Guardian saying the Snowden link is the most important leak in American history, even more important than the Pentagon Papers.
    This has been occurring under both parties’ corrupt administrations. I’m with Ellsburg, not Toobin the TV lawyer.

    Do you not think we have a right to privacy? If so, you’ll have to repeal Roe v. Wade, or is that sacrosanct?

  5. Robert

    Chuck, this is what I find so amazing with the left, they just give up their rights to privacy because our leaders saw fit to make it legal. What else will they make legal, that the left is going to legitimize as just a sign of the new times we’re living in.

    As I said in another post, there was a time when water boarding was an executable offense, a war crime when done to prisoners of war, but the last administration redefined it as enhanced interrogation, making it legal, never called them prisoners but enemy combatants (something we can all be labeled) and now the USA is no longer guilty of crimes we once held trials for and had people executed for doing.

    Unbelievable. I had no idea it is so easy to get the masses to along with the something that is fundamentally wrong and should require no thought, its that blatant. Something is terribly wrong with our society. Now I see how easy it was for the Nazi’s to get the German people to go along with the leadership of the country. It was all done for national security and to eliminate the threat to their prosperity and future.

  6. Robert

    And you know what, the next thing I’ll be called is an alarmist who is paranoid and a conspiritorialist. That’s how they shut up the opposition. They attack your credibility.

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