There’s no problem whatsoever with the U.K.’s Guardian reporting the leaked Verizon court order, engaging with Mr. Snowden, and publishing the known details about that NSA program, as well as PRISM. It is not in committing an act of premeditated journalism that such an august publication entered the realm of self-aggrandizing hyperbole. The journalism is the job. It was in the additional editorializing of the lead reporter in telling us exactly how “indiscriminate” the NSA program was. Such characterization jumps past the known into the argumentative, and actually undercuts the fundamental journalism. The NSA program involves a great amount of phone data, but it has by no means been proven indiscriminate.
And while we have, leaked to us, the court order signed by a federal judge authorizing a re-up of that ongoing program, what we have not seen thus far is the affidavits of the counter-terrorism investigators explaining exactly the goals and uses of that phone data, or the proscribed methodology in which it was to be used or not used. We do not know how discriminating the actual program actually is. Judging from the public comments from NSA officials thus far, there is an argument that the use of this data, as authorized by the judge, is limited to a specific national security function.
So I have said as much. And in doing so, and knowing that I had left something unpleasant in the punch bowl at the Guardian‘s party, I sat back to wait for the inevitable. It arrives today in the form of an essay by a gentleman by the name of Shirky — the name is almost Dickensian, given the ensuing performance — who tells me how wrong I am about things. Remarkably, he does so by rounding my positions into something less or something more than they actually are. It is actually quite astonishing.
Mr. Shirky: “Simon imagines that NSA capabilities can be guessed at by extrapoliting from the capabilities of the Baltimore police force in the 1980s. They can’t.”
Actually, Simon did exactly nothing of the sort. That would be a silly thing for anyone to attempt, and to no apparent purpose. No, Simon only used an analogy of a Baltimore wiretap case to show that the acquisition of phone metadata — even from phones that will yield data from thousands of innocent citizens — has been deemed constitutionally legal for decades now. The example was about legal precedent and the status of metadata before and after 9-11. The example had nothing whatsoever to do with NSA capabilities. It exists instead to point out that the legal basis for the NSA program is not unique to national security issues or to the war on terror, but has its legal origins in decades of ordinary law enforcement.
Mr. Shirky: “Simon’s last year as a working reporter was 1995; what else has changed since he got out of the journalism racket? First computational power….so how many ‘computer runs’ can the NSA do, asks Simon…the NSA has at a conversative guess, a trillion times more computing power than the Baltimore police…”
Ah yes, the rush to ad hominem. Simon can’t understand what computers can do, ergo he has no place to opine. Except, that’s not really of issue in anything I posted either. From Simon: “The scale is extraordinary; it’s global. But of course, these are proactive investigations into global terror and technological capabilities now make such investigative efforts possible. And still, regardless of scale, the ethical and legal argument is the same…”
It’s apparent that I am entirely aware of the extraordinary computing power of the NSA. Indeed, it is in this brave new world of supercomputing that any investigator could have the slightest hope of, say, obtaining a terror suspect’s mobile phone number and, with a data base of the entire U.S. call history intact, run that number and acquire actual connections to potential co-conspirators, and even have a shot at a real-time contact or two before the cell phone was dumped and the number lost. That is indeed astonishing. Obviously, as I acknowledged throughout everything I’ve written, the capacity for such a model as a proactive anti-terror tool is significant, just as the capacity for misuse of such data is significant.
And in asking how many computer runs NSA can do, here is the full phrase in my essay: “…because that is tens of billions of phone calls and for the love of god, how many agents do you think the FBI has? How many computer-runs do you think the NSA can do?”
Obviously, I am not walking away from my initial acknowledgment of the NSA’s computing power, or even merely calculating computing time or capacity. No, I am asking a much larger question about the human resources involved in doing the resulting police work — just in case anyone thinks that the FBI and NSA is maintaining this data base in order to fish about for fresh domestic targets. The computer run is the fast part; assessing the data, analyzing it and then investigating it involves most of the man-hours. Using the data for purposes of investigation — whether a proper investigation, or one predicated on the violation of civil rights — is what takes time. It uses more than technological capability, but the time and bodies of a finite number of counter-terror investigators and other human assets. And in saying so, I’m not oblivious to technology, I’m asking readers to consider rationally the probability of these agencies being used to fish for domestic targets using this particular data base. After all, if they want to target someone domestically, the FBI can lay hands on the same metadata without jeopardizing this unique counter-terror program; as we said earlier, this stuff hasn’t been subject to Fourth Amendment requirements of a warrant in decades. It’s there for the taking, with or without this program.
It’s no wonder that Mr. Shirky would ignore the manpower portion of my statement, given that his required purpose is apparently to carve from my actual person an ink-stained anachronism of a old-fart reporter who doesn’t understand that the NSA has vast and powerful computers, when indeed, my argument is simply that the human resources for American intelligence and countert-terror are not infinite. And every computer run generates workload.
Indeed, for a very precise argument about the specific purpose and utilization of this data base — and also the likely arguments that investigators offered to the FISA court as to the need to create the national data base of phone metadata in advance of individual subpeonas for information — refer to the following, previous post:
I’m willing to venture that even from the technological dinosaur as I am supposed to be, there is, in that post, more detail and specifics about the real-time interactions of the data in terms of counter-terrorism than has yet been addressed in Mr. Shirky’s essaying, or in a good deal of the mainstream coverage as a whole. The argument here isn’t a function of anyone being dumbfounded by fresh technology or computer capacity. No, the new potentialities and risks of extraordinary technological capacity is the given in this debate. Instead, the core issue of contention here is firmly rooted in conflict between the actual needs of real-time, proactive counter-terror and legitimate constitutional concerns about privacy and telephonic communications. And into that, Mr. Shirky dips not a blessed toe, except to chronicle and depict the possibilities for misuse. The actual viability of the tool, and the practical and justifiable real-time uses that might convince all three branches of American government to approve such a project — that can’t be mentioned. In a debate in which individual liberty and collective responsibility, personal privacy and national security are in necessary conflict, let’s address liberty and privacy only.
Mr. Shirky, again: “Simon construes constitutional protection from government intrusion as controls against human listening in on phone calls or reading messages. But much of the new data created is metadata – data about people and their communication patterns – and metadata alone is often enough to create a real breach of privacy.”
Jesus, man. Simon doesn’t construe a damn thing. The U.S. Supreme Court does. Simon: “And in the Baltimore case, and in many other cases before and after it, the working logic was that the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled that there is no expectation of privacy for phone caller data — what numbers you called, when you called them, from where, and for what duration. Because contractually, you as the phone user share this data with your phone carrier — a third party — the expectation of privacy has long been held to be minimal and has since Jimmy Carter was president.”
That’s U.S. law for the last thirty years, a series of legal precedents that have zero to do with the war on terror or national security, that originate in ordinary law enforcement and remain intact for application in NSA’s FISA affidavit. The constitutional controls are protection against the most invasive electronic intercepts, which are indeed those that allow the government to acquire content. But throughout everything else published on this, Simon hasn’t suggested for a moment that metadata is without investigative value, or that its acquisition isn’t a lesser, yet relevant intrusion on privacy. Of course it is; why else would an investigator ever seek phone records or use a DNR otherwise? And that’s why the release of such requires at least a court order. Since when is my pointing out that some content is more invasive and therefore more subject to constitutional protection an implication that law enforcement can’t learn things from metadata? But again, if they want those records, they’ve got them easily enough, and through the usual channels. The FBI does not need this data base to target anyone domestically and obtain, use or misuse phone data. Those court orders aren’t wiretap warrants, compared to which they damn near write themselves.
Mr. Shirky, for the final time: “Simon’s argument that we should trust the NSA to respect American’s privacy without much in the way of public oversight may carry the day…but he is wrong to suggest – and no one on any side of the debate should believe – that the NSA’s powers are anything less than extraordinary.
Strike four. I did not say “we should trust the NSA to respect American’s (sic) privacy without much in the way of public oversight.”
I said pretty much the opposite. And I have been saying so repeatedly in all forums. My argument, however, goes not to the belief that the viable, legitimate uses for this technology can be eschewed by society, or even that misuse is not likely to occur at points. Every law enforcement asset is subject to use and misuse. No, my argument goes directly to the corruption of process in the FISA establishment’s overwhelming secrecy. Repeatedly, I write that the FISA process needs to be opened up, and subjected to independent and aggressive oversight.
Simon: “Having the FISA courts rulings so hidden from citizen review, makes even the discovery of such misuse problematic. The internal review of that court’s rulings needs to be somehow aggressive and independent, while still preserving national security secrets.”
And then, in yesterday’s post, I actually got detailed and even a bit prescriptive: “This is where this current controversy can allow us to take a legitimate stand to protect our privacy. In fact, I think the overwhelming secrecy of the FISA process is untenable and damaging to law enforcement’s own case… secrecy at this level is inevitably going to lead to the misuse of any law enforcement asset. The FISA process needs to be opened up; that’s the real reform here. Not denying ourselves our own technology for an actual societal goal, but creating a framework to prevent the misuse of that technology.”
“There needs to be some independent review, some independent oversight of the FISA court, while at the same time maintaining the secrecy for national security purposes. Just spit-balling, but how about a FISA review panel comprised of law school deans, some civil liberties advocates, a couple former U.S. senators, etc. All of the them carefully vetted for national security clearance. Give an independent panel the charge of reviewing all of the FISA rulings and proceedings and issuing a periodic report to the intelligence committees and the White House. The cover sheet of that report, without referencing specific casework or national security programming, provides an overall assessment of FISA performance with regard to civil liberties and privacy issues…now, at least, independent eyes are on the process and there is, in effect, a report card that all those law school deans and civil rights attorneys will stand behind if the shit hits the fan.”
Surely, from all of the above, it’s gross mischaracterization to say Simon’s arguing “we should trust” the NSA. Not after all that.
So there you have it. That’s every single reference to me or my alleged arguments in Mr. Shirky’s brief essay. There isn’t one I omitted, meaning every single time this fellow brought me up, he either mangled or balkanized or obscured my actual language and/or intent.
Listen, there’s a lot of important stuff to debate and discuss here, and again, while I believe Mr. Snowdon has done some uncertain amount of damage to meaningful counter-terror assets, it is clear, too, that he has created a window in which important debate can now and should now occur. But not if we give ourselves over, as Mr. Shirky has apparently given himself over, to manufacturing opponents that we can more easily vanquish. There are real and substantive arguments that those on all sides of this debate need to confront. I don’t know if this gentleman is capable of doing better, but I know that the Guardian — if it wishes to be instrumental in the serious debate on these issues, and not merely a home for whatever voices will do whatever necessary to aggrandize and magnify the actual meaning and relevance of the paper’s reporting — needs to raise its game. This was embarrassing.
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You did an on-camera interview with the guardian In Sydney, Nov. 2013, where you stated that you don’t think the next century will be an American one. what did you mean by that exactly?
As it sounds. Unlike the American experience in the 20th Century we are no longer institutionally capable of recognizing or acting on our problems. We have become a second-rate society.
Thanks for responding so quickly. It really means a lot! And hopefully we can turn things around soon, because second-rate is just unacceptable 🙂
Sorry to jump back to an older post than the one I commented on earlier, but I am trying to catch up, and to abosrb what you’re saying. It is truly fascinating stuff.
This just jumped out at me:
“There’s no problem whatsoever with the U.K.’s Guardian reporting the leaked Verizon court order, engaging with Mr. Snowden, and publishing the known details about that NSA program, as well as PRISM.”
You said this to me the other day:
“You seem to really want me to affirm Mr. Snowden’s behavior and actions. I can’t do that. I can catalogue negative consequences from what he has done, albeit I am unsure just how negative, as I am not close enough to state secrets to know the value of all…”
You also said something about the “damage” that he’s done. Do those comments square with the opening to this post? Sincerely asked, without accusation. (And I ask it because it speaks to the complaint I made that you are using a technical straw from this bale to downplay the entire bale.)
I do not endorse what Mr. Snowden has done. I believe, however, that there are both bad and good results from his action. The bad is that national security assets were compromised, to what extent is yet unclear, and may not be clear from our perspective. We can only guess being on the outside of the secrets and the knowledge base of our adversaries both. The good is that he has provoked a discussion about the overall dynamic between national security and civil liberties issues.
Apart from that, looking at the Guardian‘s role, its job is to report accurately. I have no problem with them dealing with Mr. Snowden when he comes to them as a source, and reporting on the facts that he gave them. At that point, the secret is no longer going to be such for very long, given that a source with documents is contacting media outlets to have that information made public. Cat’s out of the bag and the news is going to be the news, if not in the Guardian then in other publications and broadcasts. Whether they should have withheld some reportage suggestive of the methodology of the NSA programs is a debate that may have happened within the newspaper, I can’t know. It’s certainly a discussion worth having, but the call was theirs. If they looked at it and decided the public’s right to know outweighed their assessment of the counter-terror value, then they were the only ones to make that call. Certainly not the government.
A newspaper’s purpose is to independently report. That’s an ethical role distinct from any consideration of Mr. Snowden’s motivations. Lots of people talk to reporters for many reasons; using their material isn’t necessarily an endorsement of every source’s agenda or action. And had Mr. Greenwald not advanced his advocacy beyond the reported facts, I’d have no complaint at all about the journalistic performance. It was the extra dollop of hype that left the facts behind and created the scare-tactic circus that overwhelmed more substantive issues here — that’s where I had to step off the boat.
Everybody has a different code here. That may produce contradictory actions, or symbiotic ones. But nothing quoted above is at all inconsistent, if you understand the place of the journalist in a free society. At least I don’t think so.
Good answer. Thanks for the reply.
I’m going to reread your back-and-forth about “indiscriminate,” because I’m still not getting it. Although I do understand at least to some extent your comment about it being counter-intuitive on first glance. More to read…
If I am the editor of the piece and I sincerely want to stir the “No they didn’t!” pot I TOTALLY bank on “indiscriminate’ as the very best way to do so. And they did.
It’s sooooooo fucking obvious that the usage was for THAT intent. I think it’s shameful. It’s pathetic. It. was.the. wrong. word.
Especially if they were actually trying to build credibility. And isn’t that what REAL reporting does? Just by standing on it’s own? REPORTING. As far as reporting goes the entire tone (which is NOT surprising given Greenwald’s record) is so over the top advocacy/sound the alarms/grab your fucking gun Annie that I was put off from start.
Fucking a. Where ever this “story” goes next let’s hope that “brave” Glenn gets an editor less interested in be “Gawked” about.
In a comment below Mr. Simon says this:
“If they’re really going to use this data to investigate all of America and violate our privacy en masse, then it would be indiscriminate.”
He is of course putting this forward as an impossibility, or maybe it’s more precise to say that he puts this forward *in such a way* that it’s an impossibility – and I just do not understand why. He has said in numerous places since the start of this conversation that the program could be abused, and one has to assume he means, perhaps in a slightly differently worded way, that it could be abused in the way he says above re violation of privacy. If that’s the case, and if that abuse occurs, then it would by his statement quoted here mean he believes the use of the word “indiscriminate” is correct.
My problem is giving the government the benefit of the doubt with the “if” on this.
It never occurred to me that The Wire was created by a Bush + Obama + status quo cheerleader. Treme, either. Makes the shows a lot more… sinister in intent, in retrospect. And it looks like you’re really planting your stakes into the argument that a government that has shown no qualms about assassinating its own citizens or holding them indefinitely without charging them with anything won’t use this program to do more of the same. Hitler just acquired a nuclear weapon in the middle of WW2 and you’re rolling your eyes and telling everybody to calm down.
From “holocaust in slow-motion” to “There’s NO way the government will abuse this program!! Hyperbole!! *shakes fist at Greenwald in jealousy*” What a schizophrenic month for you. Are you being forced to spew this propaganda? Is the NSA holding your family hostage if you don’t become their little cheerleader/mascot? Do we need to frame the issue in terms of its potential application in the War on Drugs to get you to care at all? Or you support that war too, now? These blog posts make me feel like I’m reading the last paragraph of 1984…
You’re working backward. Try, just try considering the idea that the ideas matter. That arguing to the man, and what you think he should believe on a given issue, is a collapse of all human logic into a mudpile of half-assed fallacy. Sorry to mess with your desire to address me as an ideological totem first, and the arguments themselves not at all.
What I believe about different government policies suggests that I believe the goals of those programs — stated and otherwise — differ.
And you make yourself useless to any serious debate when you simply lie: “There is NO way the government will abuse this program. Hyperbole.” I have never said such. In fact, I’ve suggested the opposite and incorporated in my overall argument. There’s no way debate rank dishonesty, sorry.
Following on from this quote you gave when testifying before a Senate hearing on the “Future of Journalism”, can I ask if you are offended that an amateur with no training has scooped every traditional trained journalist in the USA on one of the biggest stories of the past decade? Could it be that the offense caused contributes to your insistence on drawing attention to small failings of the reporter, rather than the rampant lies of those shown to have been withholding information from the public?
I stand firmly behind you in your argument that there is no replacement for well paid, well trained journalists to hold those institutions to account. However, in their absence, while they’re all chowing down at the correspondents dinner, should we not applaud someone who tries, as best they can, to fill the void?
I’ve never been to the correspondent’s dinner. How rubber is the chicken?
Again, I’ve expressed no displeasure with the leak. The Guardian and Mr. Greenwald did the job with that.
The headless-chicken interpretation of what that Verizon court order does and does not represent? Yeah, that was unprofessional overreach and editorially unjustified. They took away from the accomplishment and damaged their credibility there. At least with me. As to the need for governmental oversight. That Simon fellow has a good point, which is why I value the leak itself. The target here should be the secrecy of the FISA process, not a datapile that actually has a legitimate argument behind it. Do you think, Chris, if you shape the same argument another ten ways, I will change my mind here?
You’re no longer a journalist, and I would never suggest you would go to the correspondents dinner, even when you were.
I’ve been invited several times, I admit. But every time, I needed to de-worm my dog on that very night.
I agree, the secrecy and failings of FISA is paramount, however that level of secrecy has been accepted by an ill informed senate for many years, with no will amongst them or the public to rectify it.
The revelation of the data pile is what has “astounded” senators (in their words) so that we might see something done, if we complain loudly enough, rather than subdue the outrage, as you’re attempting, then we might see meaningful reform of FISA.
Wrong, Chris, wrong.
Outrage over bullshit has a short public shelf life. Outrage over the right thing, focused on the right thing — now there you stand a chance of accomplishing something. Treat the datapile for what it likely is and what it isn’t. Take the present moment to secrecy and FISA. This much secrecy is actually even damaging to the credibility of legit counter-terror programming, and unworkable in a democracy. FISA is the key, and FISA is the part of the process where more Americans, once they come to understand the actual purposes and plausibility of what the government is claiming for the datapile, will stay with the argument.
And talk about selecting a strawman to strike down. Here–from Gawker no less–is the real challenge you should be trying to rise to. Because this states well the real embarassing scandal of your original post:
“Oddly enough, the cynics on this story reside in the ultra-establishment. They are the journalists and pundits who feel compelled to demonstrate their own sophistication by dismissing these revelations as old hat (though documented proof of these programs has never been seen before). They are those who have grown so inured to the gross overreach of government power that they can no longer conceive of it as scandalous. They prefer to comfort the NSA, and afflict the leaker. They are people like Jeffrey Toobin, at The New Yorker, who calls Snowden “a grandiose narcissist who deserves to be in prison,” and adds:…
“Sure, except for the fact that it has never happened before, it is logical. (Millennials!) There’s also David Simon, the creator of The Wire, who manages to compare this all to— surprise— law enforcement in Baltimore, and dismisses this unprecedented disclosure as a “faux-scandal” about the “Same old stuff.” And there’s Andrew Sullivan, the Blogger Most Likely to Appear on Sunday Talk Shows, who adds in his wide-eyed way that “I, like Simon, am actually impressed by the government’s efficacy in exploring these electronic trails and patterns.”
I’m supposed to give a shit about someone who rather than address a single shard of any argument that I make, a single morsel of actual content, occupies himself with a paragraph of argumentum ad hominem. It isn’t what David Simon argues or thinks or contends. It’s who David Simon is and what his standing is in this fight.
Get it through your head: It isn’t who I am or where you think I should stand. And it isn’t who Mr. Greenwald is or where I might think he should stand. It’s the facts and their actual context. Seriously, fuck anyone who thinks that my job is to be a totem for any ideoligical or partisan or group-think prime directive. I came to this to assess fact and context of fact. I did. I stand where I do. I think it is the correct place to stand. That is all.
I would like to simply say that I am glad that Mr. Simon has engaged the commentary that has come even to this point. I predict it will end soon because some people just want to “have-at-it” themselves in a “debate” contest with him instead of really trying to advance the conversation.
For what it’s worth Mr. Simon I hope you don’t stop (even though it looks exhausting) promoting THIS KIND of dialogue. Whether you know it or not/care or not you are promoting JUST the kind of conversation we need. Not just in your posts/”Q” and A but by answering the masses. Whether they should be answered or not. I came to this whole issue not looking to find your blog. But damn I’m glad I did.
Keep on man. You’re REALLY doing something here that is WAY bigger (in MANY ways) than the issue at hand.
And good on ya!!!
Talk about “ad hominem”. You say: “Gawker? Really?” as your opening? And by the way, ad hominem personal attack is usually closely associated with throwing around F-bombs and telling this person and that to to “F-ck Off” as well as with repeatedly insinuating that others just don’t or can’t ‘get’ your argument.
There are three simple points to make or reiterate about your non-response to the point that _Gawker_ (yes! Gawker) makes pretty well:
1. It is you who started with ad hominem–except directed toward _The Guardian_’s vital reporting on this story. That is why your original piece struck a pose of being non-plussed: suggesting the revelations were non-revelations; saying that it was all just being whipped up by a “bloviating” media (with the only two examples given being _The Guardian_ and Greenwald); etc. I do commend you for later lessening some of that misplaced tone. But it was never the case that your first post was professing that the problem with _The Guardian’s_ non-revelations was that they were attached to wild editorializing.
2. I hate to tell you but, *media* reaction–including the reaction in the blogosphere by prominent individuals like yourself–constitutes a slice of reality. The point the _Gawker_ piece makes very well is that there has been a very *prominent* streak of reaction by media and public intellectuals/figures that (predictably) has acted as if _The Guardian_ has revealed nothing new. Such reaction is cowardly and whether by design or effect functions exactly as does ad hominem: namely, to discredit or dismiss otherwise quite important revelations. I’ll end again with _Gawker_ (Yes, Gawker! and the fact that even so lowbrow a source as they can make such a diagnosis should be regarded, if anything, only as a testament to how disappointing reactions like your initial one were). In a way perfectly apt as an observation about your “We are Shocked” post, the same _Gawker_ piece I originally provided the URL for notes,: “And they all, in one form or another, express the idea that this stuff is unworthy of our concern because, hey, smart people like them already knew (er, assumed) this stuff was going on.”
3. I don’t think anyone was asking you to be a “totem” for anything. So you need not ask for others to “get” that message “through their head.” I suppose you might like to think that others are making such requests of you. But not so.
Sincerely, you don’t have a full understanding of argumentum ad hominem. It absolutely doesn’t require insult, or profanity or even a negative assessment of anyone. All it requires is an assessment — positive, negative, neutral — of the man (hominem) making the argument, his position, his affiliations or his or her background in lieu of the argument itself. That’s all it requires to work as a logical fallacy. It speaks to the man and not to the argument itself. The Gawker piece you sent to me is entirely, exactly that.
At the same time, I will grant you that my comment about Gawker as a whole, while not ad hominem, is closely related as another comparable fallacy of rhetorical logic. I have asked you to consider an institutional source and its overall record, and of course, any source can be correct on any occasion, regardless of how often they have been incorrect or insubstantial in the past. You are correct, only the quality of Gawker’s argument matters. However, again, in this instance — ipso facto — Gawker’s argument is fucking useless. But I agree, that website’s very next attempt at substantive debate could be a crowning achievement of intellectual rigor and logic. I suppose, as with everything else, it will bear watching. But probably not by me.
Wow! So now we also can’t grasp the complex concept of ad hominem. Really?
Again: the _Gawker_ piece is hardly ad hominem. Its argument is what I paraphrased: namely, that there has been a prominent streak of media/intellectual reaction that has said, more or less, “These are non-revelations.” Since we live in a overall intellectual and political climate such reaction is hardly insignificant. It is a crucial part of ‘the discourse.’ You, however, *continue* in the same ad hominem tone. You can’t *deal* with the point they actually make. Instead you give another misplaced ‘lesson about “another fallacy of rhetorical logic”–namely, about evaluating a source’s past record. And you do this only to in some way you think is clever again engage in ad hominem attack on ***the Gawker piece*** the URL links to.
Finally, let me reiterate something I said in my reply (“On Strawmen 2″): no one is praising _Gawker_ as the source of the gospel. The fact that the particular piece the URL is for is capable of making the substantive point it does is less a comment on _Gawker_ writers being Einsteins than it is on how readily apparent a point it is. Therefore, it takes some real talent to *miss* that point–as did your original post. Here, by the way, is another equally apparent observation (though not one that I’m accusing you of in any way): the response that will or that is unfolding in the intellectual culture by which Edward Snowden will be dismissed through psychoanalyzing him will be/is disappointing. Would you disagree with that? If not, you should hardly be disagreeing that it was disappointing (and cowardly) to react to Greenwald and _The Guardian’s_ initial leaks by casting them as ‘non-revelations’ the likes of which we all knew already.
(that has a particular substantive argument that it would seem *you* are incapable of understanding ‘the nuance’ of) has been left to argue what it does: well that fact is because the point it makes is so obvious. And so rudimentary. Regardless, it remains a vital point. hetorical fallacy”
One last time, slowly, and then I give up.
Gawker: ‘There’s also David Simon, the creator of The Wire, who manages to compare this all to— surprise— law enforcement in Baltimore, and dismisses this unprecedented disclosure as a “faux-scandal” about the “Same old stuff.”
Me: The signal use of the fact that I covered law enforcement in Baltimore would simply identify my background and could be open to interpretation. The sarcastic signifier of “–surprise — ” purposes the entire phrase as ad hominem. Translation: He covered cops. He likes cops. He likes wiretaps. He’s with the gubmit so he’s cool with all of this and thinks its no big deal. It doesn’t deal with my actual arguments vis a vis the NSA program, or the law, or civil liberties or whatever. It uses my history to imply my motivations for arguing at all. And says nothing more.
If it still eludes, I cannot help. Go with god.
Yeah: of course, no joke. Who said _Gawker_ was above being snarky. But that hardly means the whole of what their post says (or the main part of what it argues) disappears or is lacking in substance. (Again: it did not take Einstein to make the main point they do. But still props to them b/c that point remains very much apt).
It is ironic, to say the least, that you are dissecting their rhetorical stylings in the way you are. This is because you don’t seem ready to hold your own original “We are shocked” post to anything close to that standard. Go back and read it. Go back and check out the image you painted of _The Guardian_ and Glenn Greenwald. And to much more offense than does _Gawker_’s snark do so to you. (Your suggesting Greenwald doesn’t know how to be a journalist is in a context where *many* will be trying to assassinate his and _The Guardian’s_ character or competence in a similar way, predictably).
Lastly: You once more don’t need to “educate” others on what you think eludes them. Since it may be you who are the one with the illusions. Your reading of _Gawker_’s rhetorical styling might be off-base. Does their saying “surprise” mean they are accusing you of being some lapdog for “the cops”? One of their points was that many commentators in the intellectual culture tried to poo pooh Greenwald’s revelations as non-revelations by saying something tantamount to “hey, smart people like [us] already knew this stuff was going on.” Their critique of your post seems to be that your way of communicating that sentiment was by comparing it to what you claim authority about. So perhaps something is eluding you. And Gawker might be snarky (and more often than not awful or bad for our general culture) but you have been pretty consistently condescending.
I think if you go through the comments here on other threads, you’ll find that moments of condescension are replies in kind. And precisely, on this thread, you hoisted up a Gawker item that on its face is nothing if condescending to me directly. That is in fact its exact tone. Did you expect in doing so that I would regard our dialectic as unworthy of a comparable reply?
I didn’t suggest Mr. Greenwald didn’t know how to be anything. I said nothing about Mr. Greenwald other than to say he was hyping his story beyond what his story was and it was wrong. Saying someone is making an error in their performance isn’t saying he doesn’t know how to do the job. And I think the resulting scare-tactic, headless-chicken, they’re-wiretapping-all-of-us reaction deserved every bit of pushback that I wrote. But if I wrote it, it wasn’t personal to Mr. Greenwald or anyone. It’s because I believe what I believe about this.
If I am wrong in my reading of Gawker, then I am wrong. I don’t think so, looking at it. But hey, if they used the sarcastic “–surprise — ” to credit me with some sort of insight, then certainly, they were including me in an article that was, in all other respects and references to other media voices, running exactly the other way. We should end. It is the weekend.
Thank you for your passion and your interest. Genuinely. If it got snide, well, again, you ran Gawker up the flagpole. I mean, dude…
You seem to still be misrepresenting your original post in the way you were forced to after you posted it. From the way you tell it _The Guardian_ was engaging in some wild crazy editorializing, And ho hum you were so flummoxed by this you just had to write. Yet you have never produced much evidence for this. Your original post quoted a few lines from Greenwald’s first story and mischaracterized them. Now you come back with this post and are calling yourself a strawman, leading once more by claiming you communicated no negativity toward _The Guardian_ but only its “irresponsible” editorializing. And then you launch into another instructional post about how your latest interlocutor is missing your nuanced arguments about the larger issue of surveillance.
Let us, however, stop on the first thing you say here–which is your complete mischaracterization of your original post’s tone and feel and actual claims about _The Guardian_
I posted the following over the weekend in response to the “We are Schocked” post. but it never made it on to your comment board. Here it is again. It definitely remains pertinent, especially in relation to what you are now once more misleadingly claiming about your “We are Schocked” post:
(Forgive the re-submission of this post. But I tried entering it as a reply to a string several times and the website is not processing it.) You are being disingenuous about what your original post was about. Overall, in the comments you suggest several times that you have no problem with the “reporting” Glenn Greenwald has done but only his editorializing conclusions. Let us see if this is accurate as to what you said. That should clear up the condescending way in which you keep trying to act as if everyone who disagrees with you is simply missing “nuance” (including your legal expertise) or whether they are responding to the actual thrust of your post.
1. For the moment let’s just stick to the initial story that Greenwald broke. To now say that you had no problem with the “reporting” but only the editorializing within the reporting of that story seems patently disingenuous. Not to mention inaccurate as compared to what your own post says (and much more importantly, as to what it communicates very intentionally.) Just take a look at your words. The one person you mention specifically is Greenwald and the one institution is the Guardian. They are the post on which you hang all your other “bipartisan” indictments of the “bloviating” “entirey” of the “news media” that doesn’t “understand” and that is filled with “wailing jeremiads” amped up needlessly about a “pretend discovery.” If you are or were fine with ‘the reporting’ then which “discovery” is it that is “pretend”? Or is the editorializing within the ‘reporting’ what is ‘pretend’–even though you don’t make that hair splitting terminological distinction in your actual post.
2. Even allowing the missing distinction and even allowing that it is reasonable as to what you intended to communicate, one will be hard-pressed to find the express indictment you make of Greenwald in his piece or for that matter the one thing you quote from him.
2A. You say that he states that “What this court order does that makes it so striking is that it’s not directed at any individual…it’s collecting the phone records of every single customer of Verizon business and finding out every single call they’ve made…it’s indiscriminate and it’s sweeping.” No part of that states the editorial conclusion you attribute to him. It says that “data” is being collected not that content is being parsed and examined (of course we don’t know about the facts of that issue). As we have learned because of Greenwald, the government is collecting the metadata of billions (more?) of phone calls and other communications from countless people through the biggest cell provider in the country for years on end in order to administratively perfect the Bush administration’s policy regime. That is more or less what Greenwald states in your excerpt (and with in a much more spare, fact based way than I have paraphrased it). He also says the gov is doing so ‘indiscriminately’ and in a ‘sweeping’ way. This is also not editorializing in some crazy way but more or less a factual explanation of how this is not focused on any one or specific caller.
2B. Here’s the link to Greenwald’s original story on the Verizon court order. You won’t find anything else in it that comes close to what you are charging (and claiming you were focusing on): http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jun/06/nsa-phone-records-verizon-court-order
And here are some other things from the article that are stated, none coming close to editorializing or to the effect you are claiming:
-“Under the Bush administration, officials in security agencies had disclosed to reporters the large-scale collection of call records data by the NSA, but this is the first time significant and top-secret documents have revealed the continuation of the practice on a massive scale under President Obama.”
-“The order, signed by Judge Roger Vinson, compels Verizon to produce to the NSA electronic copies of “all call detail records or ‘telephony metadata’ created by Verizon for communications between the United States and abroad” or ‘wholly within the United States, including local telephone calls’.”
-“The information is classed as “metadata”, or transactional information, rather than communications, and so does not require individual warrants to access. ”
3. Even if you look at the other reporting *and* edtorializing Greenwald has been doing you still won’t find him saying what you claim.
3A. That same day, June 6, Greenwald and two other penned a news story on the background of the NSA.
3B. On June 7 he contributed to 3 pieces, one of which was an editorial defending whistleblowers (for obvious reasons given the predictable response to his reporting and the bizarrely antagonistic response displayed in your post which only makes it easier to indict him for nothing). He also had another news story on the list for cyberattacks and the other on PRISM. All available at http://www.guardian.co.uk/profile/glenn-greenwald
4. On all the rest–meaning, about your legal argument in opposition to the one you mis-attribute to him (or claim now you were trying to attribute to him)–that is a different matter. And this post is too long to get into. If all you wanted to say was that you feel there is no substantive difference b/w FISA courts rubber stamping surveillance on a mass scale of this type and wiretapping in Baltimore (as far as a.) whether it implicates content and b.) where it stands in relation to “probable cause” doctrine) you are free to say so. I don’t think this is a plausible position to maintain, but very clearly that is besides the point. You were saying much more than just this. And it was irresponsible, in my opinion–most especially, for the way it was denigrating Greenwald. One doesn’t want to say you should close ranks or that you need to define yourself as a ‘progressive’. But for someone who decries the drug war as a war on the poor one would think you’d value solidarity. Or at least enough so to not try to needlesslly and baselessly (see above) make it seem like Glenn Greenwald is irresponsible. This is not the least b/c it is precisely through claiming Greenwald is not a “journalist” (Hey he started as a blogger. Or commentator) that he will be subjected to having the screws turned on him. See the drift of the claims about Julian Assange and wikileaks. See the NY Times cowardly proffering of the same kind of distinction to disavow concern for the “chilling effect” cracking down on whistleblowers will have on ‘journalists’ and their sources.
5. Finally, this is all ironic b/c Greenwald thought long and hard about the reasons for a.) breaking the story with _The Guardian_ rather than just on his own so as to make a stand for non-institutionalized journalists and b.) upon deciding to break the story with _The Guardian_ to do so as a news report rather than as part of his *editorial* column. See his interview with the NY Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/07/business/media/anti-surveillance-activist-is-at-center-of-new-leak.html
If you tried to post commentary on the original essay after that section was closed, it was automatically blocked. I explained elsewhere that we wanted to preserve the tenor of the original back-and-forth of the debate that arose in the commentary and after 48 hours or so, it was time for me to attend to other responsibilities. I have a script that is nearly done and it is a struggle. I’m only one guy.
Here too. This is the longest post thus far and incredibly injudicious with my time and with any sense of how much of your argument I have already answered elsewhere. So, despite the length of what you’ve delivered, I’m going to post it. But understand, on this blog, there are answers — repeatedly — that would address you, if you were willing to accept any answers other than the ones you clearly wish to hear. Nonetheless, I’m going to wade in one more time. After that, do not send back another treatise rearguing the same stuff, please. I have a life.
That said, every single one of your numbered points involves a fallacy of logic. You’ve tangled what I’ve actually said into inconsistencies within your own rhetoric.
1. There is no revision whatsoever in my first post. None. I began to write it after reading on Huff Post about Mr. Greenwald making the rounds and declaring of the NSA data gathering that “it’s indiscriminate and it’s sweeping.” Knowing what I know about phone metadata, about the methodology of the NSA puzzle-palace, and reading in turn what congressional sources and others were saying, there was — and is — a legitimate argument for why, in fact, this might be the most discriminate use of such data, doing the least amount of damage to the privacy and civil liberties of individual Americans. To understand that, of course, you need to remain calm and think, because it is just a bit counter-intuitive. But if they are building a haystack to hunt the needle, then building the biggest haystack they can so that they are not in any way individualizing Americans, or actually investigating any American’s phone calls humanly, or identifying any Americans within the data pile is actually less intrusive, and less violate of civil liberties than if they are, in fact, trying to isolate anyone specific. Remember, this data has never — ever — had Fourth Amendment protections of privacy. And if the government wants to use it to harrass or attack individual Americans, then it is readily obtainable by the FBI through ordinary domestic channels. They’ve already got it if they want it on an individual basis. So why ask for everything en masse — including fourteen year olds and grandmas and farmers in Ames, Iowa — unless, Occam’s razor — they are actually doing what they told the FISA judge they are doing. They are making a huge haystack of all data — and not doing any human investigation of any American. They are creating a dormant pile of phone data — undifferentiated to all government investigators — and then, when they get a number linked to terror, they are running it through the pile. And only when they establish contact and connect, then and only then do they begin an investigation of any resident or citizen. If true, this is, in fact, the least indiscriminate intrusion into the privacy of American citizens that the government could undertake while still utilizing the telephonic intercept capabilities of its counter-terror program. The program not only makes sense to me, but I see that the actual attention by the government’s phone records to any individual American’s phone records has been minimized by the very size and anonymity of the haystack. And it is that argument, I believe, that would lead any sensate federal judge to sign a court order and allow that datapile to be built. Could the data be misused? Of course! But again, when they want phone metadata to abuse someone or violate someone’s privacy, it is readily obtainable by any FBI agent on the most minimal cause. These are not wiretaps. They have no constitutional protections. The court orders just about write themselves anyway. Why would they risk the possible exposure of this top-secret FISA program when they can grab individual phone metadata in the time it takes to fax a rote court order to any ordinary U.S. judge. The sum of all the Guardian’s fears makes no fucking sense, even if we presuppose government malevolence. So I read Mr. Greenwald’s declaration that this was “indiscriminate and sweeping” and I thought, no, actually, it’s the opposite in actual practice. And if presented to the FISA court as I believe it was presented, there was sufficient logic and respect for the actual privacy of individual Americans for that court order to be signed. All of that underlies my first post. And all of that is unassailed by the Guardian’s reporting thus far, and in fact corroborated by what more has come out about this program in the days since. I wrote nothing to say that Mr. Greenwald was at fault for reporting the Verizon court order or dealing with Mr. Snowden. That is his job. No, I was specific and consistent. He hyped the court order and scared the shit out of Americans, when in fact if they thought for a minute about what the metadata in this vast a quantity actually means, and the investigative technique to which the data is limited, they wouldn’t, for the most part, give a shit. This is goddamned true. And so I opined. In this first item, you have inaccurately equivocated between my unwillingness to criticize any reporter for delivering fact and new information to the public and my direct criticism of Mr. Greenwald for having an editorial agenda that either failed to assess good, sound investigative reasons for the data-dump, and also the actual, discriminate privacy protections afforded to every individual American by this specific methodology. Either he couldn’t understand it, or he just didn’t give a shit. Scaring the fuck out of everyone was so much more to his purpose. Either way, I opined. And my argument is consistent. I am fine with the facts yes. And yes, the scandal is “pretend.” Look at your own language and see the equivocation; you have commingled two disparate issues.
2. Much of this utterly, utterly answered in 1. Again, you don’t get it because it is at first glance counter-intuitive. At second glance — and one would hope that the Guardian and Mr. Greenwald can manage at least a second glance — the gathering of this data is not “indiscriminate.” In the actual plan for its use, it is actually one of the most careful and least intrusive and most discriminate investigative undertakings I’ve ever heard about. “Indiscriminate” is a loaded fucking word and Mr. Greenwald must or should know it. “Indiscriminate” with regard to any government investigation involving Americans is certain provocation, so the use of the editorial term ought to be wholly justified. And don’t go narrow and try to say, oh, indiscriminate just means they asked for a lot of documents. Let’s see how many other, less loaded words we can come with for that: “Sweeping,” “Massive” “Huge” “Universal” or even “every single user of a Verizon phone.” All that would be accurate, but far less judgmental of the government’s motives. But none of the scare the way “indiscriminate” does. His use of the term resulted in my disappointment that he wouldn’t let the facts speak for themselves and was instead felt the need to hype. And so, I thought, it’s time somebody actually pointed out that the program as conceived might not be so indiscriminate after all when it comes to the privacy and civil liberties of all individuals. And I said so. Aloud. Sorry that you feel there is no place for such dissent in the pantheon of discussion about this controversy. “It’s indiscriminate and it’s sweeping,” said Greenwald. That was the reading of that quote, given to CNN on 6/6 by Mr. Greenwald, that brought me to my blogsite. In my opinion, he went one key, loaded word too far than the reporting at this point justifies. It’s editorial intent and hyperbolic ignorance of this program’s incredibly discriminating and modest invasive potential with regard to individual Americans actually takes away from the Guardian’s legitimate reporting here.
3. Just answered.
4. I’ve misattributed nothing. That claim is in error on your part. See above. But as to your key point here, you just completely contradicted yourself in a single, embarrassing sentence. Funny, I knew it was going to happen when you led with, “one doesn’t want to say…” Invariably, I’ve found that when that phrase appears, it means that “I know this is an unjustifiable and fallacious value that I am about to offer, but I still want to offer it.” And you do. Culminating with the value of solidarity. A cause. An ideology. Some collective, worthy set of values and group-think that should be sufficient to allow me to ignore facts and context and my own sense of what is right and wrong on a given issue. If you stand back and look at this paragraph, you might discover some flaws in your own passion, and Mr. Greenwald’s perhaps, that prevents you from seeing all sides of a complicated issue that needs much more context, not less. I believe what I believe about the drug war because I believe it is true. I believe what I believe about this NSA program because I believe it is true. I think. I speak. Issue to issue, idea to idea. And get a hold of yourself: I haven’t written one line attacking Mr. Greenwald’s standing. Not one. You will not find it because it does not fucking exist. I treated him as I would treat any journalist. In fact, when I wrote that post I knew nothing — nothing — about him. I assumed him to be a Guardian staff writer as any other and I evaluated his work on the basis of the work itself. I found the reporting on the Verizon court order accurate and I had no issue with him dealing with a leaker. I took issue with the context in which he hyped what that court order represents — and does not actually represent. I took exception to the two-dimension scare tactics. Still do, only moreso as my sense of the NSA program and its actual limitations and discriminate logic is made more clear by the day. I criticized the work, not Mr. Greenwald personally or his standing. And if criticizing the work is too much for you to bear, then you don’t understand some of what journalism requires of all who practice it. We all have to stand in the kitchen; it’s hot in there.
5. Like a lot of people, you don’t seem to understand irony. If Mr. Greenwald chose to operate as a journalist with mainstream media, then he was assuming the mantle of a mainstream journalist and not an advocate. I certainly treated him as such. Which was why his editorializing and unwillingness to address the greater implications of the NSA’s credible and coherent claims of anonymity and restrictive use of the data was insufficient, in my opinion, to his responsibilities.
I stand by everything — everything — in my original post and throughout.
Let me be short so as not to sap your time: though the replies are as much for anyone else possibly reading as for you. Isn’t that what a comments section is for?
You act as if there is some trademark on the terms “indiscriminate and sweeping” so that if one uses them in a way you don’t like they are becoming editorializing bloviators rather than journalists. That is ridiculous. And sorry but much of this *is* about Greenwald b/c *you* made it about him by attacking his journalistic integrity. That was irresponsible *on your part.* It is *ridiculous* to suggest that it is bloviating reporting to make the point that Greenwald did through the phrase “indiscriminate and sweeping.” Whether “legal” or not a court order that is not directed at any particular individual but rather, without distinction, at at “every single call” made on a wireless carrier’s network can perfectly well be described as indiscriminate (as to any individual) and sweeping. And if that was the main bit of evidence you had or have to question Greenwald or _The Guardian’s_ journalist integrity/ethics or skills in reporting it is laughable.
I act as if the words run ahead of what is known about the actual NSA program and its operation. It was editorial and, in my opinion, unjustified by the reporting. And tellingly, while the Guardian managed not to go that emotional in its actual reporting — which I am guessing might be a function of a professional editor perhaps restraining Mr. Greenwald’s copy and imposing some newsroom rigor into the process, perhaps — once loosed upon the media world, Mr. Greenwald treated us to more than his facts. He wrapped those facts in his opinion, for which I believe no case has been made.
Are you suggesting that this is only my opinion? And others are okay characterizing the NSA program so? Why yes, others may feel otherwise and this is indeed my opinion. Which I ventured. As my opinion. On my blog. Which represents me. And my opinion.
What are you saying beyond that? That those who feel Mr. Greenwald has taken away from his journalistic accomplishment by editorializing unprofessionally should just shut up. That only people who agree with Mr. Greenwald’s self-assessment of his work and its meaning should venture their opinions? Where are you going with us?
Mr. Greenwald said what he said. I said what I said. Are we in a marketplace of ideas here? Or has the internet somehow imploded?
“What are you saying beyond that? That those who feel Mr. Greenwald has taken away from his journalistic accomplishment by editorializing unprofessionally should just shut up.”
Does it sound like I am telling you to shut up? As to your question about what I am saying: well, how much further does one have to (or have space to) say more than what I have in a comments section of a blog? Moreover, why would I say much more: the hope in comments is to narrow down reasonably specific issues, not to range far and wide beyond that. This is, after all, your blog and these are your posts we are reacting to. The narrow issue I was focusing on was about how you have characterized your original “We Are Shocked” post–including in your first Shirky/”I Am Strawman” post.
As to why it is important, in my opinion, to focus on that it is because your original post was part of a larger media reaction that seemed to be vitriolically downplaying the importance of the reporting that has been done and what is being revealed. Then in your subsequent decriptions of that piece you have consistently suggested Greenwald doesn’t know how to do proper journalism. If you are telling me that you were *also* reacting to appearnces of his on TV then okay. I can only go on what you quoted from him in your first post. When I saw him on TV he seemed to stick close to the script of his June 6 report. And the ordinary language phrase “indiscriminate and sweeping”–whether uttered in his June 6 piece or on Rachel Maddow (or wherever else)–dos not hardly mean his *reporting* became editorializing.
On the rest, I hardly suggested you should “shut up” or that we shouldn’t have a marketplace of ideas. My goodness! I have read your original pieces. I read them with care. No one said you had no right to state what you did. No one told you to “shut up”. No one todl you don’t “understand” this, that, or the other. Needless to say, one must have appreciated your opinion enough to be motivated to comment on whatever narrow issues one commented upon. (Narrow, mind you, but not unimportant given the larger intellectual and political climate that reaction to such reporting appears inside of).
I apologize if that seemed hyperbolic on my part. I, of course, know you haven’t told me to shut up. I was, I hoped, flipping your first sentence back on you. No, I am not acting as if I have any copyright on the use of “indiscriminate.” Not at all. I am saying simply, there is no copyright. Everyone gets to speak to the issue and doing so is no more claiming copyright, than Mr. Greenwald can claim copyright based on his interpretation of his meaning. I believe it is not an ordinary phrase as it was used. It is a loaded word and editorial beyond the reporting, and there are other words far more accurate to describe what is known about the NSA program. And what are you doing? Acting as if the word choice is beyond critique because Mr. Greenwald uses it as he sees fit?
The word and its use in this matter is in the public domain. It’s the given. Let others defend it if they wish; I condemn it, given what is actually known about this program. I think it was loaded and undercuts the reporting by raising a scare-tactic dynamic that takes away from real discussion and debate. Mr. Greenwald thinks otherwise, I would assume. You agree with Mr. Greenwald.
That said, if you believe I was ever referring to the Guardian articles at any point prior in the cite of the word, no, you have misrepresented what I did or did not say about Mr. Greenwald and his performance. Tellingly, I encountered the word choice as Mr. Greenwald ventured beyond the facts of the story to oversell it’s meaning in the general media. What I quoted from him is from his appearance on 6/6 on CNN, as reported by Huffington Post. I read that and was disappointed in his leap from straight reporting into editorial hyperbole. It was after encountering that quote that I began to write my first post. He did say it and he did editorialize in that appearance, something that I would not as a reporter have done, for fear that it would delegitimize the substance of my reporting. Instead of letting the reporting stand for what it is, and not ventilating about what it may well not be, especially as we learn more about the NSA data pile and its uses, he waded in with his own opinions. And if you wear both hats — advocate and journalist — you become, de facto, vulnerable to the obvious critique: You are invested in an outcome to your own story. That is how it appeared to me when I read that unsupported quote. There is a reason they used to keep the editorial writers on a separate floor back when we were all stained with ink. At the same time, I’ve made no criticism whatsoever about the Guardian’s decision to publish the leak, about dealing with Mr. Snowden or about the factual basis for the news of the Verizon court order. None. Zero.
As to whether my post was part of some larger media reaction. Fuck can I do about some larger media reaction? I am me. Only. I have a blog That’s it. When I wrote as I did, in fact, almost no one was offering any defense of the NSA program’s possible legitimacy. To suggest in the face of that timeline that, of all people, I’m part of some vitriolic group-think is well, fuck that. Shame on ya. Seriously.
1. I don’t think there is any “shame on me.” It is hardly unreasonable–and in the comments section of a blog, no less–to call out another person’s commentary as being deficient with respect to what it evidently failed to anticipate about a larger media reaction/reaction of the intellectual culture into which it might fit. Let’s say I felt really compelled by some personal thing I discovered about Edward Snowden. Would I be subject to no criticism for writing a blog post that very substantially harped on that bit of psychoanalysis given a larger media/intellectual culture in which we can be sure that *many* people will be doing the same. (Was Jeffrey Toobin’s grand diagnosis that Snowden was a “narcissist”–made almonst instantly–very surprising?). So yes, you can be held to account (in the comments of your blog) for the larger media reaction that very substantial parts of your post was likely to seem like an endorsement for. Especially where “holding you to account” means no more than offering a few words back.
2. On where you were gathering Greenwald’s comments from, I didn’t see the Huffpo recap you are quoting from. But I wasn’t misrepresenting you. In your “We are Schocked” post you don’t cite where you are getting the quote you attribute to him from. It was not made clear that you were drawing on a TV appearance. Moreover, you introduce the quote you give from Greenwald right before the phrase that he is “the author of the piece,” which all the more made it seem you were quoitng from the piece. This, moreover is in a post that is talking about Greenwald and _The Guardian_ in tandem.
3. But the latter point is probably not that important. Because presumably your feelings extend to Greenwald’s June 6 report in _THe Guardian_ as well, since it also calls the FISA court order indiscriminate (with respect to isolating any particular individual). If anything, moreover, the fact that you are quoting him on a TV appearance seems to make your point about his and especially _The Guardian’s_ performance seem even less tenable. Even if it was “editorializing” to dare use the words sweeping and indiscriminate doing so on TV when trying to summarize a complex story is hardly irresponsible or some enormous journalistic failure. More to the point, it is untenable to suggest that saying a court order is indiscriminate somehow crosses the line into editorializing. This would seem to be why your original post didn’t really focus on any such hair splitting distinction between editorializing and reporting, but rather proved to be much *more* aggressively antagonistic in tone about how _The Guardian_ and Greenwald were “unrelenting in trying to scale the heights of self-congratulation.”
Last word, because you earned it on pure spirit. It’s the weekend. Enjoy.
“unrelenting in trying to scale the heights of self-congratulation.”
Greenwald ( whom I kind of like) is the king of this. Has been. This is a fact. It’s all her ever does!
His own VERY-open advocacy chips away, had been chipping away, at his “reporting” for YEARS!
He would have done commentary/the world a favor by taking his ‘reporting” and handing it off to ANYONE else.
Mr Simon, thank you for your thoughtful and informed contributions to what has become an incredibly hysterical debate. Amid all the conspiracy whackjobs and self-proclaimed experts you are so far the only person I have managed to find who is writing anything remotely sensible on the subject.
You’ve mostly attacked the attacks on the NSA. But do you think that what the NSA is doing is *good*, irrespective of the nature of the ongoing discourse?
P.S. – I sent you a really dorky long email about Robert Caro and whether or not his argument, that some individuals can shape the shit out of institutions, is at odds with the Wire shpiel that individuals don’t matter and institutions transcend the fuck out of them period. Would still love to hear you on that.
I love Caro’s books. Who doesn’t?
I’d say that when you pick people like Johnson and Moses, you are self-validating a premise of the individual, it’s a foregone conclusion. Retrospectively, some people — in a particular moment — are bigger than their institutions for a time, and they cast a long shadow. But institutions endure and outlast even the most extraordinary characters. Most times, I’d bet on the institution to endure and only change by careful degree. But every now and then, you lose your money on that bet.
While you are indeed right that we do not know (and likely cannot know) whether, with these capabilities, the NSA will limit use of their data collection to the stated anti-terrorist putposes, we can infer what they can (and will) do from their history.
On Tuesday the 11th (50th anniversary of the assassination of Medgar Evers), Chris Hayes did a long segment on his MSNBC show about how the surveillance apparatus of the Cold War was turned onto the Civil Rights Movement (RFK authorizing Hoover to bug Martin Luther King’s phones, etc.) which pretty immediately got out of control. That same surveillance apparatus was then turned on those of us who opposed the war in Vietnam; when I finally obtained my highly-redacted COINTELPRO file in 1978 (when they said they were destroying the files, something I still don’t believe for a minute), what was left of the file was so scary in what they had done that they were willing to tell me about that I almost was glad not to be able to know the rest: my wife’s family and mine were harassed with FBI agents visiting our fathers at work to tell them things they claimed we were doing that were the exact opposite of what we were doing (after obtaining this file I was able to have a conversation with my father about this in which he told me what happened to him at work after these visits, with friends turning on him and such, supervisors reviewing the assignments he had, etc., that was really upsetting) . These visits were why my relationship with my family had foundered as it had, since they thought the FBI wouldn’t make up things like this – my father was more angry than I when I gave him the file to read. Beyond that, I found out why it was that my GI Bill payments at school were always screwed up, how it was I lost the house i was trying to buy due to VA delays, how it was that a student got two IRS audits in five years (the FBI had directed other government agencies to harass us – I have heard similar stories from others who were targets of this program), why it was I didn’t get certain jobs I had applied for, due to the FBI visiting the potential employer to inform them that I was “suspect” in my loyalty.
What I do know from examining the history of the National Security Establishment, merely going back to August 4, 1964 and the (alleged) Tonkin Gulf (non) Incident that allowed Lyndon Johnson to get us into Vietnam (an event in which I was a minor bit player on the side of the stage, with access to enough knowledge to see that what the government told the Senate and the people was the exact opposite of what happened – go read the Pentagon Papers to see all this), through every other event up to Little Georgie’s invasion of Iraq, is that every damn thing that has been done for us in the name of “national security” has in fact made our national security less secure.
So you will pardon me, but when I hear “national security” being bandied about by the people who have been prominent in its destruction, I tend to doubt them. When they protest their good intentions, I think back to my own personal experience of their “good intentions.” Once burned, twice shy, as they say.
As regards the “security” this program promotes, the fact is that you are statistically more likely to die from slipping on the soap in your shower and hitting your head on the hot water handle than you are in a terrorist attack. Where’s the government promoting security to save you from yourself in the shower?
Please refer to some of the last answers in the “Q-and-A” post on this site. They deal directly with the distortion of a pure statistical assessment of the cost-benefits of counter-terror programming.
A little off-topic: the thing I haven’t been able to understand is why anyone is shocked about any of this government surveillance. The outrage over the DOJ scandal–okay, I completely understand that. However, call it paranoia, but I initially assumed the NSA had far more access to my information than what’s now confirmed. In Maryland and DC, I see surveillance cameras everywhere, and I have read that far more exist than we realize. Whenever we pass the actual NSA headquarters, my family nonchalantly jokes, “Hey, that’s where they listen to our phone calls.” And maybe we’re all nuts, but it doesn’t stress us out that much.
Yesterday, it was reported that Snowden informed the Chinese government that the U.S. had been hacking them since 2009–to which I respond, “No shit. And they’re obviously hacking us, too.” It’s like the whole world forgot that governments use espionage and secrecy for strategic advantage. The U.S. caught a cell of Russian spies in New York City only a few years ago.
Meanwhile, as others have pointed out, Facebook and Google already possess mountains of personal data, which they archive and employ for financial gain. Facebook remembers everything I’ve posted on their website since the first time I logged in–and no one is up in arms about that.
I’m certainly not trying to suggest that people should freely give up their right to privacy, but the histrionics and faux-outrage are ridiculous.
I like your “reasoned” voice here in these 3 posts David.
The main thought I’m pondering…
Imagine “Google”… but created for the NSA. No, it doesn’t have all the data sets necessary to completely and easily pull up any set of information on a group of area codes, etc… but there are multiple levels from which this needs to be thought about…
1. If you know that by sending your child down a hill on a bicycle, they ARE most likely going to get hurt, do you send them anyway and hope for the best?
So, we all accept the possibility the NSA will never abuse this information (which they would be able to do IN SECRET, before you get to react to it)… but we accept they won’t abuse the info, they won’t use it except to get terrorists (defined BY the NSA) etc…
Good. I hope they use this information that way only.
But the fact they have this information, and have not come out and publicly admitted they will delete the information that is not pertinent to their search immediately, tells me they are possibly creating a large database from which they could conduct future searches.
Much like you can search Google for anything you want… except in the NSA’s case, they can’t find anything they want, yet. We haven’t touched on how they can take a minimal data set and then use other tools to find out whatever else they want, legally or otherwise… but I hope you can see what I’m pointing to here.
The “scariness” of what “could happen” after we send this “bicycle down the hill” is what bugs me the most… not what can currently happen.
So we let them (the NSA) keep this information, without knowing what they plan to do with it in the future… what other administrations plan to do with it in the future… and their interpretations of what “legal” means.
Or, we ask for the bicycle back… because we don’t want it to go down the hill. Because once it goes down the hill, you aren’t going to be able to catch it.
I am always reasonable, unreasonably so at times. It’s just that when I say things to people that they don’t agree with, they think otherwise.
But in regard to your analogy, yep. But regardless, you can’t pretend that bicycles don’t exist. They do. And they have a purpose and potentialities for both good and bad outcomes.
Good and bad outcomes, yes. That’s what I liked most about your reasoned posts.
There are people who think we’ve already sent the bicycle down the hill, I’m of the camp that we’re getting ready to… good or bad… or both.
Here’s to “good only.” 😉
Stepping back from the edge a bit Dave, what’s going on with this whole series of posts on your blog? You’ve stepped into some internecine warfare between two factions of the tribe of Democrats and folks to their left. This conflict has been going on since before the Clinton Era at least. One tribe, the clintonistas, has been playing the money game, cozying up to Wall St. while paying lip service to the traditional base voters of the Democratic Party, territory I know you know well from the Wire. The other faction is the activists of various movements, labor, gays, women, peace, etc. The former, by and large, supported Bush’s war in Iraq, the latter opposed it and are still mad as hell that they get no credit for having been right while those who were wrong suffered no damage to their mainstream status.
You, Mr. Simon, have been a hero to the second faction and have now been embraced by Thomas Friedman, the quintessential pundit of the first faction and in my opinion much of the angst here stems from the cognitive dissonance this has caused. “Oh no, our hero David Simon has sold out.”
I am a fairly committed member of the second faction but I have the highest regard for your work especially the Wire. But I do take you seriously and I DO think your analogies to the Baltimore wiretaps are relevant and important. In the Bush years, we used to say that instead of the Global War on Terror, it would be better to treat terrorism in a law-enforcement way. I take your point that it diminishes us to now shrink from that. This may be part of what treating terrorism as a matter for law enforcement means. And I have modified my view somewhat because of your strong advocacy here.
But there is still room for discomfort dating back to the J Edgar Hoover days. Just this month there was a report of the Phoenix law enforcement apparatus using antiterrorist monitoring procedures to keep track of Occupy demonstrations against the banks. So at least some abuse of surveillance powers is currently occurring. It shouldn’t be minimized. That is why I refuse to condemn Edward Snowden. We do need to talk about this and his actions made it happen.
More importantly, there are few venues in which the two factions I described above dialog with one another. I want to thank you profusely for getting one such venue going and staying engaged with it.
I’m really uninterested in being anyone’s ideological or political totem.
I’m going issue to issue, freelance.
I’ve seen people wonder how I can condemn the drug war as authoritarian overreach and ignore the war on terror. Don’t look now, but perhaps the goals of the two — even the unstated goals — are genuinely not the same. Anyone who sees everything through an ideological prime-directive or along party lines is usually someone about to say something stupid. Liberals, libertarians, conservatives, capitalists, Marxists…
I tend toward the left, it’s true. But I’m not a fellow traveler with anyone, all the time. And I’m certainly not closing my ears to an argument because of who is making it.
I didn’t think I was disagreeing with you. Recognizing that political factionalism exists is not the same as being engulfed by it. My main point is that this venue is one of the few places where diffrent factions of this tribe can talk and I’d be sad to see it deteriorate from that. Your strong advocacy for your position HAS influenced me.
I didn’t think you were disagreeing. I was just commenting in kind.
I think it will be interesting to see if the paradigm shift on the right RE trusting the federal government will play a role in this debate over opening up FISA or if the old loyalties will resurface.
Yes, the conservative movement is in an interesting, awkward place. My guess, thinking politically and with general contempt for most of their ideological positioning, is that the libertarians are in a good place for this controversy. Liberals seem just kind of dazed, or dismayed to realize that whoever occupies the White House inherits an actual low-intensity, high-risk global dirty war.
Of course, the minute they find a bunch of guys in the backroom at NSA jerking off to our phone data, everything shifts again. Just as it will shift again if something big gets blown to pieces on American soil. We are nothing if not reactive and wholly indifferent to an actual systemic issue.
It seems to me that much of the right has an amazing capacity to center their opinions based on who is in power. One reason I have next to no faith in the tea party conglomeration is because they didn’t rise up with their faux populism until the liberals came to power. If you questioned the government’s actions under Bush, you were unpatriotic. If you question similar activities carried out during the Obama administration, you are a patriot. And what’s crazy is that no one seems to question that. Bring it up at all and you will be accused of “blaming Bush” or somehow even “playing the race card.” Our past seems to be constantly rewritten and I have no reason at all to doubt that when conservatives control our government, patriotism will once again be defined as supporting the president no matter what. Anything else will be “treasonous.” I believe it all comes down to exploiting angles to grab power.
Mr. Simon- You are not only a neo-anarchist, crypto-Fascist but, apparently, quite patient. Mr. Smirky’s harangue about the NSA’s computing power is so entirely not the issue that I would have been tempted to dismiss it with barely a sentence. I am reminded, speaking of old guys, of Neil Postman’s 1992 book, Technopoly, in which he pushes to absurdity the notion that we have created a society in which we change our culture according to the technologies that can be created rather than creating technologies that serve our culture. We have rebuilt the world on digital communication with only passing concern about our privacy. As you point out wireless phone and email data have been shared for decades, Google’s been “reading” your email for years and , FB sells you like a commodity. What still matters deeply is monitoring the actions and behaviors that are the subject of government attention (I’m looking at you neoCons) and having, as you have said, independent, case-by-case oversight of how these powers are being deployed. Mr. Snowden, who has greatly damaged his credibility in my view by sidling up to the persistently invasive Chinese, mentioned in the Greenblatt interview having witnessed many abuses, but offered few details. Until sex, drugs, and rock n roll become targets of NSA interest, most Americans are of little interest to spy agencies, but that is not a reason for complacency. I would not be so confident if my name were Farouq or Mr. Al Harawi, and those citizens deserve the full measure of protection as well. So for me, our attention and engagement should be directed at the behaviors being targeted and the justification for focusing on given individuals.
Last, on “real politick,” there is some inevitability ito the fact of this oversight. The United States is a “great power,” in the geo-politcal sense. In the 18th and 19th centuries, great powers were defined by land, and with only modest controversy, we secured a continent. In the 20th century, industrial might became synonymous with power and we supplied the world. In the 21st C information is the coin of the realm and we literally own the pipes in which the world’s information flows. Given its responsibilities, It is unrealistic to believe that the US government is going to forego the power of all that data any more than we’re going to give Boston back to the British.
The realpolitik issues are very interesting. I agree.
I fear that advocates for privacy and civil liberties — of which I count myself, though many frustrated by my position on this database will spit teeth to hear me say it — do not have a clue about where the possibilities for reform might actually reside in this moment. Or that, if they win the battle over this database — which is redundant to any government agency’s desire to use metadata against its citizens domestically — they may well expose the cause of privacy and civil rights in the event of a major terrorist attack. I worry that in the general freak-out about a counter-terror program that has credible logic and value underscoring it, the people fighting for privacy, civil rights and a healthy resistance to authoritarian overreach are, well, failing to pick the right battle.
Please excuse me if this has already been addressed, but I notice that you’re not considering the International Law implications of the Prism affair. EU officials have confessed to being clueless about the whole thing. Europeans -or any foreign country with a rule of law system- don’t necessarily have to share the US Supreme Court’s interpretation of the fourth ammendment and the limits of private communications. What do you think?
I haven’t for a minute considered the morality, never mind the global legal implications, of PRISM, or phone data collection, or espionage in general as an international matter. Right now, the media maelstrom in this country is focused on the rights of American citizens under their constitution, this being a constitutional republic and all. We’re quite self-obsessed at the moment.
That said, gentlemen do not read each other’s mail. And yet every modern nation-state does. Certainly, if we are not providing individuals around the world with the same right to privacy that we maintain for ourselves, it is a moral hypocrisy. And we are not.
On the other hand, I don’t believe that the Chinese, for example, are all that concerned about American privacy rights. The real world calls the tune when it comes to matters of intelligence-gathering and espionage.
I am so thrilled you actually replied this quickly that I will not counter-argue. Thanks for your effort!
The arguing makes it fun. Aren’t we having fun?
A blast! Ok, what I meant is that some countries may have higher communication privacy standards than he US… As they do on gun control, or labor laws, for instance.
So the problem as I see it is not only the hypocrisy of double standards, but actually implying that US law prevails over any other, even those which are more protective of their respective citizens privacy rights. China would not be on that list, of course. But maybe some of those economy-crumbling-ridiculously-tiny-good-for-nothing-elitist European cousins are.
I think It all has to do with the US government’s reluctance to acknowledge any legal authority over its own.The International Criminal Court comes to mind. But that’s another issue. Thanks again!
We obey our laws (when we even manage to do that). If we violate the laws of another country, then individual Americans are subject to prosecution within the jurisdiction of those countries. If it happens as a result of statecraft or espionage or plain-old powermongering, then good luck getting Henry Kissinger into a courtroom.
An international court can certainly issue an indictment for crimes in violation of international law, and perhaps even acquire a defendant to stand trial in The Hague. Depends on the crime and the nationality and the level of cooperation with international justice.
I actually think this critique of your position (and others the writer places in your “vain cynic” category) is more valid than Shirky’s, and it would be interesting to see you address it: http://gawker.com/the-vain-media-cynics-of-the-nsa-story-512575457
“All of these members of the media, who ostensibly work on the public’s behalf, would prefer to take the completely unverifiable word of a top secret government agency that nothing is amiss, rather than to see any classified materials leak into the public realm. They fancy themselves able to deduce the motivations and mindset of Edward Snowden based on the thinnest of anecdotes. They all express contempt for the idea that the public has a right to know what its government is up to, unless that knowledge has been specifically approved by government censors.
“And they all, in one form or another, express the idea that this stuff is unworthy of our concern because, hey, smart people like them already knew (er, assumed) this stuff was going on. To pay too much attention to it now would therefore undermine their reputation for being savvy. This is the most dangerous idea of all. When the media itself can’t be bothered to get excited about an enormous secret government spying program, we’re all in trouble. Nobody would know anything about anything if someone didn’t bother to write about it.”
I’ve written exactly zero about the motivations and midnset of Edward Snowden. Zero. Find a sentence if you dare. It. Doesn’t. Exist.
If this fellow is lumping me into that category, it’s without a shard of reasoning. Also, I am not a “member of the media.” At all. I am a filmmaker with a blog. I have no actual stake in defending the performance of mainstream media here, and indeed I have been a critic, often, of the efforts of mainstream media.
I’m not sure why this piece would consider me eligible for its generalizations. Or why the substance of my argument can’t be the target, rather than the fact that it’s me making it. Again, it seems as if Gawker wants to chide the media for going ad hominem and pyschoanalyzing Mr. Snowdown, and then in the next breath, Gawker goes psychoanalytic on the media. Kind of pathetic, actually.
As a former journalist who is now a filmmaker (media-maker), and who is commenting on public matters via a blog, you are undoubtedly a member of the media. “Media” is defined more broadly, but you comment on media-matters and profit from your cache in the establishment. You don’t have to be on a newspaper payroll to be a member of the mainstream anymore.
I don’t profit enough. The blog is for free.
So let me understand this. If I was a curmudgeon who had utter contempt for the media and its excesses and impotences. If I walked away from my position in the media and became a singular and disconnected-from-all-media-hierarchy critic of the media, I am still a part of the media.
Interesting. When you deconstruct everything, you’re eventually saying nothing.
Yeah. You are. You are broadcasting your thoughts and you have a large platform. You are also occasionally articulate enough to have earned an audience. And you make money in media (as a filmmaker/writer).
Also, you brought your own *print* media background into the equation, by using your experiences as a reporter to buttress your initial argument against the significance of Snowden’s leaks. So it’s ridiculous to now claim you’re just some Joe Schmo with a blog, to try to undermine your critics.
No one called anyone Joe Schmo. But I am not representing mainstream media here, and at times, those in mainstream media will tell you so. I am representing myself. And I am a lot of different things, and if you think this blog to be a “large platform” and you resent it for some reason, perhaps you’ll be a happier sort if you avoid enduring the dynamic here.
Not trying to lose you. But you seem upset that I have some certain amount of standing in any sense. And you seem to want to claim a mantle for me, in terms of Defender of Mainstream Media that I might correspond with on some issues, but am in conflict with on others. Same as I’ve now hurt the feelings of people whose beliefs and ideology don’t permit a defense of an NSA counter-terror program.
Am I allowed to speak on issues and have people attend to what I actually say or don’t say? Or must you first slap a label on my chest assessing from whence it is that I speak. Because, Ms. Horne, that’s fallacious. I keep saying this, because so many, many people embrace argumentum ad hominem as their first refuge. And it is, intellectually, no refuge at all:
Christ, the son of God, could still fail algebra. And Al Capone could write the best civics text ever written. And all the people who rush to define the Messiah or the gangster before they address the substance — as you seem to be intent on doing, and as the author of that embarrassing effort on Gawker clearly did — are simply off point. You are arguing to the man. The only thing that matters is the algebra exam and the civics book.
Here, at this site, everyone who is progressing the debate — whether they are arguing with me or against me — they are arguing to content. So, how do you wish to proceed?
I’ll just pretend you’re not trying to argue that you’re not creating media, while you are in the process of creating media, and continue to read you on grounds other than your self-awareness.
Wait, I think I see the problem here. It’s equivocation on both our parts, perhaps.
Do you think making television dramas is being part of mainstream media? Because I see myself as being an outlier of the entertainment industry. That’s the professional gig and if you were to have said I am a part of the entertainment industry or whatever, I’d’ve certainly copped to that.
To me, MSM refers to the world of journalism — broadcast and print — and to working reporters and commentators who earn a living at mainstream news outlets. That’s my definition of MSM, and I thought yours. Sadly, I have been an apostate from that church for longer than I was actually a believer. So no, I do not think I am a part of mainstream media at all. And it was that club — and not the entertainment industry — to which the Gawker mention seems to consign me.
I am no longer a journalist. And this blog is just that — a personal blog. It is a forum for debate and discussion and a vessel for my occasional commentary on things that interest me. I have too much respect for real journalism to any way conflate this with that. And indeed when I find myself disappointed with my old profession, I have been quick to say so. So the notion that I am invested in certain outcomes based on a connection to an industry that I left nearly two decades ago strikes me as a grand, ridiculous leap. I admire good journalism, I dislike dross and hackery. As a consumer, or an educated consumer. If I write and anyone attends to it, okay. Sometimes, I post here to little response, sometimes the system crashes. But if I am anything, I am the digital equivalent of the troublemaker who waits his turn to vent in the public square. And even if I have graduated to a more attended-to type of commentator, let me ask you a question? I.F. Stone. Was he a journalist in the publication of his great newsletter? Surely. It was journalism and he was paid.
Was he part of the MSM? Absolutely not. In fact, it is his legend that he was never, ever a part of the MSM. Well, I’m not paid here. And I’m not doing journalism, only commentary for the most part. And so, in the spirit of Izzy Stone, if not with nearly as much dignity or intellect, I say I am not a part of the MSM. Not anymore.
But I am, by trade, a dramatist. That’s the paying gig.
Is that our problem? Were you including the entertainment component in MSM? I was not. Which meant you were conflating this blog, in my mind, with journalism. And again, I would not do that either. Save for maybe once or twice a year when I actually report and write about something factual as a matter of curiosity. Last time for that was probably a year ago when I looked at the Baltimore homicide prosecution stats.
Anyway, maybe it’s not a lapse in self-awareness. Perhaps, I’ve actually thought about what I am doing here and who I represent — or don’t — more than you’ve given me credit for. Maybe it’s just how we each define MSM.
Isn’t that the entire problem here? We no longer distinguish between crackpots with a blog and actual journalists.
(apologies to Mr. Simon – am NOT calling you a crackpot. :))
I am not a crackpot. I am a cryptofascist.
I’ve already sent to the stationary store for business cards. Don’t change my title now.
Maybe I’ll promote you to crypto-crackpot.
Well I just read Clay Shirky’s piece and I think you do him an injustice.
As my wife likes to say to me, everything isn’t always about you, you know.
I’m not a Shirky acolyte (they do exist) but I think his larger point is valid and should not be glossed over as simply a straw man argument: When it comes to crunching bits and bytes, the NSA is capable of enormous things, unheard of on any other scale you can imagine. Think Skynet and the HAL 9000 rolled into one, then multiply it by a billion.
You are correct in saying we do not know if the NSA has used these awesome powers to harm otherwise innocent individuals. But how would we know, exactly? Are you on the bcc list when they send out the memo? Because I’m not.
There is only one real way to know: Whistleblowers like Ed Snowden. And then, all they can usually do is point to the potential of abuse, not the abuse itself.
But Snowden is a callow youth and he makes some grandiose claims. So ignore him for a moment and look at William Binney. A 32-year veteran of the NSA, considered one of the great cryptographers in government if not the world, he built one of the very tools the NSA is using for this domestic surveillance before he retired in 2001. And what he’s saying is very much in line with what Snowden has said. If the NSA wants to tap your phone, it can with the push of a button. If it wants to track your physical movements, stretching back in time, it can. If it wants to trace all of your financial transactions, it can. And it can do the same to everyone else you’ve ever been in contact with.
It’s not hard to find an interview with Binney, he’s all over the place these days. You should check it out.
Bottom line is, as you’ve noted, we need a lot more transparency into what our uber secret, lavishly funded agencies are doing on our alleged behalf. Your idea for a civilian review board is a good one. So would be seriously re-evaluating things like Third Party Doctrine that allow any business to share your personal information with the spooks without notifying you or giving you an option to lawyer up. We need some real privacy protections. Whether we can get them out of this Congress – or really, anything useful out of this Congress – is another question.
And the reason we are talking about all of this is Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald, the Guardian reporter you keep taking to the woodshed. That’s why we’re having this conversation right now. It’s a good one to have. Don’t you think?
Does the opening paragraph of this post not credit the journalism of the Guardian? Does the summation paragraph not acknowledge that Mr. Snowden, apart from the damage done to the intelligence programming, has created this window for legitimate discussion?
As to Mr. Shirky’s piece, if he has larger arguments of merit, they can presumably made independent of a mischaracterization and misrepresentation of the arguments of others. I expect counter-argument. I relish it when it’s good. I would like to be able to say what I am saying and not have an opponent mangle the context so that it represents his best hope of what he would like me to be saying.
Regarding needing oversight for the secret FISA court:
As I am sure you know, the courts are oversight on the exec. and legislative. The secret FISA court, where only one party, the government, appears, is supposed to be the check.
Proposing oversight for that evokes for me Zeno’s paradox: proposing that we hire some detectives to watch the detectives who are watching the detectives.
You can’t preserve secrecy and increase oversight beyond the oversight that we already have for these programs. Right now the oversight is: White House, Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill, FISA Court.
All three of these maintain secrecy. Some members of the Intelligence Committee are burdened by that secrecy because they being asked to withhold what they consider disturbing information they thing the people have a right to know – e.g. Wyden, Udall.
Conn. Sen Richard Blumenthal announced yesterday a bill that would make FISA court orders public and has substantial support for it in the Senate apparently.
Somehow I can’t help but assume that if passed we will be treated to one boring, non-descriptive, partially redacted court order after another, but the idea of beginning to solve this problem with less secrecy is a step in the right direction.
As far as being unaware of any abuses. True, but it would seem unlikely for there to be a lack of abuse of this NSA-collected data where we have examples of abuse in just about every other one of these types of programs. It is nice to have actual examples of abuse, but it is silly to demand it when it is designed in such a way that will allow abuse.
Further, It is designed in ways we know, axiomatically, based on principles, will create abuse. Our constitution was written with awareness that abuse will happen without certain kinds of protections that these laws suspend. We should treat no abuse as a remarkable exception, if we were to learn there was none.
Agree. The FISA court is the knot. And nothing so secret can stand in a democracy.
That is where this fight belongs. Not in debating which assets might be abused by law enforcement. They all can be abused. They all have. They all will be. That battle will be quotidian and never-ending. And technological advances, opportunities and problems won’t change that.
NewHour the other night – someone reported that the FISA court has never not approved a request, save one that was withdrawn by the government.
I know federal judges who abuse their power in little corner cutting ways all the time in full view of the public, in public hearings, in public courthouses, leading their public lives. I don’t for a minute doubt that the FISA court is a rubber stamp factory.
But Blumenthal’s proposal will help, even if it only causes them to look alive over there at FISA and comb their hair for the cameras.
I’m staying out of your Shirky debate – first, I hate ad hominem attacks and second, it caused me to misunderstand a point and comment on it further down here.
But I did go and read it and my god, that cat lady was frightful and works for some real criminals who got away with a lot; she works at a bank. All I want to talk about re Shirky is the horrible cat lady.
The cat film was cool. That was the part I liked.
The FISA process — that’s my target. That’s where I think systemic protections for privacy and civil rights need to be injected and the near-total-secrecy of the process fully rethought. I want to see debate on Blumenthal’s proposal. Even if it isn’t going to pass as is, I want it to provoke a real discussion about secrecy and justice and the need to balance national security with individual liberty.
Someone is wrong. Don’t take my word on it; ask EFF about its lawsuit compelling this disclosure:
“In a rare public ruling by the nation’s most secretive judicial body, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court ruled Wednesday that it did not object to the release of a classified 86-page opinion concluding that some of the U.S. government’s surveillance activities were unconstitutional.”
So there’s one (important) example, at least. I look forward to learning the details of that FISC opinion.
More broadly, there’s a fatal flaw of logic in the “99% approval rate = rubber stamp” meme. It’s the same phenomenon that allows elected prosecutors to brag about 99% conviction rates in local races. By itself, that statistic could mean that the DA only chooses to prosecute slam-dunk cases that have overwhelming evidence of guilt. I have no idea who the DA equivalent is with respect to FISC, but he or she may well have a similar level of concern about never presenting a FISA warrant request without having overwhelming evidence making it likely to sail through. There are personal/professional consequences to presenting a losing case to a court. I think that’s the very reason Bush’s people simply ignored FISA/FISC until half the FBI threatened to resign over it and they couldn’t get AG Ashcroft to reauthorize the warrantless wiretapping program despite pressuring him at hospital bedside to do so.
Cutting through the rhetoric on both sides this appears to the nub of your disagreement with Shirky:
Obviously, I am not walking away from my initial acknowledgment of the NSA’s computing power, or evenmerely calculating computing time or capacity. No, I am asking a much larger question about the human resources involved in doing the resulting police work — just in case anyone thinks that the FBI and NSA is maintaining this data base in order to fish about for fresh domestic targets. The computer run is the fast part; assessing the data, analyzing it and then investigating it involves most of the man-hours. Using the data for purposes of investigation — whether a proper investigation, or one predicated on the violation of civil rights — is what takes time. It uses more than technological capability, but the time and bodies of a finite number of counter-terror investigators and other human assets. And in saying so, I’m not oblivious to technology, I’m asking readers to consider rationally the probability of these agencies being used to fish for domestic targets using this particular data base.
The argument I would make, and believe that Shirky was making is that the fast computer runs do not generate manual labour for agents. The ” assessing the data, analyzing it and then investigating it ” can also be done by computer to a large extent. This requires very few man-hours, just many many cpu-hours. This almost certainly wouldn’t fly in a law enforcement context: no jury is going to convict on the basis of:” my algorithm gives a 70% probability that person x fits the terrorist pattern”. But this isn’t law enforcement, there is no jury, no requirement for “beyond reasonable doubt”.
This is also why the PRISM data is more worrying than the Verizon data (plus that fact I pretty much only make one phone call a week and thats to my parents). Its a much richer data set. And much and the basic analysis has already been done by the data providers. The NSA does absolutely no work to figure out that when you use your computer at home, and at work it is the same person even if the computers and user accounts are different, that you have you communicate with particular coherent clusters of people at particular times of day, and that you probably prefer red to blue cars. Google does all this – its their raison d’etre. All the NSA computers have to do is look for the patterns it’s interested in and dump those names straight onto no-fly lists, put flags on police records, bar from getting public jobs, etc. , no human intervention required.
Agree with you that PRISM, if applied domestically, is indeed more problematic. The metadata is, as you say, much richer. Have made the distinction in my arguments. Repeatedly.
Agree with you, too, that if the operant conspiratorist theory is that this data base will be used for passive, computer-driven investigation and harrassment, then the man-hours involved are less than I argue. But let’s examine that. First, in so using this data base, the NSA and FBI would be extremely short-sighted. Why? Because once it began affecting people, there would be complaints and lawsuits and legal discovery in open court throughout the country. And if the government, in response to questions about why someone was barred from public work, or from flying on commercial airlines, began to invoke national security, then the misuse of the metadata would make the actual, stated purpose of the database vulnerable. The underlying argument made to the FISA court for this program would be made vulnerable.
So, you ask, why wouldn’t they risk it? They’re authoritarian assholes who can’t help themselves. They just gotta go there and they do.
To which, I reply, they can already go there if they want and not make this data base politically and legally vulnerable. Do you think that the government right now isn’t using metadata in distinct ways to remotely assess candidates for security clearances, government work, no-fly lists? If you are of certain ethnic heritage, or religious belief, if you travel to certain regions of the world, if you have given money to certain causes — somehow all of this is already being accessed and has been accessed since the early advent of the no-fly lists. If they want it, they got it anyway. The standard for Homeland Security or any other myriad agencies charged with security matters to run just such a background check is already incredibly modest — and as I keep pointing out — this metadata has no Constitutional standing. It has never been protected data going back well prior to 9-11.
I don’t believe that this data-base is less likely to be used for other than what the government claims because there are no authoritarian impulses at the heart of our law enforcement-intelligence community. I believe those impulses are easily addressed elsewhere without having to have anyone perjure themselves to the FISA court and ultimately to expose the entire program to political and public censure. For what? For data that they can already access on anyone, anywhere given inclination and interest?
My overall critique of Mr. Shirky’s performance is again that he spoke to things on which I have stipulated:
1) The computers are big and powerful and capable of doing things — good and bad — that we once couldn’t do. No shit.
2) The data may be neutral, but it can be both used and misused.
Aside from shaving my language to a point where he could more easily wrestle it into positions it never intended to occupy, Mr. Shirky spent the rest of his column describing the raw power of the NSA computing world and imagining just how metadata might be misused to abuse people. Stipulated and stipulated. Yet he remains mute to the great questions here, which is how do we reconcile privacy with security, personal liberty with collective responsibility. That’s the struggle. And you can’t engage that struggle unless you acknowledge both the legitimate investigate value as well as the sum of all civil liberty fears. And you can’t engage that struggle unless you actually ask yourself smarter questions about what law enforcement and counter-terror agencies can already do without this data base and this program.
I think you are wrong and naive to say that abuse of data to harass or disrupt a law-abiding person would be publicized, cause an outcry and threaten data collection programs. Abuses of Fusion Center and FBI data collecting programs has happened with mind-numbing regularity over the past decade. Some does not get any publicity whatsoever, some gets partial publicity, mostly local publicity, and we move on with no appreciable change in the programs. I can think of probably 10 actual examples off the top of my head. We have been well-groomed to accept most of it. Only utterly shocking cases will have legs and keep walking.
One example that causes you to laugh but isn’t really funny is how Sen. Ted Kennedy was detained at an airport when his name appeared on a no-fly list. Cute little error? Contrast that with Ben Gurion Airport which has much better security than our airports and none of that American half-seriousness about security and the abuses that half-seriousness tends to facilitate.
We tend to indulge in recreational security BS – as if we still can’t believe, having been the most powerful country on earth for so long, and being so free, that security is a serious business, not a game to be used by half-witted muscle-heads to abuse law abiding citizens.
Far too many of the FBI cases for terrorism post 9/11 were heavily crafted cases using undercover provocateurs who lured silly, stupid people into schemes they were unlikely to ever engage in but for being goaded into them
You know as well as anyone how thin the standards are of reasonable suspicion and probable cause and how easily they pass scrutiny in public courts with two-party adversarial representation. So let’s get real here and quit dreaming about some warm cuddly grandma government.
Actually, I have to revise my post because your argument with Shirky keeps creating misleading impressions. I responded to one point you made then realized you nearly reversed it.
This seems to happen when people get into the rough countering a critic, in this case Shirky. It would probably be best for me to comment on some other post, one not part of an argument against a critic of yours. I’m bowing out …
Right, well. That’s what this post is about. Others on the site go to content.
Yes, privacy is under real stress in this modern world. So is security.
Rationalizing those two, often conflicting needs of a democratic society is one true test of the next century. Mistakes will be made in both directions, and lessons will have to be learned pragmatically. And neither pure individual liberty nor pure communal responsibility will claim every victory or endure every defeat.
But this data-base, used for the purpose approved by the FISA court, is not a defeat I wish on counter-terror. I think the opportunities for abuse of metadata exist regardless of this particular program — and need to be addressed systemically and with explicit reform of the FISA process. I think this use of metadata has actual, real-time deterrent value for counter terrorism.
You say “It was in the additional editorializing of the lead reporter in telling us exactly how “indiscriminate” the NSA program was. Such characterization jumps past the known into the argumentative, and actually undercuts the fundamental journalism.”
We know that every single Verizon customer had their metadata obtained. Can I ask for what reason you think that this dragnet approach should not be described as indiscrinminate? Is there evidence that terrorist plotters tend to prefer Verizon?
Greenwald also quotes an expert who agrees with the terminology…
We know that the program being run alongside PRISM and the collection of phone data is called “boundless informant” is that a description that suggests strong limits to you? On this specific issue, Glenn Greenwald knows more than you or I or likely anyone in this comment section, unless NSA folks are following your posts, which may well be the case. Anyway, Greenwald has told us there is more to come from Snowden. Congress are more informed today than they were yesterday, and they tell us that this is the “tip of the iceberg”.
House Democrat Loretta Sanchez tells us they were not “shocked” but “astounded”.
You say “Judging from the public comments from NSA officials thus far, there is an argument that the use of this data, as authorized by the judge, is limited to a specific national security function.”
When Mr Clapper has been lying to congress (or being as “least untruthful” as he can) about the extent of the surveilence, what reason do you have to put such good faith in public NSA claims?
If they’re really going to use this data to investigate all of America and violate our privacy en masse, then it would be indiscriminate. That’s the part that’s unproven. There is already enough in the public domain to explain a legitimate, alternate reason for this data capture. And the Guardian reporter has thus far been unwilling to even acknowledge the possibility, which — if that is the purpose of the NSA program — would indeed be a discriminate usage.
They are not learning the names and identities for this data. They are not even allowing any human sifting of the raw data. They are not indiscriminately examining any specific American. Instead, they are building a haystack of all phone metadata in which to search — not humanly, but digitally — for a needle. They have obtained the data from a FISA judge on the limitation that they will not indiscriminately probe this data universe. Instead, they will use it as a data base for one purpose only — to run suspect communication through the data base and then, upon finding any connections to any call data, they will then discriminately look at that connection only.
You want to argue that this is too much a violation of every American’s right to privacy, okay. You want to believe that the data will be misused for other purposes, okay. Argue that, sure. But, first, accept that call data itself has no consitutional guarantee of privacy to begin with. And second, accept that whatever else such an NSA program is, it is editorializing at best to call it indiscriminate. As it’s set up, such a program is decidedly discriminate.
For someone who has produced such a lengthy post on being misrepresented you don’t seem to have any problem misrepresenting others.
The use of the word “indiscriminate” was clearly in reference to verizon court order that demands data from every call by every customer….it accurately describes the fact that the veriozon order is not based on distinctions. it is unselective.
If your argument against it is not a straw man in itself, it can only be a satirical parody of one.
Let’s think of all the words that could have described the totality of the Verizon court order.
“Massive,” “complete,” “sweeping” “all-encompassing,” etc. Or simply “every single Verizon customer.”
All of those accomplish the same description without the use of an adjective that when applied to government investigation is utterly, utterly loaded. “Indiscriminate” implies so much more than and you should know this. The Guardian reporter should know it too. Perhaps he does. Or he does now. It’s the thing that he ought to have walked back.
In 1935, when Social Security wasn’t a commonality in American life, someone could have written a scare story declaring that the government is “indiscriminately” assigning a number to all Americans and implied that in doing so, there might be a hidden world of nefarious implications. Or they could have just said “Every American has been given a number and is now uniquely identified by the government.” Which is wholly, completely accurate, but leaves it to the reader to consider the implications.
The term is loaded. You are being disingenuous if you try to limit the Guardian’s implications to the acquisition of the data only, and — with blinders on — exclude all possibility that the data was going to be used in discriminate ways. As our SS# are used in discriminate ways.
It was editorializing. And it took responsible reporting into the realm of scare-story, and quite effectively, too. It was where good journalism slipped into some bad.
Mr Simon, you are clearly somebody with a profound love of words and the meaning they can be used to convey. I am no such wordsmith.
But, at least where I come from, indiscriminate can simply mean non-selective.
So when Greenwald wrote “the communication records of millions of US citizens are being collected indiscriminately and in bulk” I did not infer – nor think he was attempting to imply – any more than if he had used any of the alternate expressions you propose. And if there could be doubt as to his intention then surely it was cleared up immediately by the remainder of the sentence: “regardless of whether they are suspected of any wrongdoing.”
The journalist is British, you are American and I am Australian, so perhaps there are regional differences in play. And whilst I am sure you could work ‘indiscriminate’ into a screenplay to imply far more than without discrimination, surely it can be used neutrally, too.
The journalist simply recorded that the collection of Verizon phone records was made without reference to whether the caller was considered suspicious. Seems like a statement of fact and not remotely like ‘editorializing’ to me.
I read another quote in which the word that was not an adverb. It was a noun, it was a word choice and a loaded one.
He should let the reporting stand and cease editorializing.
The details of what that database was actually to be used for — and the collection of the data — was far from indiscriminate. It is actually part of an ethical calculation to have all American phone traffic, or as much of it as can be acquired, in that haystack. If there was a clean way to omit all the grandmothers and 14 year olds and white farmers in Iowa as unlikely terror risks, and somehow reduce the haypile, it should not be done. Do you see the legal logic here? And it is legal logic that was sold to that FISA judge.
You can agree with it. Or not. But in total, this program — as designed — might be one of the most carefully discriminating non-invasions of privacy in the history of telephonic intercepts. Which is to say it is completely invasive to every Americans phone metadata, and non-invasive to the lives of individual American citizens. Or maybe I’ll be wrong. But there is enough information about the program to see its intent.
Mr. Greenwald is as much advocate, I understand, as reporter. Perhaps that is the problem. I am looking at this as the product of a professional reporter. And the good ones would not overextend themselves. They would let the facts run as far as facts go, and no further. Instead, a lot of people rather than being a lot smarter about what the program actually is and why it might require such a vast capture of phone records are having a communal freak out about “indiscriminate” wiretapping and spying. And real issues of governmental overreach receive little attention.
Thanks for your response (and all your writing of the past week).
You did not provide a link to the article in which you assert “the lead reporter” (presumably Glenn Greenwald) told us “exactly how “indiscriminate” the NSA program was.”
But I have just gone through all of Glenn Greenwald’s Guardian articles for the month of June (listed on this summary page) and the only article in which he used any variant of the word “indiscriminate” was NSA collecting phone records of millions of Verizon customers daily.
In that article “indiscriminately” appears twice, once in his own words, and once when quoting Julian Sanchez.
If that is not the article you are referring to then perhaps you’d be so kind as to provide a source for the quote. One great advantage the internet has over a newspaper – in addition to allowing readers to discuss articles with (former) journalists – is that it is simple to link directly to the source, so that readers may judge for themselves. Perhaps it would help keep arguments to your more salient points if you directly linked to the sources that you are discussing.
But if that is the article you are referring to then you have – dare I say indiscriminately (in the sense of haphazardly) – claimed that Greenwald wrote something which he patently did not. He was clearly only referring to the collection of Verizon records. Not the NSA program in totality.
In a post claiming a journalist made you a straw man, and ascribed arguments to you that you did not make, then “as the product of professional reporter” you should be particularly careful that you’re not misrepresenting a journalist.
I made no comment on the discrimination or otherwise of the NSA program, as my point was simply about people in glass houses throwing stones.
Dear Mr. Fink,
Read the first paragraph of this post again. I did not say it was in the articles. Actually, Mr. Greenwald’s comment came to me in the ensuing hype, directly from Mr. Greenwald, as he personally made the rounds of the news channels to tell us all what we needed to believe about the substance of the reporting, to wit:
From Huffington Post, 6/6:
“Glenn Greenwald spoke out on Thursday about his bombshell article about the National Security Agency’s domestic surveillance in his first television interview since breaking the story. The article, published Wednesday night, revealed that NSA has been indiscriminately collecting the phone records of millions of Verizon customers every day. Greenwald’s piece unleashed a fresh wave of controversy for the White House.
On Thursday, the Guardian columnist stressed how vast the NSA’s surveillance has been, saying, “What this court order does that makes it so striking is that it’s not directed at any individual… it’s collecting the phone records of every single customer of Verizon business and finding out every single call they’ve made… so it’s indiscriminate and it’s sweeping,” he told CNN’s Jake Tapper.”
Bold emphasis my own. It was, in fact, reading this account of Mr. Greenwald’s appearance that disappointed me, and convinced me to begin writing my original blog post.
But here’s the rub, Mr. Fink. If I had been somehow wrong in memory, and if I had misquoted Mr. Greenwald, or misremembered the quote that I thought was overreach and unprofessional on his part, I would have absolutely no problem apologizing openly and directly. At the Baltimore Sun, I certainly made mistakes at points. And we were taught to write the corrections ourselves, finishing always with the phrase, “The Sun regrets the error.” And we did indeed.
I can always make mistakes, of course. In this case, no. But whether I had or hadn’t, your passion in pursuing this is notable. By contrast to my willingness to walk back an unsupported statement, I don’t expect we will ever see Mr. Greenwald walking back his own, premature editorializing. Nor, honestly, am I expecting any small show of regret from you, despite that rather snide lecture about my professionalism, my misrepresentation and, oh yes, that old saw about people in glass houses, all of which you used to punctuate your query. You could instead have extended some benefit of the doubt and asked simply, without the lecture, for me to produce the quote. Too much like polite, I guess. Now, I suppose, you will go quietly to another corner of the blog as if this exchange never happened.
“Mr. Greenwald is as much advocate, I understand, as reporter.”
Yup. And EVERYONE knows that. And his advocacy really damages the reporting and follow-up for me.
“Indiscriminate” was most definitely used to incite.
I’m still here. I’m interested in the exchange of ideas. And I’m not embarrased to admit where I make mistakes.
I’ve read the first paragraph of your post again. And now that you’ve provided a reference in this post to the interview you were referring to I’ve heard Greenwald speak for the first time.
One obvious mistake I made was assuming Greenwald was British. The other was that I didn’t go back and re-read your earlier posts and comments before commenting. Read in isolation it wasn’t unreasonable for me to assume in this post that you were referring to Greenwald’s articles appearing under The Guardian digital masthead. Not to a TV interview which I hadn’t seen.
I joined this conversation because I disagreed with your characterisation of ‘indiscriminate’ as necessarily loaded. I still do. But I’m an Australian who doesn’t follow American politics as closely as you do, so perhaps there is cultural or historical baggage associated with the term that doesn’t exist in Australia.
So I wasn’t being disingenuous when I noted the context it had been used in the passage I quoted. In that article the term was not used in reference to anything other than the way the collection of records was handled. Nor was it loaded.
Obviously in the CNN interview his language was not as measured. But – again, speaking as a non-American – I still find it odd that you seem so focussed upon Greenwald’s use of the term ‘indiscriminate’. In the excerpt from the interview you just quoted it can fairly be argued that Greenwald merely said that the collection of Verizon customer’s phone records was not directed at any individual, but was completely non-selective.
By contrast you choose to characterize a ‘sweeping’, non-selective program as ‘discriminate’. I think I understand the nuanced contention you are making, but I don’t expect we’ll see those two words appearing as synonyms in a thesaurus any time soon. If you opt to define a term as meaning almost the opposite of what it is commonly understood to mean that’s one thing. Accusing a journalist who doesn’t use the term in the same fashion, but instead as it is commonly understood as editorializing is quite another.
For what it is worth I agree Greenwald did editorialize elsewhere in the interview. But I still don’t think he did in the passage you quoted.
Again, thank you for your time. And irrelevant as it is to the currect discussion, may I say that The Wire is my favourite television series ever.
Okay to all of that.
On the other hand, a simple “You did quote him accurately. I’m sorry to have suggested you did not and were trying to obscure the fact,” would suffice.
And been quite manly to boot.
I would not dismiss the propensity for “terrorism” on Iowan farms…
I’m joking, but the over-use of the term is very worrying in terms of justifying when these methods can be used.
Is opening a gate to let mink free really terrorism?
Greenwald is American, not British.
The talking points of the mainstream media want to taint the stories as some way anti-American, with reference to a foreign newspaper printing all these secrets, but The Guardian US is based in New York I understand.
I understand your long discussed disdain for the dying art of journalism as you know it. I loved the speech of yours I watched on YouTube on journalists not asking “why?” any more. In that speech I think you lamented the new breed of amateur journalists. The fact that Greenwald is a lawyer by trade should not go without comment. He is not a trained reporter. His journalism (if you forgive me using the term here) has always taken the form of opinion pieces, from his early days as a blogger, through his writing for Salon and now at the Guardian. His main source of income is directly from readers who value his opinions, not from the media outlets that print his stories and appreciate balance.
As far as I’m aware this is his first foray into ‘straight reporting’. Snowden had very few reporters he felt he could trust (what an indictment of the current mainstream media in the US that is). He cites the case of the last surveillance leak under Bush (which the NYT sat on for a year to help the Bush re-election campaign) as an example of why he preferred the passion of a Greenwald. The position of reporter has therefore been somewhat forced upon Greenwald and I doubt he has any intention of pursuing it beyond this story.
There is, I think, a clear line between Greenwald’s reporting (those articles in the last week where he has co-writers) and opinion (in his TV interviews or his solo pieces). The latter is his bread and butter, if it does creep into the former, then my view would be that it was the fault of the Guardian editorial staff and the co-writers they assigned to him not to have constrained him.
The blurred line between reporting and giving opinion is one that media outlets must guard against. However, as almost every article Greenwald has ever produced for the guardian has been in their “Comment is Free” section, I don’t think it’s a line he ever crosses.
You agree that none of the original articles left you with the impression of hype, this came from his ensuing interviews. Interviews where I imagine Greenwald would feel he was back to his day job. In addition, every interview I have seen with Greenwald has had him introduced as a “blogger”, not a journalist. I would hope viewers and readers would take from this “lesser” title what you and I would.
Why would the NSA want this vast data pile, if the same data is easily accessible through ordinary law enforcement?
And if they want to data to mess with privacy and civil liberty of individual Americans, why would federal agents hungry to do so go to Utah and invoke this data pile, thereby placing the entire asset itself vulnerable to a political or reconsideration in the event the misuse is later discovered, as it might well be as more and more Americans are targeted? Why take any risk at all when the metadata is just a rote subpeona away for any FBI agent without this data pile existing. Do you think that when they wanted the AP’s phone records to chill a free press, even thought about going to Utah and needlessly violating their argument for the FISA-backed program? Why? When they can just fax a request for any target’s phone data to any U.S. District Judge, and then on to the Verizon security offices?
You’re right. Why is a helluva word.
Hi David Simon,
just two things:
1) I was under the impression (based on The Wire) that “Dickensian” was a term used by clueless corporate types who’d lost touch with the human dimensions of straight reportage.
2) Some political conflicts should be drawn in stark relief. There will be gigabytes of self-serving verbiage in the days and weeks to come regarding Snowden’s revelations. Most of it will be purposefully misleading and intended to defend and entrench the status quo. But the issue here, at its most fundamental, is whether or not we support a National Surveillance State.
Why not link to the Shirky article to make it that much easier for people to judge for themselves? I have to say I think that you have mischaracterized the tone and substance of Shirky’s article. Did you spend any time considering that from his perspective his points about you are true and that he’s not cynically creating a straw man?
I agree with him that you are arguing that we should trust the NSA not to abuse Americans’ privacy without much public oversight. You don’t need to say those exact words to make that argument.
I also question your use of ‘ad hominem’. It’s perfectly reasonable to question your conception of what technology and human resources the NSA has at its disposable given the entirety of what you have written on this subject in the last few blog posts and responses to comments. The NSA has a budget of billions of dollars and tens of thousands of employees and it only takes one user with relatively minimal technical skills to abuse this data. It’s not a personal attack to point that out.
I hold that effort by the Guardian in such little regard that I have no interest in addressing it any further than I have. I highlighted all four of his references to my positions, putting his words side by side with my actual statements and positions. That is enough.
Secondly, you may agree with him about what you believe I am arguing. Yet the actual statements that I made, following Mr. Shirky’s assessment of those positions, indicate his characterizations are incomplete at best, or contradictory otherwise. My words are my words. His words are his.
You may question my ad hominem cite, but it is, nonetheless, accurate and precise. Perhaps you don’t understand the rhetorical fallacy. It is reasonable for someone to argue with any of my positions. But it is an ad hominem to suggest that I come by my positions because I left newspapering in a given year, or that I may or may be unfamiliar or ignorant of a given circumstance, or because I have had any relevant or irrelevant experiences. That is all argumentum ad hominem. Arguing not to the idea but to the man who presents the idea. It is dishonest rhetoric. Sorry.
To be aggressively clear, because you really don’t seem to understand the fallacy: Jesus Christ could be the infallible son of God and fail algebra, and Al Capone could write the greatest civics text ever written. Praising Christ and damning Capone doesn’t matter to the ultimate assessment. Only the algebra exam and the civics text tell the tale.
I don’t have any opinions about Mr. Shirky, about his background, about his deep experience or lack of experience with law enforcement, with constitutional law, with the actual legal parameters of telephonic metadata, or with FBI staffing limitations and investigative priority in the post 9-11 world. He may have done due diligence in this matters, he may be indifferent to all of that and only focused on the world of digitization, upon which he rested most of his essay. But he and his background are not relevant to the quality of his argument. And so I remain mute about who he is, in a manner of restraint that he did not manage.
However, I read his arguments. And with regard to the mischaracterization of what I actually wrote, it’s bullshit. And dishonest bullshit at that.
The article clearly assumes that you have formed your conclusion about the NSA’s capabilities because you have extrapolated poorly from the capabilities of the Baltimore PD at some time prior to 1995. I can understand why that would be annoying since that’s not the source of your mistake and isn’t super-relevant to debunking your claims on this point.
But the article spends its time talking about the capabilities of the NSA and others, how technology has changed since 1995, and by implication how it will change in the future. In other words, it provides facts to counter the claims in the quoted section of your blog post. It doesn’t spend time saying that you extrapolated poorly because you’re David Simon and that’s the kind of thing David Simon does. Nor does it suggest that there’s any shame in extrapolating poorly – the pace and scale of the changes described perhaps suggests the opposite.
The article makes clear that it is only addressing one aspect of your blog post and it quotes the part that it is addressing.
Your response implies that Shirky is dishonest for writing it, the Guardian is being retaliatory for publishing it, and that commenters that question your response to it don’t understand what ad hominem means. OK. I guess we disagree again.
Okay, you seem to think that an ad hominem argument means that you have to address the person negatively or insult the person or be disrespectful. Not at all the case. If I said for example that Mr. Shirky, by dint of his interests and expertise, is entirely aware of the technological capacities of the NSA, but is utterly unequipped to deal with the pragmatic requirements of real-time, proactive law enforcement because, well, he’s never studied police work in detail — this is an ad hominem attack. It is unfair of me to judge his argument based on who I happen to believe he is, even if I have only admiration for his area of expertise and understanding for that which is not his area of study or interest. Ad hominem doesn’t mean that you necessarily attack the man, it means you argue to the man and his identity, and not to his argument. And my point is that while I remain tacet on Mr. Shirky, he has allowed what he thinks he knows about my narrative and my basis for knowledge to color his view of my actual arguments. And the proof is there in his essay, honestly.
But more than that, the article assumes that my conclusion about the NSA’s capabilities differs at all from Mr. Shirky’s conclusion. At all points, I have never said that this data wasn’t open to misuse and the possibility that citizens might be vulnerable to privacy and civil rights affronts. In fact, I’ve said that this data — like all other law enforcement assets — likely will be abused at some point, by some one. I’ve said it over and over and over.
So for Mr. Shirky to make the case as if I don’t believe in the capacity of such information for misuse is not only off-point to my actual argument, it’s proving a point to which I have already stipulated, to use a legal term. No, my argument is that this technology exists, and it will always exist — and to the extent that the government wants to target dissent or blackmail people or harass anyone, they can do it without this particular NSA database ever existing. They have done it even without the secret FISA process. That was actually some measure of reform over Nixon and Hoover and COINTELPRO. If they want you, and they’re going to misbehave, then they’ve got your metadata, easy as pie. It has no constitutional protects. None. So denying this data base to the NRA, when it is being maintained with a legitimate counter-terror purpose, is a dangerous game and one that does little to protect anyone’s metadata. Instead, I have argued — repeatedly — the more realistic and balanced approach is to use this controversy to open up this program to independent and consistent oversight with some measured degree of public reporting on civil rights and privacy issues, to allow the proper use of the asset and to police and punish any misuse. You can argue with that approach — but Mr. Shirky never did. Rather than convey my actual arguments, he simply declares that I am willing to trust the NSA. As if I have given no thought whatsoever to the implications for misuse that only he can visualize. Sorry, that is dishonest. If I was at a newspaper and I translated a nuanced position such as that into “trust the NSA,” and the quoted source called to complain, my editor would rightly have my ass.
Finally, as to your claim that Mr. Shirky’s essay provides facts “to counter the claims in the quoted section of my blog.” The only possible place that you can be addressing, I believe, is my rhetorical question of “how many agents, how many computer runs.” As I note, Mr. Shirkey omitted the agents and focused on the computer runs. It was an omission that again suits his premise that the technological reach of NSA eludes me. But indeed, running the data is the prelude to the greater workload and those two elements were joined for a purpose. Every computer run, if it is being done to a purpose in generating intelligence and leads, either for good or ill, will put people on the street. In that sense, the question is entirely legit. How much can they do?
He shaped a lot of nuance and context into horseshit to serve a premise. Given that he never once accurately reflected anything I said in context, yes I am dubious. Can’t help that. If he’d conveyed any single element of my arguments accurately, I’d have more pause, certainly.
I understand very well what ad hominem means. Your arguments and assumptions are misdirected.
My hope when I posted my comment was to get you to spend a few moments thinking about the article in the context of “What if this guy’s right? What have I written that could be construed this way? Why do these two people think that I have formulated a post that says in essence trust the NSA with this data when I think that I have done the opposite? Is ‘allow the NSA to have this data’ equivalent to ‘trust the NSA to have this data’?” And so on.
I appreciate the time you spend responding to commenters, but I’m not looking for a response to this comment.
I’m sure interested people can use the google to find the story.
I have been reading this faithfully, some might say obsessively, since your original post. I don’t pretend to know the law like you and many of the other participants do, so I’ve considered this an education, both in the facts behind the arguments and in HOW to debate. I haven’t chimed in much because I don’t have much of substance to add, but this line speaks to my current thinking:
But not if we give ourselves over, as Mr. Shirky has apparently given himself over, to manufacturing opponents that he can more easily vanquish. There are real and substantive arguments that he needs to confront.
That is my problem with the state of our current discourse. You (the general you) expresses one point of view and suddenly you are pegged as being a certain type of person. Instead of debates about real issues, you (general) spend time defending against things you never said, but which other people think that people “like you” might say. I guess it’s just easier than thinking, but it’s depressing the way we’ve reduced each other to nothing but caricatures and projections. I imagine this is because of the limited nature of online discussions (no looking into each other’s eyes) and because of the ease with which we can insulate ourselves with confirmation bias.
It’s depressing to think about all the time we all waste having to cut through other people’s projections and get people to focus on the words we actually said, rather than the words other people imagine we said. I worry that by the time you cut through the bullshit, most folks will have already moved on to the next hyped scandal du jour. Have we really always had such problem with nuance, or do you think that’s part of the digital age?
But massive kudos to you for continuing to try. I hope that for every Shirker there are people like me who are reading, thinking, learning, integrating, rather than sounding the sirens of panic. But I know which one sells better.
PS Still wondering what a crypto-fascist is.
I have done my best not to follow this story on anything other than a very superficial level, if only to avoid the frustration that goes along with it. However, one thing has stood out in the little bit I have read about the subject….. I’m very happy that David Simon has a regularly updated blog.
Me, not so much. I don’t mind wading in and arguing. I like it. Always have.
But when you can’t find an honest opponent interested in addressing what you actually happen to be arguing, it gets weary. But thanks.
Gonna go hoist a few and do something else with the evening.