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How the NSA 'Plays' the Media to Spread Propaganda and Silence Dissent


April 26, 2014
Donald Kaufman. / TruthDig & Glenn Greenwald / The Intercept & Jim Hightower / Stillwater News Press

Investigative reporter Glenn Greenwald published an expose this week detailing how the NSA has been feeding "propaganda" to various news publications, which have happily played along. The propaganda isn't limited just to schlock networks like Fox News, but is promulgated also by widely trusted newspapers, including The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times.

http://www.truthdig.com/eartotheground/item/nsa_and_news_outlets_team_up_to_propagandize_20140405/

NSA Uses Corporate News to Spread Propaganda and Silence Dissent
Donald Kaufman. / TruthDig

(April 5, 2014) -- Investigative reporter Glenn Greenwald published an expose this week detailing how the NSA has been feeding "propaganda" to various news publications, which have happily played along. The propaganda isn't limited just to schlock networks like Fox News, but is promulgated also by widely trusted newspapers, including The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times.

The message NSA and other officials send to the public every time a whistle-blower and journalist step forward to expose an inconvenient truth is, "You're all going to die because of these leakers and the journalists who publish their disclosures!" Greenwald writes.

This encourages a fervor of fear that has led some legislators and "journalists" to openly call for the assassination of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange for disclosures made through his site.

The "danger" of these leaks is the general reason given for convicting Chelsea Manning, who exposed war crimes committed under the name of Americans. (Manning's failure to expose what she witnessed would have been a violation of the Nuremberg Laws.)

Of course, this justification was never subjected to scrutiny during Manning's trial and never criticized in the corporate media. Truthdig columnist and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Chris Hedges, who was at the Manning hearings, has said the US government was never able to find a single example in which lives were endangered by Manning's disclosures.

Greenwald shows that this isn't just the hyperbole of government officials, but also the position taken by the press, as is demonstrated through repeated cover stories. He offers the example of NSA chief Keith Alexander, who has claimed, without providing evidence, that "Snowden leaks could lead to deaths." Statements like these become a cover, Greenwald argues, a sound bite that permits no critical thought of what is said.

The war on whistle-blowers has gotten worse under the Obama administration. Its officials seem to think that hidden government information puts people in harm's way only when it paints the government in a bad light.

Greenwald references the present administration's effort to prevent details of the Bush-era torture programs being leaked to the public. But no harm is done if the leaked information serves the government's interests. Sources are left alone, officials keep their positions and authority, and newspapers go right along publishing.

By way of illustration, Greenwald points to clips by the L.A. Times that he believed resemble an NSA infomercial. In one story the agency reveals that "every Iraq email, text message and phone-location signal in real time" is analyzed. Gen. David H. Petraeus, former commander of US forces in Iraq, views this frightening reality of surveillance as "absolutely invaluable."

Greenwald explains what seems to be the NSA's rationale as follows:
No bad acts of the US government should ever be reported, lest those disclosures make people angry and want to attack government agents. Indeed, that is the rationale that the Obama administration used to protect evidence of Bush-era torture from disclosure (to disclose torture photos, Obama said, "would be to further inflame anti-American opinion and to put our troops in greater danger").

What is so extraordinary is that the NSA -- at exactly the same time it is telling news organizations that disclosing its collect-it-all activities will endanger its personnel -- runs to its favorite Los Angeles Times reporter and does exactly that, for no reason other than to make itself look good and to justify these activities ….

This demonstrates how brazenly the NSA manipulates and exploits the consultation process in which media outlets are forced (mostly by legal considerations) to engage prior to publication of Top Secret documents: They'll claim with no evidence that a story they don't want published will "endanger lives," but then go and disclose something even more sensitive if they think doing so scores them a propaganda coup.

It also highlights how cynical and frivolous are their claims that whistleblowers and journalists Endanger National Security™ by reporting incriminating information about their activities which they have hidden, given how casually and frequently they disclose Top Secret information for no reason other than to advance their own PR interests.

It's the dynamic whereby the same administration that has prosecuted more leakers than all prior administrations combined freely leaks classified information to make Obama look tough or to help produce a pre-election hagiography film.



NSA Blows Its Own Top Secret Program in Order to Propagandize
Glenn Greenwald / FirstLook: The Intercept

(March 31, 2014) -- Over the last 40 years, the US government has relied on extreme fear-mongering to demonize transparency. In sum, every time an unwanted whistleblower steps forward, we are treated to the same messaging: You're all going to die because of these leakers and the journalists who publish their disclosures!

Lest you think that's hyperbole, consider this headline from last week based on an interview with outgoing NSA chief Keith Alexander:

NSA Director Keith Alexander says future Snowden leaks could lead to deaths
Fox News


FT. MEADE, Md. (March 25, 2014) -- The NSA engages in this fear-mongering not only publicly but also privately. As part of its efforts to persuade news organizations not to publish newsworthy stories from Snowden materials, its representatives constantly say the same thing: If you publish what we're doing, it will endanger lives, including NSA personnel, by making people angry about what we're doing in their countries and want to attack us.


But whenever it suits the agency to do so–meaning when it wants to propagandize on its own behalf–the NSA casually discloses even its most top secret activities in the very countries where such retaliation is most likely.

Anonymous ex-officials boasted to the Washington Post last July in detail about the role the agency plays in helping kill people by drones. The Post dutifully headlined its story: "NSA Growth Fueled by Need to Target Terrorists."

And now, Keith Alexander's long-time deputy just fed one of the most pro-NSA reporters in the country, the Los Angeles Times‘ Ken Dilanian, some extraordinarily sensitive, top secret information about NSA activities in Iraq, which the Times published in an article that reads exactly like an NSA commercial:

In nearly nine years as head of the nation's largest intelligence agency, Gen. Keith Alexander presided over a vast expansion of digital spying, acquiring information in a volume his predecessors would have found unimaginable.

In Iraq, for example, the National Security Agency went from intercepting only about half of enemy signals and taking hours to process them to being able to collect, sort and make available every Iraqi email, text message and phone-location signal in real time, said John "Chris" Inglis, who recently retired as the NSA's top civilian.

The overhaul, which Alexander ordered shortly after taking leadership of the agency in August 2005, enabled US ground commanders to find out when an insurgent leader had turned on his cellphone, where he was and whom he was calling.

"Absolutely invaluable," retired Gen. David H. Petraeus, the former US commander in Iraq, said in an interview as he described the NSA's efforts, which led to the dismantling of networks devoted to burying roadside bombs.

John "Chris" Inglis just revealed to the world that the NSA was–is?–intercepting every single email, text message, and phone-location signal in real time for the entire country of Iraq. Obviously, the fact that the NSA has this capability, and used it, is Top Secret. What authority did Chris Inglis have to disclose this? Should a Department of Justice leak investigation be commenced?

The Post, last July, described Alexander's "collect-it-all" mission in Iraq which then morphed into his approach on US soil ("For NSA chief, terrorist threat drives passion to ‘collect it all,' observers say"), but did not confirm the full-scale collection capabilities the NSA had actually developed.

What makes this morning's disclosure most remarkable is what happened with last week's Washington Post report on the MYSTIC program, which, said the Post, provides "comprehensive metadata access and content" for entire countries where it is used.

The agency "has built a surveillance system capable of recording '100 percent' of a foreign country's telephone calls, enabling the agency to rewind and review conversations as long as a month after they take place," reported the Post.

The program, noted the Post, has been in use in one country since 2011, and "planning documents two years later anticipated similar operations elsewhere." Specifically, the fiscal year 2013 intelligence budget identified "five more countries" in which the agency planned to implement the system.

The Post did not report the names of any of those five countries, nor did it name the one where MYSTIC is already operational. Instead, "at the request of US officials, the Washington Post is withholding details that could be used to identify the country where the system is being employed or other countries where its use was envisioned."

The paper posted a short excerpt from the budget document's discussion of MYSTIC but withheld and redacted the passages that revealed the names of these countries.

A primary argument NSA typically makes in such cases is that disclosure would endanger the lives of NSA personnel by inviting retaliation from people in those countries who might become angry when learning that their calls are being intercepted en masse.

From the Post article: "NSA spokeswoman Vanee Vines, in an e-mailed statement, said that ‘continuous and selective reporting of specific techniques and tools used for legitimate US foreign intelligence activities is highly detrimental to the national security of the United States and of our allies, and places at risk those we are sworn to protect.'"

Leave aside how corrupted this rationale is: It would mean that no bad acts of the US government should ever be reported, lest those disclosures make people angry and want to attack government agents.

Indeed, that is the rationale that the Obama administration used to protect evidence of Bush-era torture from disclosure (to disclose torture photos, Obama said, "would be to further inflame anti-American opinion and to put our troops in greater danger").

What is so extraordinary is that the NSA–at exactly the same time it is telling news organizations that disclosing its collect-it-all activities will endanger its personnel–runs to its favorite L.A. Times reporter and does exactly that, for no reason other than to make itself look good and to justify these activities. ("‘Absolutely invaluable,' retired Gen. David H. Petraeus, the former US commander in Iraq, said.")

This demonstrates how brazenly the NSA manipulates and exploits the consultation process in which media outlets are forced (mostly by legal considerations) to engage prior to publication of Top Secret documents: They'll claim with no evidence that a story they don't want published will "endanger lives," but then go and disclose something even more sensitive if they think doing so scores them a propaganda coup. It also highlights how cynical and frivolous are their claims that whistleblowers and journalists Endanger National Security™ by reporting incriminating information about their activities which they have hidden, given how casually and frequently they disclose Top Secret information for no reason other than to advance their own PR interests.

It's the dynamic whereby the same administration that has prosecuted more leakers than all prior administrations combined freely leaks classified information to make Obama look tough or to help produce a pre-election hagiography film.

Thus, writes the L.A. Times:
Thanks to Edward Snowden, a former NSA contractor, the world came to know many of the agency's most carefully guarded secrets.

Actually, in this case, the NSA's "most carefully guarded secrets" were spilled thanks to Chris Inglis and the paper's own Ken Dilanian. But because the purpose was to serve the NSA's interests and to propagandize the public, none of the people who pretend to object to leaks–when they shine light on the bad acts of the most powerful officials–will utter a peep of protest.

That's because, as always, secrecy designations and condemnations of leaks are about shielding those officials from scrutiny and embarrassment, not any legitimate considerations of national security or any of the other ostensible purposes.


NSA Spying Seems Here To Stay
Jim Hightower / Stillwater News Press

(April 16, 2014) -- On Monday, April 14, the Washington Post and the Guardian US newspapers received the Pulitzer for Journalism Public Service for their reports on NSA spying. In light of their hard work, let's recap events of the last year.

Embarrassed and irritated by Edward Snowden's leaks, Obama charged last year at a press conference that Snowden was presenting a false picture of NSA by releasing parts of its work piecemeal: "… America is not interested in spying on ordinary people," he assured us. The government, he went on, is not "listening in on people's phone calls or inappropriately reading people's emails."

Six days later, a Washington Post headline declared: "NSA broke privacy rules thousands of times per year." In an internal audit in May 2012 of its DC-area spy centers, the agency itself found 2,776 "incidences" of NSA overstepping its legal authority.

As the American Civil Liberties Union noted, surveillance laws themselves "are extraordinarily permissive," so it's doubly troubling that the agency is surging way past what it is already allowed to do. The ACLU adds that these reported incidents are not simply cases of one person's rights being violated -- but thousands of Americans being snared, totally without cause, in the NSA's indiscriminate, computer-driven dragnet.

The agency's surveillance net stretches so wide that it is inherently abusive, even though its legal authority to spy on Americans is quite limited. US Rep. James Sensenbrenner, the sponsor of the PATRIOT Act (which NSA cites as its super-vac authority), said that Congress intended that it should apply only to cases directly tied to national security investigations.

No lawmaker, he said, meant that government snoops should be able to conduct a wholesale grab of Americans' phone, email and other personal records and then store them in huge databases to be searched at will.

Yet look at what NSA has become:
The three billion phone calls made in the US each day are snatched up by the agency, which stores each call's metadata (phone numbers of the parties, date and time, length of call, etc.) for five years.

Each day telecom giants turn over metadata on every call they have processed.

Every out-of-country call and email from (or to) a US citizen is grabbed by NSA computers, and agents are authorized to listen to or read any of them.

The agency searches for and seizes nearly everything we do on the Internet. Without bothering with the constitutional nicety of obtaining a warrant, its XKeyscore program scoops up some 40 billion Internet records every month and adds them to its digital storehouse, including our emails, Google searches, websites visited, Microsoft Word documents sent, etc. NSA's annual budget includes a quarter-billion dollars for "corporate-partner access" -- i.e., payments to obtain this mass of material from corporate computers.

Snowden says that in his days as an analyst, he could sit at his computer and tap into any American's Internet activity -- even the President's.

The sheer volume of information sucked up by the agency is so large that as of 2008, it maintained 150 data processing sites around the world.

NSA's budget is an official secret, but a Snowden document shows that it gets about $11 billion a year in direct appropriations, with more support funneled through the Pentagon and other agencies.

President Obama recently announced an "overhaul" of the NSA's collection of bulk phone records. The reform may require phone companies to store metadata it collects for 18 months for the NSA's use with the approval from a special court.

This might sound reasonable, but it is still gathering bulk data on millions of innocent Americans -- by corporations for the government. And what about Internet, email and other surveillance? NSA is too heavily vested in its programs; it is not going to give up spying on us.

Jim Hightower is the former Texas Agriculture Commissioner and is now a columnist for Creators Inc. Syndicate.

Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

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