Posts Tagged ‘Glenn Greenwald’


FOI FYI: Is NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden a hero or villain?

While U.S. officials hunted for who leaked about the National Security Agency’s sweeping domestic surveillance late last week, the whistle-blower outed himself.

Edward Snowden, a 29-year-old former CIA technical assistant and a current employee for defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, requestedthe Guardian reveal his identity in an article and video interview published June 8.

“I have no intention of hiding who I am because I know I have done nothing wrong,” Snowden told the Guardian.

After working at the National Security Agency for the last four years, Snowden said he decided to leak top secret information about the government’s surveillance because his conscience got the best of him. He didn’t feel right about racking up a big pay check in his Hawaii office all the while fighting off his gut feeling that NSA workers like him could easily grant themselves the right to snoop on average Americans without “public oversight.”

“The result is people like myself have the latitude to go further than they are allowed to,” Snowden told the Guardian.

In the interview he also said the NSA “routinely lies in response to congressional inquiries about the scope of surveillance in America,” and he hopes that his outing will not detract attention from the top secret documents and information he publicized.

“I really want the focus to be on these documents and the debate which I hope this will trigger among citizens around the globe about what kind of world we want to live in,” he told the Guardian. “My sole motive is to inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them.”

Snowden made the decision to out the NSA in what the Guardian is calling the “biggest intelligence leak” in the organization’s history about three weeks ago when he copied top secret documents in his office and boarded a plane to Hong Kong on May 20. He has been hiding out and conducting secret interviews with the press ever since. He told his supervisors he needed to leave work for “a couple of weeks” for epilepsy treatments (a condition he actually has), the Guardian said.

Snowden told the Guardian that he chose Hong Kong because “they have a spirited commitment to free speech and the right of political dissent,” and he thinks it’s one place he can hide from the repercussions of blowing the whistle on ultra-powerful American intelligence agencies.

Before Snowden revealed himself, the Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald who has been breaking information about the NSA’s surveillance since June 5 (see our previous blog post) appeared on ABC News “This Week” Sunday to warn Americans there might be more than one NSA whistle-bower and to commend whistle-blowers everywhere for not allowing government prosecution to dissuade them from speaking out.

“(S)ince the government hides virtually everything that they do at the threat of criminal prosecution, the only way for us to learn about them is through these courageous whistle-blowers – who deserve our praise and gratitude, and not imprisonment and prosecution,” Greenwald told ABC News.

But also on “This Week” Sunday Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.)  and Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) told ABC News that the NSA’s massive surveillance program is not only “within the law,”  but also it has already helped thwart terror plots, including Colorado resident Najibullah Zazi’s 2009 plan to bomb New York City’s subways.

“I can tell you, in the Zazi case in New York, it’s exactly the program that was used,” Rogers told ABC News.

On June 7, President Obama addressed the press at an appearance in California primarily about health care. He explained that although he welcomes debate about citizen’s privacy concerns, he does not welcome the leak to the press because he said the NSA’s top secret programs are secret for a reason. They help the government identify and stop potential terrorists without alerting terrorists about how the system works.

“Our goal is to stop folks from doing us harm, and if every step that we’re taking to try to prevent a terrorist act is on the front page of the newspapers or on television, then presumably the people who are trying to do us harm are going to be able to get around our preventive measures. That’s why these things are classified,” Obama said on June 7.

He noted that NSA employees can be trusted to “operate like professionals” and their surveillance methods are “very narrowly circumscribed.”

One senior law enforcement source told ABC News last week that the leaker’s decision to spill top secret information about the NSA was “completely reckless and illegal.”

“It’s more than just unauthorized. He’s no hero,” the source told ABC News.

Whistle-blower Watch: DOJ ‘very likely’ to seek source of NSA leak in Verizon case

Federal whistle-blowers, beware. Attorney General Eric Holder is “very likely” to seek out the source who squeaked to the Guardian about the National Security Agency’s top secret phone record raid, according to an NBC correspondent who interviewed Attorney General Eric Holder about the Associated Press and Fox News subpoenas after the news broke.

The Guardian published a court order for the NSA to obtain Verizon customers’ phone records as well as a provocative article calling out the Obama administration’s “extreme interpretation of the law to engage in excessive domestic surveillance” on the evening of June 5. (See our previous post on the topic.)

But before the Guardian posted the order or the article, it said it approached the National Security Agency, the White House and the Justice Department, all of which declined to comment or raise specific security concerns as to why the information should not be made public.

Even so, NBC News Justice correspondent Pete Williams, who appeared on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” June 6 with Guardian reporter Glenn Greenwald, confirmed that the Justice Department will investigate who blew the whistle.

“I was told last night: definitely there will be a leak investigation,” Williams said.

But on MSNBC’s “Daily Rundown” later that morning, Williams backed away from such certainty, telling host Chuck Todd: “It seems highly likely this will trigger a leak investigation.”

The Huffington Post said a senior administration official told them Thursday morning that it’s too early to suggest an investigation will “definitely” take place.

Stay tuned for updates.

Kara Hackett is SPJ’s Pulliam/Kilgore Freedom of Information intern, a freelance writer and a free press enthusiast. Contact her at khackett@spj.org or on Twitter: @KaraHackett.

FOI Daily Dose: Feds obtain broad phone records for Verizon customers

Think The Associated Press and Fox News were the only ones whose phone records are watched by federal officials?  Think again. If you have a Verizon phone, you can add your name to the list.

A top secret court order issued in April grants the National Security Agency (NSA) a three-month window to collect phone records for any and all of Verizon’s millions of customers, including those who aren’t suspected of wrongdoing.

The order, approved through a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA) judge, expires July 19, but until then, it mandates that all calls are monitored on an “ongoing, daily basis,” according to the Guardian, which broke the story the evening of June 5.

A September 2012 Statistic Brain report shows that Verizon connects an average of 1 billion calls per day, and the government can monitor all calls within the U.S. and between the U.S. and other countries.

Although feds won’t be listening in on your conversations, the order allows them to see the numbers of both parties on a call, as well as the call location, duration and “unique identifiers,” the Guardian said. They can also track the time and duration of all calls you make.

Guardian reporter Glenn Greenwald explains that this order shows for the first time that the Obama administration’s domestic surveillance rivals the Bush-era exploits into domestic telephone, Internet and email records authorized in 2001 to protect what the former administration called “national security interests” after the 9/11 terror attacks.

But Greenwald notes that the Obama administration’s Verizon surveillance is “extremely unusual” because FISA court orders typically monitor a “specific named target who is suspected of being an agent of a terrorist group or foreign state, or a finite set of individually named targets.”

Even those who typically support the president took to Twitter last night when the report came out, including former Vice President Al Gore who called it “obscenely outrageous.”

The Guardian said so far the NSA, the White House, the Justice Department and Verizon have declined comment. It is unknown whether other cell-phone providers have similar orders, but in a news conference on June 6, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) confirmed Verizon’s order is a three month renewal of ongoing practice, the Huffington Post reports.

More than anything, Greenwald’s article emphasized the current administration’s “extreme interpretation of the law” to exploit American privacy without the American people even realizing it.

For watchdog journalists, it’s only the latest federal tug on our leash, reminding us the government still has its hold on private communications, and its grasp might be stronger than we imagine.

Greenwald points to “numerous cryptic public warnings” from U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Mark Udall (D-Co.) who have said the administration’s domestic surveillance power is so broad the American public would be “stunned” to learn its scope.

The New York Times reported that the legality of this type of domestic surveillance falls under the “hotly debated” Section 215 of the Patriot Act.

Wyden and Udall disagree with the discrepancy in the way the Obama administration described Section 215 as a way to obtain a grand jury subpoena for business records in an ordinary criminal investigation and then secretly use the section to make it easier for the NSA to get a FISA court order to obtain any “business records” (from companies like Verizon) by proving that they were “relevant” to a national-security investigation.

The senators wrote a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder complaining that this secret interpretation was misleading, saying: “There is now a significant gap between what most Americans think the law allows and what the government secretly claims the law allows.”

But in 2011, the Justice Department denied misleading the public about the Patriot Act, according to the New York Times.

The Times said it filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit in 2011 for a report describing the government’s interpretation of its Patriot Act surveillance powers.

But Times reporters Charlie Savage and Edward Wyatt explain: “The Obama administration withheld the report, and a judge dismissed the case.”

Kara Hackett is SPJ’s Pulliam/Kilgore Freedom of Information intern, a freelance writer and a free press enthusiast. Contact her at khackett@spj.org or on Twitter: @KaraHackett.

Help us make a splash with weekly FOI profiles

Are you a reporter who goes above and beyond expectations to hold your elected and government officials accountable? Or how about a citizens group working behind the scenes to make public records more accessible in underprivileged neighborhoods?

I’d like to talk to you. Here’s why:

I didn’t know much about press freedoms until I went to a small private college in Indiana where the campus newspaper was bound by chains of censorship. As a freshman I remember flipping through the paper and finding articles that read more like press releases.

It didn’t take a trained eye to notice. Most of my friends called the paper “a joke,” and bugged me about my decision to join the staff near the end of sophomore year.

Sure, I saw the newspaper’s flaws. But I couldn’t pull myself away from conversations with some of our college reporters who felt unable to print the words they desperately wanted to say, lest the black ink on their pages turn to black marks on their records or worse, an untimely end to the paper all together.

You see, at private universities that pay for their student newspapers’ operating costs (rent for the building, computers for production), administrators technically have the final say about what can and cannot be printed and whether the paper can even exist.

But during my four years at college, my campus newspaper made a turnaround. We started conversations that leveled a campus apartment complex and renovated an out-of-code athletic facility, and just to toot our own horn once more, we were named “Journalism Website of the Year” by the Society of Professional Journalists my senior year.

All of this to say that my time as a college reporter taught me a valuable lesson. When you’re on staff at one of these private schools, you’re privy to a perspective on the free press and the First Amendment that (in my humble opinion) most journalists don’t realize until they have their first run-in with the law some ten-years into their career.

Anyway, when you’re on staff, you realize you’re working under an administration that’s always going to try to tip the scales in their favor and stop you from finding flaws in the system. (Sound familiar?) Well, as a reporter, you either dive into the deep waters and learn to swim on your own, or you stay in the shallow end of the reporting pool and print press releases. There’s really no room to wade in the waters in-between.

Now that U.S. news outlets are waking up to a similar reality with the federal government, I can only wonder: Will we reporters learn to swim on our own, or will we stay in the shallow end, clinging to our petty arguments and political ideologies like water floaties?

I’d like to think the former, but a recent article by Glenn Greenwald in the Guardian has me wondering: What is it that we— journalism junkies, First Amendment freaks and open government advocates — are actually doing to lead the grassroots fights for the free press? Are we diving into the deep end of pool, and if we are, are we sinking or swimming?

Sure, we could have a federal shield law in our favor soon. Consider that the government tossing us a water-logged noodle. We’ll still have to kick to keep our heads above water, and Greenwald says that so far we’re not really holding our own weight. We’re not claiming control of the press on our own terms, that is. Instead, we’re waiting around for the government to pull us ashore, slide water wings up our slippery arms again and help us back into the shallow end where they can keep an eye on us.

So I’m out to prove Greenwald wrong — just like I was out to show my college classmates that a private school newspaper doesn’t have to be an administrative PR tool.

As SPJ members, journalists and free press advocates, let’s not grant our government the right to decide how we report the news. Let’s ban together and claim our freedoms for ourselves.

I know from firsthand experience that it is possible. And maybe you do, too.

The rest of this summer, I’m going to write weekly profiles about ordinary reporters and citizens making extraordinary strides for free information around the country. But I’m only one person with a limited number of contacts, so to make this blog successful, I’m going to need your help.

If you know anyone (or any group) diving in and creating grassroots change or kicking against the repressive norm, share their story with me at khackett@spj.org.

Let’s make a splash to show Greenwald and our government what American journalism is really about.

Cannon balls away!

Kara Hackett is SPJ’s Pulliam/Kilgore Freedom of Information intern, a freelance writer and a free press enthusiast. Contact her at khackett@spj.org or on Twitter: @KaraHackett.

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