Friday, February 14, 2014

Greenwald's literary errors

Santiaguito, Guatemala, 2005.

Bureaucrat Decries Unauthorized Disclosures that Make Him Look Bad

Or as Glenn Greenwald's copy editor at The Intercept, who I believe is Glenn Greenwald, put it,

Clapper Reads From the Bush/Cheney/Nixon Playbook to Fear-Monger Over Transparency

I have to say I am not optimistic over the prospects of an organization that gives Greenwald the title of editor, because editing is really not his strong point.
James Clapper, President Obama’s top national security official, is probably best known for having been caught lying outright to Congress about NSA activities, behavior which (as some baseball players found outhappens to be a felony under federal law.
Really? Baseball players caught lying to Congress about NSA activities? I can't believe I missed that story. Seriously, though, it seems to be only one baseball player, Miguel Tejada, that found out about the illegality of lying to Congress; since Roger Clemens walked (as they say in baseball), suggesting that it's OK to lie to Congress if you're a white man, as the record, indeed, bears out: the only person other than Tejada who has actually been punished for lying to Congress since 1975 being the EPA official Rita Lavelle in 1983.

Almost as rare as being punished is going back to Congress a few months later as Clapper did (under some duress I'm sure) and acknowledging that you misspoke, which makes it seem a little unfair to single out poor Clapper: like Captain Renault making an example of Rick's Café if you know what I mean, and I'm sure you do. Especially since it's not clear that he did, in fact, lie at all, as opposed to getting confused and answering the wrong question. Which can't be said for his accuser Senator Wyden, incidentally.
Clapper has been not only shielded from prosecution, and not only allowed to keep his job; he has has now been anointed the arbiter of others’ criminality, as he parades around the country calling American journalists “accomplices”.
It's hard to see where anybody anointed Clapper the arbiter of anything, or how appearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee constitutes "parading around the country". Also, Clapper may not be an attorney, but he was pretty careful not to directly accuse any journalists of any nationality of being accomplices: he simply said "Snowden and his accomplices", and when asked later to explain exactly what he had meant by that,
Clapper spokesman Shawn Turner clarified: "Director Clapper was referring to anyone who is assisting Edward Snowden to further threaten our national security through the unauthorized disclosure of stolen documents related to lawful foreign intelligence collection programs."
Turner declined to be more specific. (Guardian)
Which could be a bit from the Nixon playbook, but is way too canny for Bush and Cheney. Anyhow, what we're talking about here turns out to be Clapper's testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, as reported by David Kravets in Wired, complaining that Snowden's leaked documents have had a negative effect on national security:
what I do want to speak to, as the nation's Senior Intelligence Officer, is the profound damage that his disclosures have caused and continue to cause. As a consequence, the nation is less safe, and its people less secure.
This reaction is not exactly unexpected, whether what he's saying is true or not, and you might wonder how it's going to get spun out to Greenwaldian length; our man starts out in fairly original style by making a scandal out of the predictability:
it’s hardly surprising that Clapper is furious at these disclosures
needless to say, Clapper offered no evidence at all to support his assertions
in general, it’s hardly surprising that national security officials claim that unwanted disclosures help terrorists
"The defendant appears to have done exactly what anybody would have done under the circumstances; isn't that just a bit suspicious, ladies and gentlemen?"
Etna, Sicily, 2013
I'm also not convinced that Clapper's testimony for a Senate committee sounded "exactly" like Dick Cheney wooing donors for a New Jersey congressman. In the passage Greenwald quotes, Cheney is throwing them some meat on the subject of the New York Times's publication of NSA's illegal observations of American subjects and SWIFT surveillance:
putting this information on the front page makes it more difficult for us to prevent future attacks. Publishing this highly classified information about our sources and methods for collecting intelligence will enable the terrorists to look for ways to defeat our efforts. These kinds of stories also adversely affect our relationships with people who work with us against the terrorists. In the future, they will be less likely to cooperate if they think the United States is incapable of keeping secrets.
He talks about the future, because he doesn't know what if anything is happening at the moment as a result of the leaks, and it's all bluster. Clapper, in contrast, was in the present tense and a little specific:
What Snowden stole and exposed has gone way, way beyond his professed concerns with socalled domestic surveillance programs. As a result, we've lost critical intelligence sources, including some shared with us by valued partners. Terrorists and other adversaries of this country are going to school on U.S. intelligence sources, methods, and tradecraft. And the insights they're gaining are making our job in the intelligence community much, much harder. And this includes putting the lives of members or assets of the intelligence community at risk, as well as those of our armed forces, diplomats, and our citizens. We're beginning to see changes in the communications behavior of adversaries: particularly terrorists. A disturbing trend, which I anticipate will continue.
It's "interesting", as Greenwald might say, that Greenwald (in addition to resequencing the sentences when he's quoting this passage, for no very clear reason) omits that first sentence from his own citation. The fact that Clapper had something unambiguously real to complain about where Cheney did not is one way in which they are certainly different, or at least their situations are, so leaving it out is a way of distorting the point, i.e., propaganda. On the question whether Clapper has any more "evidence" than Cheney had I think we should remember that Clapper meets with this committee in closed session to discuss stuff that we're not allowed to know, and it's possible that terrible things are happening that are hidden from us. That's "possible", not certain; I mean we don't know that he doesn't have any evidence or that he does.
Credited to Tom Moss/WWF and somewhere in Indonesia.
I am as ever doubtful as to whether our national interests have been harmed as much as Clapper says they have. I can't believe, for one thing, that the programs ever worked as well as those product-promotion PowerPoints of the Snowden files try to suggest they do, so if they're wrecked not that much is lost; and in general I think the most important information just isn't typically secret, secrecy tending always increasingly to be about itself. To Clapper, as a struggler within the bureaucracy whose weapons are white papers and red tape, every molehill is a mountain, and brimful of moles, too. And I suppose Greenwald is more or less right about the credulity of the media in this regard:
In the vast majority of interviews I’ve done about NSA reporting, interviewers adopt a grave tone in their voice and trumpet the claims from U.S. officials that our reporting is helping the terrorists. They treat these claims as though they’re the by-product of some sort of careful, deliberative, unique assessment rather than what it is: the evidence-free tactics national security state officials reflexively invoke to discredit all national security journalism they dislike.
Though perhaps if they're that foolishly trusting then the vastness of the time they give to Greenwald on their air is a sign he may not be all that serious himself. Also I can't help wondering if it's really possible to trumpet something in a grave tone of voice.

Clapper says a few things that are kind of interesting in the ordinary sense of the term. One is even a bit spooky, on the subject of his emotional reaction to the NSA's crisis:
It pains me greatly that the National Security Agency and its magnificent work force have been pilloried in the public commentary. I started in the intelligence profession over 50 years ago in signals intelligence. Members of my family, my father, father in law, brother in law, and my wife and I, have all worked at NSA, so this is deeply personal to me.
Really? Are NSA jobs actually hereditary, or is this case exceptional?
Critical intelligence capabilities in which the United States has invested billions of dollars are at risk, or likely to be curtailed or eliminated, either because of compromise or conscious decision. Moreover, the impact of the losses caused by the disclosures will be amplified by the substantial budget reductions we're incurring. The stark consequences of this perfect storm are pretty evident. The intelligence community is going to have less capacity to protect our nation and its allies than we've had in the past.
When a bureaucrat is lamenting budget cuts you know he's being sincere. Clapper's use of the occasion to complain to the Senators may be a sign that the whole thing is maybe a little more truthful than at first appears. And lastly, he refers in a way that is not at all Cheney-like to the possibility of reform:
I have specific tasking [from the president], in conjunction with the attorney general, to conduct further declassifications to develop additional protections under Section 702 of the FISA act, governing collection of non-U.S. persons overseas to modify how we conduct bulk collection of telephone metadata under Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act, and to ensure more oversight of sensitive collection activities. Clearly, we'll need your support in making these changes.
Not that Clapper isn't to be criticized; he's clearly a timorous, time-serving weasel who has been in his job far too long. But Greenwald isn't the writer to do it. He writes like a volcano, out of control and unable to aim, covering his material in an ash of invidious comparisons and over-the-top adjectives. Kravets, in the Wired article off of which Greenwald is riffing in his 1500-word blog post, uses his less than 350 to make a far more devastating critique, in plain and factual language:
as WIRED noted today, Clapper has been known to exaggerate national security threats before. He told a federal judge last year that a lawsuit brought by a Stanford University scholar had to be dismissed, or national security would suffer.
The scholar had been detained and handcuffed at San Francisco International Airport after trying to board a flight to Hawaii to give a paper on affordable housing. When she sued to find out if she had been placed on the no-fly list, Clapper was among the officials rallying to kill the lawsuit.
The government lost the case, clearing the way for last week’s revelation that Rahinah Ibrahim had been placed on the no-fly list through a paperwork error.
That's how it's done. Typesetting's a lot more professional too, I note.
Klyuchevskaya Sopka, Kamchatka.

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