Thursday, June 6, 2013

Cue next hysteria eruption (updated)

You know the drill. We've been here many times before. Information surfaces that President Obama or someone in his administration did something that sounds terrible. The media gasps and runs with it. A massive outbreak of hysteria ensues and the next thing you know the ideologues think they have proof that Obama is worse than Bush/Nixon (take your pick).

But we've seen this happen so many times before - only to later learn that there's more to the story. When things calm down its the hysteria mongers who are left with egg all over their faces (yes, I'm looking at folks like you Jonathan Karl).

The latest scandal monger just so happens to be the infamous Glenn Greenwald. So we should be doubly forewarned to take a few deep breaths before launching into OMG!!! territory. He is basically reporting on a subpoena that he got access to that requires a telephone company to turn over its "metadata" to the NSA.

So of course, even folks like BooMan are clutching their pearls about the government getting access to information about all of our telephone calls. is a record of every American Verizon user's calls, texts, emails, and locations of where those messages were sent from and received.
Not so fast BooMan. Yes, its true that Greenwald reported that it was Verizon's records that were subpoenaed. But if you look at the actual document, it was Verizon Business Network Services that was covered under the subpoena - not Verizon Communications. I haven't read every report on this story, but so far the New York Times seems to be the only one reporting on this distinction.
Verizon Business Network Services is one of the nation’s largest telecommunications and Internet providers for corporations.
This likely requires some further investigation - but it should put to rest any idea that the administration is looking into the Verizon call records of every American.

Other cautions about the hysteria erupting over this story were noted by Joshua Foust. Last night he wrote "Nine Dashed-Off Points on the NSA 'Scandal.'" You should read the whole thing, but here are the two I found the most informative:
4. The NSA, despite the broad nature of its warrant request, did nothing illegal, and the supposed illegality of the FISC procedure has not been demonstrated.

5. The information the NSA is collecting is metadata, not content (like a wiretap), and not account names. Uncovering personally identifiable information would require separate warrants to do so. This was a pattern analysis, not really mass surveillance as we traditionally understand it.
There are certainly privacy questions that are raised here. But as I wrote a couple of months ago, the whole concept of privacy needs some discussion in this technological era. For example, did you know that unless you have taken specific steps to block it, just by visiting this blog, you have given me your location, IP address, what posts you clicked on, what article referred you here and how long you visited? All of that information about visitors is available to you too at the little green button over to the right labelled "Site Meter." That's exactly the same kind of information this NSA subpoena requested on phone records. And its one little tiny bit of the kinds of information available on most anyone that surfs the internet or uses a "smart phone."

So my advice is to take a few breaths and let this story unfold. My guess is that once all of the information on this one gets out, Mr. Greenwald will once again wind up with a pretty good dose of egg on his face.

UPDATE: If you want to see a real professional investigative reporter take on Glenn Greenwald about this topic, check out this exchange between he and Al Giordano a few years ago. Here's my favorite line from Al:
Hey Glenn: being an accusatory asshole doesn't make you a better journalist. It's turning you - and some other coreligionists of your crusade - into the very kind of apparatchik that brought us the FISA bill to begin with.


  1. Great post, SP. Glenn Greenwald is an ambulance chaser posing under the guise of a journalist.

    Per Talking Points Memo this morning, a key point of this subpoena is that it came 4 days after the Boston Marathon bombing...

    1. I saw that. Its speculation that might have some merit. I thought about including it but decided that it would be best to wait and see how that info plays out.

  2. Thanks, yet again for being a voice of reason.

  3. Turned on the TV briefly this morning to see all the networks having major meltdowns over this. All I could think was, "This is news"?

    We've known for years that the NSA has been vacuuming up this kind of communications metadata. We've grown kind of used to it (arguments about whether we should or not are completely valid). But the way this was being covered in the few minutes I attended to it made it sound like this was THE MOST SHOCKING DEVELOPMENT IN THE HISTORY OF THE UNIVERSE.

    I think the media has gotten into a mode where they desperately want there to be some negative story of this sort about the Obama administration and are therefore going to leap on the least hint of it as if it were evidence that Obama was a secret puppet-master who has visions of becoming the next Hugo Chavez or something.

  4. Think Progress has a factual timeline of info but does not address the distinction that this is the Verizon Business Network. I will tweet them your article.

    They note Sen. Feinstein saying this program has been going on for 7 years.

    "During a press conference, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) said that the order the Guardian obtained is “the exact three-month renewal” of program underway for the past seven years. “It’s called protecting America,” she said. Asked if other phone companies are giving similar data to NSA, the senators said, “We can’t answer that.”

  5. The other thing I find very odd is how many of these supposed scandals are being "leaked" at the same time. Who leaked to Rosen and Greenwald? All of the "Scandals" seem to have been known about for quite some time and often by GOP in congress.

    1. hello are echoing my thoughts

  6. In 2003 I got a phone call from someone posing as a reporter (I checked. NOT true.) Said person knew the entire content of an entirely private email conversation among my Board members concerning FBI over-reach in demanding the contents of Muslim sermons. This person demanded of ME that I give over the names and addresses of all Board members. I refused. Given the timing I seriously doubt that even had the discussion been the least threatening which it was not, there was no time for a warrant.

    Having records without names, content, etc. - metadata - is not at all the same thing, and having them WITH a warrant is how our system works. Thank you for telling us all that this is not about our personal communications but is about business records, and thank you more for reminding us that those records - freely obtained by a for-profit business each time a call is made - are not the issue of what is 'private'. Not going after our content, identities, etc., means this administration has already, hands down, not tried to screw any of us as the previous one already tried to do in 2003 to me and my organization. I am happy with the difference.

  7. They've been doing this for over seven years and Congress as recently as last year reauthorized it for another 5 years. Two Senators that head the Intelligence Committee said this isn't new.

    Sounds like the media got played again.

  8. ...and media misses the obvious...casting aspersions at those doing legal things legally when it's the law that they have a problem with.

  9. The current "media" is a misnomer...there are very few if any real investigative journalists attached to the msm. The msm is simply a mouthpiece for their corporate owners. They didn't "miss" anything...they are simply following directions. Misdirection and disinformation campaigns are all the msm knows how to do any more.

    It's certainly not a place to find facts.