Go-Bags and the Gladrags

I wrote this back in February for a blog I maintained as a part of a class assignment. That blog was set to “private,” so only the instructor and a few classmates saw it. Before I delete it/forget the login info, I plan on salvaging whatever is still timely and not terrible and reposting it here. Next week’s post will be a new one expanding on the ideas in this recycled screed, and so on. As always. Thank you for reading.

If you can’t respond to their arguments, cast aspersions. Critics of National Security Agency contractor turned whistleblower Edward Snowden have resorted to retroactive well-poisoning as the increasingly indefensible activities of the U.S. government’s surveillance program are unfolded before the public.

Last summer, NBC’s David Gregory revealed what was to many another example of how the Washington press corps has sided with the government on the surveillance leaks with a shamelessly leading question to Glenn Greenwald while hosting Meet the Press and also suggesting Greenwald isn’t a journalist.

Then, two weeks ago, Mr. Gregory again gave his critics on the NSA story evidence of his deference to Washington’s elite. On a segment of January 19’s Meet the Press, Gregory interviews House Intelligence Chair Mike Rogers and Senate Intelligence Chair Dianne Feinstein on President Obama’s speech on intelligence reform. The transcript of the entire episode is available here. Below is a small clip from the Rogers interview. Archive.org has hosted more of the Meet the Press idiocy here.

The amount of distortions and misrepresentations on top of the unfounded speculation that David Gregory fails to even acknowledge makes a proper critique of this interview rather challenging, but let us try.

  • Rogers begins with a patently ridiculous analogy comparing Snowden to a janitor at a bank who “figured out how to steal money.” Rogers then declares that Snowden “was a thief, who we believe had some help, who stole information the vast majority had nothing to do with privacy.”

It’s impossible to prove a negative, but all of the NSA documents made public so far deal with surveillance which is inherently related to privacy, or more precisely, the elimination of it.

  •  “Our Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines have been incredibly harmed by the data that he has taken with him and we believe now is in the hands of nation states.”

Rogers repeated this assertion elsewhere in the interview, elaborating that terrorists have changed their methods, making them harder to monitor, which puts our military at risk. That claim would have more credence if intelligence agencies hadn’t already issued public reports which explain that terrorists avoid online communication services from companies that have been known to provide access to the U.S. government on request. Terrorists tend to use the “Deep Web,” parts of the Internet not indexed by search engines, and have been using use encrypted messaging software to communicate since at least 2007.

Gregory catches the accusation and asks “Who helped him?”

To which Rogers says, “Well, there were certain questions that we have to get answered. Where some of this aid, first of all, if it was a privacy concern he had, he didn’t look for information on the privacy side for Americans. He was stealing information that had to do with how we operate overseas to collect information to keep Americans safe.”

If I may adapt Rep. Roger’s analogy, this is like the bank’s management, after the janitor revealed they were lying to investors, asserting the leaked information was vital to the bank’s operations.

The Michigan Congressman continues saying, “that begs the question. And some of the things he did were beyond his technical capabilities. Raises more questions.” Some of readers might have identified the rhetorical technique Rogers is employing here.

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See anything familiar? Screenshot by author.

Actually, how Snowden obtained many of the documents was revealed last November: colleagues at the NSA gave him logins and passwords after he asked for them.

Next, Rogers drops some sexy, spycraft jargon. Rogers said he was investigating how Snowden “arranged travel before he left. How he was ready to go, he had a go bag, if you will.”

How? He bought a plane ticket to Hong-Kong, ultimately headed for Iceland. WikiLeaks and Russians with ties to the Kremlin only reached out to Snowden after he became stuck at a Moscow airport when the U.S. government revoked his passport (source). I’m still waiting for evidence of foreign orchestration in all this.

Now for this “go-bag” business. What could that be? It couldn’t be an actually fairly innocuous item about which information is widely available, including public information pages on government websites, could it? Indeed, as Snowden says in this interview with the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer, he had one packed for his work. I would be surprised if the members of Rep. Rogers’ security detail didn’t have go-bags packed and ready too.

Gregory then asks Rogers to speculate on his speculation asking, “But how high level, do you think?”

Rogers indulges Gregory, declaring “I believe there’s a reason he ended up in the hands, the loving arms, of an FSB agent in Moscow. I don’t think that’s a coincidence, number one.”

It certainly isn’t a coincidence that Snowden needed Anatoly Kucherena, a lawyer with ties to the Russian security services (assuming anyone can do anything in Russia without ties to the security services). He was stuck in the Sheremetyevo airport because his U.S. passport was revoked.

Gregory states flat-out what the Congressman is insinuating: “You think the Russians helped Ed Snowden?”

To which Rogers dodges with “I believe there’s questions to be answered there.” The Congressman should get the answers to those questions before attacking someone’s reputation on national television.

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Click on the above image to see Cartman’s impersonation of Rep. Mike Rogers. Image courtesy of Comedy Central Press.

David Gregory reminds the viewers that this is “a significant development if it’s true.” A good journalist reminds his audience that unverified allegations are just that. Whether they could be “significant” is immaterial if there is no proof.

Gregory then lets Rep. Rogers give a final, unchallenged string of untruths and deception:

The oversight that is conducted, that’s what is the interesting thing about this. With all the disclosures, we find out, holy mackerel, the court’s involved. Both the Senate and the House committees are involved. There was plenty of oversight of the programs. And it was very restrictive, only 288 times that they even used the business records in 2012.

It turns out the “involved courts” were deceived about the data the NSA was collecting, our fully-briefed Congress has to bring in outside experts to get a grasp on the NSA’s capabilities, and government agencies don’t need to request business records when they have broken into private data centers anyway.

And not one peep from Gregory.