Environmentalists Against War
Home | Say NO! To War | Action! | Information | Media Center | Who We Are

 

 

Mass Surveillance Isn't the Answer to Fighting Terrorism


November 23, 2015
Glenn Greenwald / The Intercept & The New York Times

It's a wretched yet predictable ritual after each new terrorist attack: Certain politicians and government officials waste no time exploiting the tragedy for their own ends. The remarks on Monday by John Brennan, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, took that to a new and disgraceful low. As the Times points out, CIA chief John Brennan, has been proven to be an inveterate liar.

https://theintercept.com/2015/11/18/nyt-editorial-slams-disgraceful-cia-exploitation-of-paris-attacks-but-submissive-media-role-is-key/

NYT Editorial Slams "Disgraceful"
CIA Exploitation of Paris Attacks,
But Submissive Media Role Is Key

Glenn Greenwald / The Intercept

(November 18, 2015) -- A truly superb New York Times editorial this morning [See editorial below -- EAW] mercilessly shames the despicable effort by US government officials to shamelessly exploit the Paris attacks to advance long-standing agendas.

Focused on the public campaign of the CIA to manipulate post-Paris public emotions to demonize transparency and privacy and to demand still-greater surveillance powers for themselves, the NYT editors begin:
It's a wretched yet predictable ritual after each new terrorist attack: Certain politicians and government officials waste no time exploiting the tragedy for their own ends. The remarks on Monday by John Brennan, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, took that to a new and disgraceful low.

The editorial, which you should really read in its entirety, destroys most of the false, exploitative, blame-shifting claims uttered by US officials about these issues. Because intelligence agencies knew of the attackers and received warnings, the NYT editors explain that "the problem in [stopping the Paris attacks] was not a lack of data, but a failure to act on information authorities already had."

They point out that the NSA's mass surveillance powers to be mildly curbed by post-Snowden reforms are ineffective and, in any event, have not yet stopped. And most importantly, they document that the leader of this lowly campaign, CIA chief John Brennan, has been proven to be an inveterate liar:
It is hard to believe anything Mr. Brennan says. Last year, he bluntly denied that the CIA had illegally hacked into the computers of Senate staff members conducting an investigation into the agency's detention and torture programs when, in fact, it did.

In 2011, when he was President Obama's top counterterrorism adviser, he claimed that American drone strikes had not killed any civilians, despite clear evidence that they had. And his boss, James Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence, has admitted lying to the Senate on the NSA's bulk collection of data. Even putting this lack of credibility aside, it's not clear what extra powers Mr. Brennan is seeking.


Indeed, what more powers could agencies like the CIA, NSA, MI6 and GCHQ get? They've been given everything they've demanded for years, no questions asked. They have virtually no limits. Of course it's "not clear what extra powers Mr. Brennan is seeking." It's like trying to buy a Christmas gift for Paris Hilton: what do you give to an omnipotent, terrorism-exploiting agency that already has everything it could ever dream of having?

Space constraints likely required the NYT editors to leave several specific CIA lines of deceit unmentioned. To begin with, there's literally zero evidence that the Paris attackers used encryption. There are reasons to believe they may not have (siblings and people who live near each other have things called "face-to-face communications").

Even if they had used encryption (which, just by the way, the US government funds and the GOP protected in the 1990s), that would not mean we should abolish it or give the US government full backdoor access to it -- any more than face-to-face plotting means we should allow the government to put monitors in everyone's homes to prevent this type of "going dark."

Silicon Valley has repeatedly said there's no way to build the US government a "backdoor" that couldn't also be used by any other state or stateless organization to invade. And that's to say nothing of all the lies and false claims that I documented several days ago embedded in the Snowden-is-to-blame-for-Paris trash -- a low-life propaganda campaign that is not principally about Snowden but really about scaring Silicon Valley out of offering encryption lest they be viewed as ISIS-helpers.

But there's one vital question the NYT editors do not address: Why do the CIA and other US government factions believe -- accurately -- that they can get away with such blatant misleading and lying?

The answer is clear: because, particularly after a terror attack, large parts of the US media treat US intelligence and military officials with the reverence usually reserved for cult leaders, whereby their every utterance is treated as Gospel, no dissent or contradiction is aired, zero evidence is required to mindlessly swallow their decrees, anonymity is often provided to shield them from accountability, and every official assertion is equated with Truth, no matter how dubious, speculative, evidence-free, or self-serving.

Like many people, I've spent years writing about the damage done by how subservient and reverent many US media outlets are toward the government officials they pretend to scrutinize. But not since 2003 have I witnessed anything as supine and uncritical as the CIA-worshipping stenography that has been puked forward this week.

Even before the Paris attacks were concluded, a huge portion of the press corps knelt in front of the nearest official with medals on their chest or who flashes covert status, and they've stayed in that pitiful position ever since.

The leading cable news networks, when they haven't been spewing outright bigotry and fearmongering, have hosted one general and CIA official after the next to say whatever they want without the slightest challenge.

Print journalists, without the excuse of the pressures of live TV, have been even worse: Article after article after article does literally nothing other than uncritically print the extremely dubious claims of military and intelligence officials without including any questioning, contradiction, dissenters, or evidence that negates those claims.

None of the facts the NYT pointed to this morning to show Brennan is lying and misleading are esoteric or obscure. They're all right out in the public domain. Countless other people have raised them. But so many journalists steadfastly exclude all of that from their "reporting."

Especially after a terror attack, the already sky-high journalistic worship of security officials skyrockets. Many journalists are in pure servant-stenography mode, not reporting and definitely not questioning claims that emanate from the sacred mouths of these Pentagon and CIA priests. Just look at the reports I cited to see how extreme this obsequious behavior is. What can excuse "reporting" like this?

This, of course, is how propaganda is cemented: not by government officials making dubious, self-serving claims (they'll always be motivated to do that), but by people who play the role of "journalist" on TV and in print acting as their spokespeople, literally suppressing all the reasons why the officials' claims are so questionable if not outright false.

Kudos to the NYT editors for pulling no punches this morning in making all this deceit manifest. But the real culprits aren't the government officials spewing this manipulative tripe but the journalists who not only let them get away with it but, so much worse, eagerly help.



Mass Surveillance Isn't the Answer to Fighting Terrorism
The Editorial Board / The New York Times

NEW YORK (November 17, 2015) -- It's a wretched yet predictable ritual after each new terrorist attack: Certain politicians and government officials waste no time exploiting the tragedy for their own ends. The remarks on Monday by John Brennan, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, took that to a new and disgraceful low.

Speaking less than three days after coordinated terrorist attacks in Paris killed 129 and injured hundreds more, Mr. Brennan complained about "a lot of hand-wringing over the government's role in the effort to try to uncover these terrorists."

What he calls "hand-wringing" was the sustained national outrage following the 2013 revelations by Edward Snowden, a former National Security Agency contractor, that the agency was using provisions of the Patriot Act to secretly collect information on millions of Americans' phone records.

In June, President Obama signed the USA Freedom Act, which ends bulk collection of domestic phone data by the government (but not the collection of other data, like emails and the content of Americans' international phone calls) and requires the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to make its most significant rulings available to the public.

These reforms are only a modest improvement on the Patriot Act, but the intelligence community saw them as a grave impediment to antiterror efforts. In his comments Monday, Mr. Brennan called the attacks in Paris a "wake-up call," and claimed that recent "policy and legal" actions "make our ability collectively, internationally, to find these terrorists much more challenging."

It is hard to believe anything Mr. Brennan says. Last year, he bluntly denied that the CIA had illegally hacked into the computers of Senate staff members conducting an investigation into the agency's detention and torture programs when, in fact, it did.

In 2011, when he was President Obama's top counterterrorism adviser, he claimed that American drone strikes had not killed any civilians, despite clear evidence that they had. And his boss, James Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence, has admitted lying to the Senate on the NSA's bulk collection of data. Even putting this lack of credibility aside, it's not clear what extra powers Mr. Brennan is seeking.

Most of the men who carried out the Paris attacks were already on the radar of intelligence officials in France and Belgium, where several of the attackers lived only hundreds of yards from the main police station, in a neighborhood known as a haven for extremists.

As one French counterterrorism expert and former defense official said, this shows that "our intelligence is actually pretty good, but our ability to act on it is limited by the sheer numbers." In other words, the problem in this case was not a lack of data, but a failure to act on information authorities already had.

In fact, indiscriminate bulk data sweeps have not been useful. In the more than two years since the NSA's data collection programs became known to the public, the intelligence community has failed to show that the phone program has thwarted a terrorist attack. Yet for years intelligence officials and members of Congress repeatedly misled the public by claiming that it was effective.

The intelligence agencies' inability to tell the truth about surveillance practices is just one part of the problem. The bigger issue is their willingness to circumvent the laws, however they are written. The Snowden revelations laid bare how easy it is to abuse national-security powers, which are vaguely defined and generally exercised in secret.

Listening to Mr. Brennan and other officials, like James Comey, the head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, one might believe that the government has been rendered helpless to defend Americans against the threat of future terror attacks.

Mr. Comey, for example, has said technology companies like Apple and Google should make it possible for law enforcement to decode encrypted messages the companies' customers send and receive. But requiring that companies build such back doors into their devices and software could make those systems much more vulnerable to hacking by criminals and spies.

Technology experts say that government could just as easily establish links between suspects, without the use of back doors, by examining who they call or message, how often and for how long.

In truth, intelligence authorities are still able to do most of what they did before -- only now with a little more oversight by the courts and the public. There is no dispute that they and law enforcement agencies should have the necessary powers to detect and stop attacks before they happen.

But that does not mean unquestioning acceptance of ineffective and very likely unconstitutional tactics that reduce civil liberties without making the public safer.

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

back

 

 

Stay Connected
Sign up to receive our weekly updates. We promise not to sell, trade or give away your email address.
Email Address:
Full Name:
 

 

Search Environmentalists Against War website

 

Home | Say NO! To War | Action! | Information | Media Center | Who We Are