The NSA Goes On CBS’s ’60 Minutes’ To Defend Its Actions

The NSA goes on CBS’s ’60 Minutes’ to defend its actions

Headquarters of the NSA at Fort Meade, Maryland. This article or image contains materials that originally came from a National Security Agency (NSA) website or publication. It is believed that this information is not classified, and is in the public domain. Source: Wikimedia Commons,_Fort_Meade,_Maryland.jpg
Headquarters of the NSA at Fort Meade, Maryland. This article or image contains materials that originally came from a National Security Agency (NSA) website or publication. It is believed that this information is not classified, and is in the public domain. Source: Wikimedia Commons,_Fort_Meade,_Maryland.jpg

Last weekend, NSA officials went on CBS’s 60 Minutes program to defend their mass surveillance activities and, as one might expect, put up their own ‘reality distortion field.’

The short version of the NSA’s spin goes like this: We don’t do mass surveillance, especially not on Americans, we don’t intend to break any laws, and don’t worry about us collecting ‘just’ metadata.

The task of critical journalism to control the government’s actions was not exactly helped by the ’60 Minutes’ feature. This was mostly due to the fact that host John Miller, who has been moving through the revolving door between journalism and government work throughout his career—which he did disclose—, did not present any opposing views. Miller has been working as a spokesperson for the NYPD, the Director of National Intelligence (DNI), and the FBI. One might see the potential for a conflict of interest here.

The Guardian has compiled a list of claims made by NSA officials on the show and commented on them on their website.

If you have been following the coverage of the NSA leaks for the last half year, it is absolutely obvious that these claims are as “least untruthful” as Director of National Intelligence James Clapper’s during the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing in March 2013.

Just some documents contradicting the NSA’s claims

Just have a look at the NSA’s “SIGINT Strategy 2012-2016″ paper in the New York Times.

Or read about the recently revealed Co-Traveller program which is exactly about the worldwide collection of mobile phone metadata in order to determine patterns of social relationships.

Above all, the whole point of the recently revealed ‘full take’ approach in the NSA’s signals intelligence seems to be to store everything in the hope that all that data can later be combed through with the help of computer algorithms, if needed.

Read, hear, and see more:

[Podcast] Unfilter 79: “CBS: The NSA Network.” (Jupiter Broadcasting, 2013/12/18) – “60 Minutes attempts the boldest white wash of the facts and lies surrounding the NSA spying yet.” – Links to more articles can be found in the shownotes.

’60 Minutes’: NSA Good, Snowden Bad.” (Sara Morrison, The Wire, 2013/12/15)

’60 Minutes’ NSA Report Gets Blasted.” (Brett Logiurato, Business Insider, 2013/12/16)

’60 Minutes’ Trashed For NSA Piece.” (Jack Mirkinson, Huffington Post, 2013/12/16)

The progressive talk show The Young Turks reporting on the ’60 Minutes’ feature: “’60 Minutes’ Blasted For NSA Piece”

Lobbyists Pretend Not To Be Lobbyists

Lobbyists Pretend Not To Be Lobbyists

K Street NW street sign with DC flag and "EVACUATION ROUTE" markings, at the northwest corner of Farragut Square. 12 February 2011. By Ben Schumin (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
K Street NW street sign with DC flag and “EVACUATION ROUTE” markings, at the northwest corner of Farragut Square. 12 February 2011. By Ben Schumin (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

(Almost) Nobody loves a lobbyist.

Corporate lobbyists, who cluster around K Street in Washington, D.C. are approximately as popular as the bubonic plague among Americans. That is, except for the miniscule minority of people who send them to Washington to buy off politicians with potential campaign contributions.

Ok, that might be a little polemic, but you get the picture. In 2011, a Gallup poll found that seven in ten Americans thought that lobbyists had too much influence.

Yes, lobbyists as a group have a huge popularity deficit. And the profession has taken notice of that.

Just put a new label on it, and we’re good to go!

Case in point: In what can only be called a clever public relations maneuver, the umbrella organization of lobbyists in the US is changing its name due to the unpopular image of the profession, as Politico reports.

The American League of Lobbyists will vote to adopt a new name, the Association of Government Relations Professionals.

‘Government relations professionals’ sounds less like ‘lobbyists,’ at least it does not contain the word ‘lobbyist.’ But the general business of this group of professionals in Washington will hardly change because it has a brand new shiny label attached to it.

Will people fall for it? That remains to be seen. But it is quite obvious that after Citizens United (2010) and with the upcoming McCutcheon Supreme Court case on the horizon, corporations and wealthy individuals are working harder than ever to subvert American democracy by funding (re-)election campaigns or sponsoring primary challengers to politicians not working (enough) in their favor.

Zero Dark Thirty: CIA Propaganda Piece

Zero Dark Thirty: CIA Propaganda Piece

Kathryn Bigelow’s 2012 movie Zero Dark Thirty, which depicts the hunt for Osama Bin Laden, is in some ways a CIA propaganda piece, according to a report from Gawker.

Based on declassified memos from the CIA’s Office of Public Affairs, which is the agency’s propaganda operation, the major revelation is that the CIA directly pressured director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal to take out scenes that would portray the CIA in a bad light.

And so Bigelow and Boal did.

What are the contents/scenes taken out that the CIA objected to?

  • Participation of CIA operatives in the torture (I am not buying the euphemism ‘enhanced interrogation’) of detainees in the opening scene
  • Intimidation of detainees with dogs
  • A drunk CIA officer firing an AK-47 rifle into the air at a drunken rooftop party in Islamabad
  • The CIA analyzing videotaped interrogations of tortured detainees

Apart from the CIA’s influence revealed through the memo, the movie falsely suggests in its opening scene that it was torture that ultimately led to the revelation of Bin Laden’s location. This powerful image created by a product of popular culture retroactively works to legitimize the practice of torture in the public mind.

Read and see more:

CIA requested Zero Dark Thirty rewrites, memo reveals.” (Ben Child, Guardian, 2013/05/07)

Newly Declassified Memo Shows CIA Shaped “Zero Dark Thirty”‘s Narrative.” (Adrian Chen, Gawker, 2013/05/06)

[Video] “Zero Dark Irresponsible – Killing Bin Laden With Blinders On.” (TheLipTV, 2013/11/26) – FIlm critic Peter Rainer criticizes Zero Dark Thirty for not contextualizing the torture scenes of the movie in the ‘Global War on Terrorism.’ In particular, he notes the absence of any mention of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney as responsible for America’s torture policies.

Torture and the hunt for Bin Laden

Torture May Have Slowed Hunt For Bin Laden, Not Hastened It.” (Dan Froomkin, Huffington Post, 2011/05/06) – A study by the National Defense Intelligence College found that “rapport-based” interrogation works best, even with hard-boiled detainees.

Odd Political Moves: The Chuck Hagel Hamas Smear Job

The Chuck Hagel Hamas Smear Job

Conservative Activists/GOP/Fox News Claim That Obama’s Republican Nominee for Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel (R-Nebraska) Is Funded By Hamas-Affiliated Group.

While there are many legitimate criticisms of the Obama administration, as I mentioned in my earlier posts, the level of absurdity in American political theater is almost always guaranteed to rise to unimagined heights when one turns their attention to today’s GOP and the vocal ultraconservative conspiracy-minded base.

Case in point: President Obama nominates former Senator Chuck Hagel (R-Nebraska) for Secretary of Defense. Not only does the GOP plan to filibuster Hagel’s nomination, which is unprecedented. [Update]: The Senate GOP did filibuster Hagel’s nomination.

Unfounded Claims Of Links To Hamas

No, some conservative activists try to prevent Hagel’s appointment by linking him to terrorist organization Hamas (!). Seriously.

The absurd claim includes an allegation that Hagel received foreign funding from a group called “Friends of Hamas.” According to the Treasury Department, which monitors charitable groups connected to Hamas, this group does not even exist.

Furthermore, does it sound plausible that an organization trying to funnel money to a terrorist group would include that groups name in its own name? Absolutely not. It would be quite a bad disguise.

[Update (2013/02/17)]: As it turns out, Senator James Inhofe (R-Oklahoma), who led the filibustering of Hagel, is quite the massive hypocrite when it comes to accusing Hagel of a friendly stance towards Hamas. As Salon reports, Inhofe’s own words on Hamas from 2006 sound at least as friendly to that organization as what he accused Hagel of. As Alex Seitz-Wald puts it, “using his current standard, Jim Inhofe might have a hard time voting to confirm Jim Inhofe.”

One Probable Reason For The Smear: Hagel’s Harsh Criticism Of ‘Jewish Lobby’

In the past, Hagel had criticized the “influence of the Jewish lobby,” i.e. AIPAC (which, by the way, describes itself as “America’s Pro-Israel Lobby” on its own website) in Washington, and in return received criticism by the above-mentioned and other pro-Israel groups.

And while the legitimacy of Hagel’s comments and the degree of influence in Washington by pro-Israel groups can be a subject of reasonable debate, the unfounded claim that Hagel must be associated with Hamas contains a classic fallacy: the excluded middle.

In my opinion, there are many shades of gray between supporting everything a particular government does and supporting a terrorist group that wishes for the murder of that state’s citizens. Criticizing particular activities of any government, be it the American, German, or Israeli one, does not make one anti-American, anti-German, or anti-semitic. It is the tonality that makes the difference.

One final word on lobbies: By definition, any lobby organization is supposed to represent their constituency’s interests. Despite the fact that there can be several lobbies claiming to represent the interests of any particular group, it is by no means conspiratorial to assume that there is a lobby for virtually any cause. A quick search with your favorite search engine will confirm this. Just read the mission statement of your organization of choice.

Other Probable Reasons Why The GOP Filibustered Hagel’s Appointment

Of course, Hagel’s statements on the ‘Israel Lobby’ are not the only reason why the GOP stonewalls his appointment.

According to Chris Cilizza of the Washington Post, the following reasons might also have factored into the GOP’s decision to filibuster Hagel’s appointment:

  1. Because they can.—This should not be surprising. Since Obama took office, the main GOP tactic was obstructionism.
  2. Some GOP senators believe Hagel to be inexperienced.
  3. Rallying the party.—Romney lost the presidential election, the GOP did not win a majority in the Senate. Therefore, Senate Republicans needed something new to motivate themselves.

In the words of one man who arguably knew a thing or two about theater in the English-speaking world at the time, the great Chuck-Hagel-Hamas-conspiracy is much ado about nothing.

[Update (2013/02/22)]

A Tea Party Senator From Texas Opens Another Smear Front: The Communists Are Coming!

In the context of the Chuck Hagel Senate confirmation hearing, Tea Party Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) alleged, without providing evidence, that Chuck Hagel was funded by North Korea. So now it is not only those Islamist terrorists (Hamas) that Hagel is supposedly in bed with, but also those darn commies.

Furthermore, according to Senator Cruz, Harvard Law School was completely infiltrated by communists in the 1990s (!), when he himself studied there. Cruz even claimed, like Joseph McCarthy in his day, to possess a list of said communists, who schemed to overthrow the American government.

And because Harvard Law School was supposedly such a hotbed of communism, Barack Obama must have become a communist there, which totally proves that therefore Chuck Hagel must somehow also be a communist. Of course, Cruz himself was able to resist the influence of marxists and communists.

Even fellow Republicans Lindsey Graham and John McCain thought that this nonsense was a bit too much, and some liberal commentators rightfully noted that Cruz’s mannerisms were indeed quite McCartyite.


Read more:

Why John McCain turned on Chuck Hagel.” (David Rogers, Politico, 2013/02/17) – Op-Ed: McCain voted against Chuck Hagel to help make South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham appear more right-wing.

How unprecedented is the Hagel filibuster?” (Rachel Weiner, Washington Post, 2013/02/15)

Lindsey Graham, watching his right flank.” (Dana Milbank, Washington Post, 2013/02/15) – Op-Ed: South Carolina Republican Senator opposes Hagel’s nomination to appear right-wing enough for his own re-election.

More GOP Hagel hypocrisy.” (Alex Seitz-Wald, Salon, 2013/02/15) – Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), who lead the filibuster against Chuck Hagel’s nomination, had some friendly words for Hamas himself in 2006.

Friends of Hamas”: The Scary-Sounding Pro-Hagel Group That Doesn’t Actually Exist.” (David Weigel, Slate, 2013/02/14)

Defense Secretary Hagel? Not So Fast.” (Jonathan Karl, ABC News, 2013/02/14)

Why Republicans are filibustering Chuck Hagel.” (Chris Cilizza, Washington Post, 2013/02/14)

Israel group slams Chuck Hagel over Israel lobby comments.” (GlobalPost, 2013/01/07)

Chuck Hagel’s Experience as a Soldier Uniquely Qualifies Him to Head Defense.” (Matt Pottinger, Daily Beast, 2013/01/05) – Interesting fact from the article: In 2012, only 20 percent of Congress had military experience. In 1970, by comparison, 75 percent had military experience.