NSA’s Free Infomercial Courtesy of 60 Minutes: Surveillance State Propaganda


If you want journalism, read Glenn Greenwald, Jim Risen or Jane Mayer. If you want to hear NSA officials smear a whistleblower and shamelessly fear monger to save face after being caught lying to the Congress, the courts, and the world, watch last night’s NSA infomercial that 60 Minutes tried to pass off as journalism.

In exchange for what ex-intelligence official correspondent John Miller pitched as news, 60 Minutes gave NSA Director Kieth Alexander and deputy-directer heir apparent Rick Ledgett prime air time to mislead the public in a pathetic attempt to convince people to ignore the plain, documented facts in the revelations from whistleblower Edward Snowden.

The segment isn’t just one-sided, it’s misleading and factually wrong in so many areas they are impossible to count. It should have been a tip-off how far 60 Minutes had fallen to get access to film canned, clearly staged briefings in NSA’s Operations Center when the segment led with NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander saying:

The fact is, we’re not collecting everybody’s email, we’re not collecting everybody’s phone things, we’re not listening to that.

This assertion has been categorically dis-proven by the Snowden revelations:

The National Security Agency has a secret backdoor into its vast databases under a legal authority enabling it to search for US citizens’ email and phone calls without a warrant . . .

Alexander orders up a Dianne Feinstein special (the aroma is distinctly defensive and apologist), explaining for those who haven’t read the news since June what metadata is, Alexander tries to convince us it’s not “surveillance,” because it’s just metadata. There are obvious privacy implications for Americans’ records of calls to a suicide hotline, Planned Parenthood, or a divorce attorney.

Unchallenged by 60 Minutes, Alexander presents the false impression that NSA only spies on Americans with an individual warrant when the government meets a probable cause standard. The first public Snowden document debunked this claim:

The order . . . requires Verizon on an “ongoing, daily basis” to give the NSA information on all telephone calls in its systems, both within the US and between the US and other countries.

60 Minutes then gives NSA a platform to engage in the all-too-typical character assassination of the whistleblower Snowden, complete with unsubstantiated claims that he cheated on a test (that’s really the best evil deed NSA could come up with after turning Snowden’s life inside out?) and put a virus on NSA systems.

60 Minutes Overtime gives Rick Ledgett time say he doesn’t think Snowden is a whistleblower because he didn’t use internal channels. I’ve written extensively on how internal channels entrap national security whistleblowers, and my organization, the Government Accountability Project, the leading whistleblower group in the U.S., explained back in June precisely how Snowden qualifies as a whistleblower. But Miller doesn’t question Ledgett on any of this because he apparently didn’t bother to watch 60 Minutes‘ past story featuring NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake, who was targeted and prosecuted under the Espionage Act after using every available internal channel. It should come as no surprise that Drake, and his fellow whistleblowers Bill Binney and J. Kirk Wiebe ALL support Snowden’s choice to go public.

Then there’s the over-dramatizing to make Snowden seem like some super-villian:

John Miller: Did you sit in his chair?

Rick Ledgett: I did not. I couldn’t bring myself to do that.

Seriously? It’s a chair. NSA did manage to trot out its own telegenic Millennials – solving Rubik’s cubes and all – in a transparent, desperate attempt to win over a demographic that overwhelming supports Snowden.

NSA then turns to fear-mongering, a public relations tactic carefully crafted to present NSA as the nation’s knight is shining surveillance armor defending the country from mythical cyber-beasts lurking in far away lands. But even the fear-mongering is based on lies.

John Miller: Before 9/11, did we have this capability?

Gen. Keith Alexander: We did not.

John Miller: Is it a factor? Was it a factor?

Gen. Keith Alexander: I believe it was.

Alexander’s revisionist history is belied by the truth: StellarWind was operational prior to 9/11, and NSA shut down the program (ThinThread) that could have prevented 9/11 while protecting privacy to promote a more expensive program that put hundreds of millions of dollars in contractors’ pockets while delivering nothing. NSA traded the security of the American people for money, and no one was held accountable for that grave intelligence failure or for violating the privacy rights of hundreds of millions of innocent Americans.

But Alexander says:

I think people have to be held accountable for their actions.

Of all the whoppers in last night’s infomercial masquerading as journalism, this one sickens me most. If NSA officials were held accountable for their actions, Clapper would be tried for perjury for lying to Congress, and there are several million violations of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act needing prosecution. If we took Alexander at his much discredited word, then there are also CIA officials to hold accountable for torture and assassination and dozens of government lawyers to hold accountable for authorizing torture and unconstitutional domestic spying.

As NSA desperately tries to recover from the truth, the desperation level goes into overdrive when Ledgett actually suggests amnesty for Snowden, which come to think of it, is the most rational idea I’ve heard in a long time.

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