Greenwald’s Latest NSA Bombshell is an Incomplete Mess, Lacking Any Evidence of Wrongdoing

Glenn Greenwald’s “grand finale fireworks display” finally appeared online early Wednesday and, indeed, there were fireworks but not the “spectacular multicolored hues” he predicted. The fireworks instead came in the form of a bombshell that exploded in a mushroom cloud of shoddy reporting and the usual hyperbolic, misleading accusations that have been the centerpiece of his brand of journalism for more than a year.

Reporting for The Intercept, Greenwald and co-author Murtaza Hussain published an article titled, “Meet the Muslim-American Leaders the FBI and NSA Have Been Spying On,” based on top secret National Security Agency (NSA) documents leaked by Edward Snowden. The documents in this case appear to show that between 2002 and 2008 the FBI and NSA collected the email communications of five Americans, four of whom self-identify as Muslim:

• Faisal Gill, a longtime Republican Party operative and one-time candidate for public office who held a top-secret security clearance and served in the Department of Homeland Security under President George W. Bush;

• Asim Ghafoor, a prominent attorney who has represented clients in terrorism-related cases;

• Hooshang Amirahmadi, an Iranian-American professor of international relations at Rutgers University;

• Agha Saeed, a former political science professor at California State University who champions Muslim civil liberties and Palestinian rights;

• Nihad Awad, the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the largest Muslim civil rights organization in the country.

The article claims, and Greenwald subsequently reinforced on cable news yesterday, that the above Americans are model citizens and, according to him, have no ties to terrorism, therefore they couldn’t possibly be connected with malfeasance of any kind, especially Islamic jihad. And because there doesn’t appear to be an obvious reason for monitoring their communications, Greenwald contends that the surveillance is both unjustified and unconstitutional.

That’s Greenwald’s case. But as with many of his previous NSA articles, Greenwald’s case is horrendously weak.

Before we get into specifics, it’s important to recap the role of a journalist, especially one who’s dealing with highly sensitive, highly complicated national security matters. A journalist’s primary task is to investigate a story then to precisely explain the who, what, when, where, why and how of the story. Just the facts. Every time one of those questions goes missing, the story disintegrates a little more.

To merely report that five Americans out of 315,000,000 were monitored by the FBI or CIA might smell like news, but it’s hardly a bombshell, chiefly because the reporters failed to explain the answer to “why?” And if Greenwald and Hussain had evidence of the why, and it showed foul play on behalf of the FBI or NSA, then it’s news, and the outrage may commence. But if five Americans are pulled over by traffic cops multiple times between 2002 and 2008, it could indicate racial profiling, or it could indicate speeding or drunk driving or running red lights or whatever. The reporters job is to fill in that blank or else his story is incomplete, and a responsible editor might ask the reporter to hold the article until the “why?” puzzle piece materializes.

Put another way: imagine if Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein had reported that several American men were arrested at the Watergate hotel, and… nothing else. No “why.” Why were they arrested? What are the charges? What were they doing? Better yet, imagine if Fox News Channel reported this story without any additional evidence.

Greenwald’s response to the lack of “why?” is always: I don’t know but allow me to speculate. By the way, in the article, Greenwald employed the excuse “the government won’t tell us because it’s secretive,” which is almost as weak as leaving it out. If Greenwald was able to get this far, and the cache of Snowden documents is as vast and damning as he suggests, perhaps he should’ve taken more time to dig around and find out before publishing a one-dimensional story. (We’ll come back to this.)

Let’s go ahead and jump into this disaster… CONTINUE READING

(ht Terry Eaton)
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  • Marcus

    ” imagine if Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein had reported that several American men were arrested at the Watergate hotel, and… nothing else”

    How about we imagine something that actually parallels the actual story — imagine if Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein had reported that several American men were arrested at the Watergate hotel, and… the government had kept it secret and refused to explain why.

    (As I noted on earlier threads, this subject is a bit tiresome, as the rise of universal encryption is rapidly making the issue moot. To paraphrase Churchill, the government will do the right thing (limit itself to legitimate narrowly-focused investigation) once the wrong thing (mass fishing expeditions) becomes impossible.)