Story Didn't Do Damage to National Security, Greenwald Says
From this Sunday's Reliable Sources on CNN, Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald pushed back at Rep. Mike Rogers' assertions that he "doesn't have a clue" about what really goes on at the NSA and that he somehow did damage to the national security of the United States by publishing his recent articles on the agency's datamining and surveillance programs.
Love him or hate him, I think anyone would be hard pressed to make a convincing argument rebutting the better part of the points he made here with Howard Kurtz and the need for more oversight, transparency and accountability for the way these programs are being conducted.
I also think he was spot on when it comes to the fact that although most Americans may not know much about or be paying attention to what the NSA has been doing, you can't say the same thing about the terrorists.
Anyone who has been plotting attacks against the United States was probably more than well aware already that the United States government was datamining their phone and Internet records. It's not like this is the first time that any information on these programs and the NSA combing through all of our information has been reported on in recent years.
I think we'll all be debating the implications and fallout from Greenwald's reporting and these leaks for some time to come, which is a good thing. I'd be happy if it ended up in the Patriot Act being repealed, but I'm not holding my breath for our members of Congress to act that responsibly any time soon, if ever.
I found this post at TPM interesting, where Josh Marshall brought up "the folly of creating a system that one dissenting or disgruntled employee can so easily upend." He makes a great point about just how secure any system really is if one rogue employee can manage to turn things on their head as we're potentially seeing here.
And as GottaLaff at TPC took note of, Booz Allen, the consulting firm that Edward Snowden was working for, has been pretty much a prime example of the sort of revolving door conflict of interest we've seen between way too many government officials and private contractors and the fact that these contractors "may exert undue or unlawful influence on government."
Full transcript via CNN below the fold.
KURTZ: It's not surprising on one level that Glenn Greenwald broke the story of the administration's sweeping cell phone surveillance. Greenwald is a lawyer, a commentator and an activist who's been aggressively outspoken on what he views as national security abuses during the Bush and Obama administrations. He's now a columnist for "The Guardian" and he joins me live from Hong Kong.
Glenn, how is it that you living most of the time in Brazil and working for a British newspaper, got this scoop and no American news organization did?
GLENN GREENWALD, COLUMNIST & BLOGGER, THE GUARDIAN: Well, first of all, let me just correct you of what the premise of your question and what you said in the introduction as well. The newspaper for which I work is actually the U.S. edition of "The Guardian".
KURTZ: It's part of the company.
GREENWALD: It is based in New York City. It's an American company staffed overwhelming by Americans including myself. So, it is actually an American branch of a global news organization.
But, secondly, there is a thing called the Internet that essentially allows people in different parts of the world to learn about other parts of the world. And apparently, there are people inside the United States government very alarmed by what is taking place within the surveillance state who decided that they wanted their fellow citizens to be aware of it and wanted journalists who would be aggressive about pursuing their duties as a journalist and inform the public.
And that's how I learned of these things.
KURTZ: And you said one of your sources at least is a reader of yours. And so, was that person drawn to dealing with you because of your record on being an outspoken critic on these national security issues?
GREENWALD: I think that what it is more instead is there is a multiple episodes over the last decade where news organizations that discovered crucial information about what the government was doing sat on that information, at the request of the U.S. government. The most notorious example of which was when "The New York Times" learned in 2004 that the Bush administration was spying on Americans and their telephone calls without warrants required by law and sat on that story for a full year after George Bush got safely reelected at the request of the White House.
And so, there is a concern that there's a lot of supine behavior, subservient behavior in the part of the American media when it comes to the government. And I think this source wanted to make sure -- these sources wanted to make sure that if they took the risk of trying to inform the public, that they would find journalists willing to be adversarial in their posture toward the U.S. government and be aggressive about informing citizens.
KURTZ: I want to come back to that point. But first, as you know, administration officials have been pushing back pretty hard against your story, and the follow-up story about Internet surveillance also disclosed by "The Washington Post".
Yesterday, James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, spoke to NBC News and had this to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAMES CLAPPER, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: For me, it is literally, not figuratively, literally gut-wrenching to see this happen because of the huge, grave damage it does to our intelligence capabilities.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: And this morning, after you were on ABC's "This Week," Mike Rogers, the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said the following, "Greenwald says that he's got it all and is now an expert on the program. He doesn't have a clue how this thing works."
Your reaction to both -- to those criticisms by separate politicians in Washington.
GREENWALD: Well, first of all, to the extent that politicians like Republican Mike Rogers are running around boasting that only they know but not the rest of us know about what the U.S. government is doing in terms of how it's spying on its own citizens, that to me is exactly the reason why transparency is so vital here. We shouldn't have a massive spying apparatus being constructed completely beyond democratic accountability, beyond the knowledge of the citizens on whom it's spying and done in the dark. And that's exactly why, as a journalist, I think it's so vital to shine light on what it is the government is doing.
As for the statements of Clapper, what I would say is this: in every single case over the last four or five decades, whenever reporters expose the secret conduct of government officials that they're trying to hide from the public, they use the same playbook. They try to scare Americans into believing that they should be trusted to exercise powers, we're keeping you safe from the terrorists -- and then they attack the journalists. They did that to "The New York Times" when they published the Pentagon papers. It's what they do in every case.
The reality is, is that --
KURTZ: Let me just jump in. I would certainly agree that you performed a public service by letting Americans know what is being done in their name in terms of these secret programs. But would you be willing to concede that there is a potential downside with this kind of disclosure where terrorists, potential terrorists, America's enemies, could be more careful to avoid this kind of surveillance that you have now made public?
GREENWALD: OK. Let me tell you why that claim is absurd. It's really actually what they're doing when they make that claim is they're insulting the intelligence of everybody in the United States. Every terrorist on the planet already knows and have known for a long time that the United States is trying to surveil their communications, eavesdrop on their telephone calls, read their emails. Any terrorist who isn't already aware of that is a terrorist who's incapable of tying their shoes, let alone detonating a bomb successfully in the United States.
That isn't anything about what we disclose. What we disclose is that the American government is surveiling its own citizens, people who are suspected of no wrongdoing.
The only thing that has been damaged here is not national security. What has been damaged is the reputation and credibility of the political officials who want to hide behind top secret designations to conceal their own wrongdoing. And that's really what they're angry about.
KURTZ: OK. Now, over the years, Glenn Greenwald, you've been portrayed in the media, at least by some in the media, as kind of a gadfly, maybe a fringe character, maybe an obsessive on these national security issues.
Now, you're getting all this media attention. You've got a profile in "The New York Times", generally sympathetic, I would say, but the headline called you a blogger.
Do you feel somewhat vindicated now by the fact that -- nothing wrong about being a blogger, by the way -- but do you feel somewhat vindicated by the fact that you're getting all this media attention after years of pounding away at these issues?
GREENWALD: Well, honestly what I really hope happens here is that we finally have a very genuine, open debate about the kind of society we want to live in and about the kind of government we want to have. Do we really want to let the government be scrutinizing and monitoring everything that we say and do and knowing everything about us, while we know virtually nothing about what it is that they're doing?
So to the extent that the stories that we're writing and that we will continue to write trigger that debate, fuel that debate, make people more educated about those in power are doing to them -- sure, I -- that's been my goal in all the writing I've been doing for several years now, and I'm very happy and gratified to see that debate finally taking place.
KURTZ: I'll ask again, do you feel a measure of vindication?
GREENWALD: I mean, I think that it's been clear for a long time that there's this massive secrecy that's being abused in the U.S. government. And sure, to the extent that people are starting to realize just how pervasive those abuses are -- sure, I think that the things that I'm writing have proven to be correct by these revelations.
KURTZ: Now, when the stories came out in the last few weeks about government spying not at all Americans but aimed at journalists, in particular, the cases involving "The Associated Press" and FOX News and reporter James Rosen, you wrote that the mainstream media was rising up in indignation only because some of their own members have been targeted.
Let me put on the screen a column you wrote for "The Guardian." "With a few noble exceptions," you wrote, "most major media outlets said little about any of this, except in those cases when they supported it. It took a direct and blatant attack on them, for them to really get worked up, denounce these assaults and acknowledge this administration's true character."
So, do you think except when journalists are targeted that the media in general either don't care or just insufficiently aggressive about government intrusion?
GREENWALD: Unfortunately, I do. I mean, it's interesting. I've seen a lot of people saying this week with the revelations about mass spying on American people that essentially we all know what American Muslims feel like now since they have been subjected to extremely invasive surveillance systematically over the past 12 years, the vast majority of whom are guilty of absolutely nothing.
And even more so, you know, back in 2010, the United States convened a grand jury, a criminal investigation into WikiLeaks, which really was doing what journalists do, which is they receive classified information from a government source and then published it. And the theory of the government at that time, many of us tried to warn, was very dangerous. It was that WikiLeaks could be criminally prosecuted, even though they were just doing pure journalism.
KURTZ: But I want to bring you back to your view of the mainstream media, which is, do you believe that most of its members are -- to use a phrase you used at one of your column -- subservient to political power? And if so, why do you think that is?
GREENWALD: Well, of course, they are. I mean, you actually wrote one of the best columns of the last 10 years on that, Howard, was when you talked in "The Washington Post" about how your own newspaper had systematically buried any real dissent regarding the claims of the Bush administration justifying the run up to the war in Iraq. The war in Iraq was probably the best example, but by far, not only the example, in which the U.S. government is subservient to the claims of the administration.
So much reporting in Washington consists of running to government sources, mindlessly repeating what they say after giving anonymity to ensure that they can say it with no accountability, and then simply disseminating it to the public.
I also talked before about the stories in which newspapers have sat on stories because the government told them to.
KURTZ: Right. And Iraq certainly was not the government's finest hour.
I'm sorry to break in and we're short on time. I do want to ask you before you go, the NSA, as you know, has now asked the Justice Department to conduct a criminal investigation of the phone surveillance story that you broke. Are you worried about being caught up in the intensity of a criminal investigation which might either be aimed at you or the person or persons who provided you the information?
GREENWALD: I'm not worried at all. I read the First Amendment that I have the right of free press. I know that's my right and my duty as an American to exercise that right and I really don't care what threats the government makes. If anything, it's just going to backfire. I think it would embolden more people to come forward with more and more whistle-blowing about their wrongful conduct.
KURTZ: All right. Glenn Greenwald, thanks very much for joining us -- Glenn Greenwald of "The Guardian."
GREENWALD: Thanks for having me.