Fuck The Guardian, Long Live the Independent?

This Guardian/Snowden thing just gets weirder and weirder.

Today Britain’s Independent published its own NSA story:

Britain runs a secret internet-monitoring station in the Middle East to intercept and process vast quantities of emails, telephone calls and web traffic on behalf of Western intelligence agencies

The station is able to tap into and extract data from the underwater fibre-optic cables passing through the region.

According to the Independent, the operation is run by the NSA’s UK satellite, the GCHQ, which of course shares information gathered by the station with its US counterpart.

In addition to being a decent story in its own right, what makes it really interesting is the Independent’s claim that it is based on information “contained in the leaked documents obtained from the NSA by Edward Snowden” even though Snowden has issued a statement claiming that the Independent never spoke to him.

As reported by Glenn Greenwald this morning in The Guardian, Snowden said:

I have never spoken with, worked with, or provided any journalistic materials to the Independent. The journalists I have worked with have, at my request, been judicious and careful in ensuring that the only things disclosed are what the public should know but that does not place any person in danger. People at all levels of society up to and including the President of the United States have recognized the contribution of these careful disclosures to a necessary public debate, and we are proud of this record.

There are all kinds of possibilities here for why a story based on Snowden’s docs emerged without Snowden’s involvement but he and Greenwald are keen to promote the idea that it’s some kind of GCHQ false flag operation intended to discredit them. Snowden again:

It appears that the UK government is now seeking to create an appearance that the Guardian and Washington Post’s disclosures are harmful, and they are doing so by intentionally leaking harmful information to The Independent and attributing it to others.

As false flag operations go, this seems a little amateur — at least as Greenwald and Snowden interpret it — considering they can credibly deny all involvement and did within hours of publication. If indeed it is a false flag, the resulting story seems to aim more at painting Greenwald and the Guardian as rather too  beholden to government oversight in the development of their stories but high security risks nonetheless by virtue of Greenwald’s hot temper and a husband who carries top secret documents in his backpack:

Scotland Yard said material examined so far from the computer of Mr Miranda was “highly sensitive”, the disclosure of which “could put lives at risk”.

The Independent understands that The Guardian agreed to the Government’s request not to publish any material contained in the Snowden documents that could damage national security.

As well as destroying a computer containing one copy of the Snowden files, the paper’s editor, Alan Rusbridger, agreed to restrict the newspaper’s reporting of the documents.

The Government also demanded that the paper not publish details of how UK telecoms firms, including BT and Vodafone, were secretly collaborating with GCHQ to intercept the vast majority of all internet traffic entering the country. The paper had details of the highly controversial and secret programme for over a month. But it only published information on the scheme – which involved paying the companies to tap into fibre-optic cables entering Britain – after the allegations appeared in the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung. A Guardian spokeswoman refused to comment on any deal with the Government…

A senior Whitehall source said: “We agreed with The Guardian that our  discussions with them would remain confidential”.

But there are fears in Government that Mr Greenwald – who still has access to the files – could attempt to release damaging information.

He said after the arrest of Mr Miranda: “I will be far more aggressive in my reporting from now. I am going to publish many more documents. I have many more documents on England’s spy system. I think  they will be sorry for what they did.

Having decided that the story aims simply to discredit their meticulously cultivated super-responsible, not-Manning brand, Snowden/Greenwald are now bending over backwards to show that they would never ever never no never be so reckless as to risk the messing of a single hair on a single snoop’s head pursuant to telling the people of the Middle East that they are all under surveillance. Greenwald’s piece today is strikingly free of any suggestion this story has any meaning or importance beyond its impact on his credibility.

As to the allegations that he and the Guardian are squashing stories at the government’s request he writes:

Speaking for myself, let me make one thing clear: I’m not aware of, nor subject to, any agreement that imposes any limitations of any kind on the reporting that I am doing on these documents. I would never agree to any such limitations.

When an ex-lawyer starts in with the ‘speaking for myself’s, ‘aware of’s and ‘subject to’s it’s time to consult other sources, like perhaps the June interview Charlie Rose did with Greenwald’s bosses Alan Rusbridger and Janine Gibson:

Rose: Do you think national security has been damaged?

Gibson: I do not. We’ve consulted with the authorities about everything we’ve published. With the NSA, with the White House, with the DNI [Director of National Intelligence]…we’ve invited specific national security concerns…we’ve let them know what we’re going to publish…we talk to them regularly.

[Video embedded at end of post. Remarks start at 4:25]

Elsewhere in the interview, Rusbridger and Gibson brag of the extent to which they head off national security concerns on their own before their regular consultations with officials take place. Now, of course this doesn’t say that there is any hard and fast agreement in place, but there is enough here in the way of both routine government oversight and pre-emptive subservience to render Greenwald’s dudgeon over the Independent’s statement a little excessive, especially given that he doesn’t deny the particulars about suppression of the Vodaphone story.

What’s especially weird, though, is that Greenwald and Snowden think the damning national security risk of the Independent’s story is self-evident. “Harmful information” says Snowden. “exactly the type of disclosure the UK government wants but that has never happened before” says Greenwald.  But why? There are no supporting documents. No methods are revealed. No personnel are named. The Independent doesn’t even say what country the station is in. But, you know, those Arabs are crazy when they’re angry.

If this story is really so far outside Snowden and Greenwald’s agreed-upon limits that they regard it as a smear, good luck with your Drip Drip® revolution, folks.

UPDATE

Greenwald is walking back his remarks on the damning nature of the Independent scoop.

Related:

Did The Independent Just Spin A Slide The Guardian Already Published?

Fuck the Guardian: Part 2

Fuck the Guardian: Part 1

Confronting Edward Snowden’s Remarks about Manning

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48 Responses to Fuck The Guardian, Long Live the Independent?

  1. b-psycho says:

    Preliminary thought: maybe there’s another leaker GG & Snowden don’t know about?

    Shit, I hope there’s a thousand…

    • Tarzie says:

      i think that’s a definite possibility which I will pursue at a later time.

      • Nell says:

        The information in the story that came from Snowden-released files is from a slide already published by the Guardian. On reading the Independent story for the first time I had the impression they’d acquired docs themselves, but it’s clear on close reading that they don’t make that claim.

      • Tarzie says:

        Fascinating if true, but seem unlikely the Independent could make a story from a slide without the Guardian even noticing it. Can you point me to the slide? I really love readers who provide links when they say stuff like this.

        UPDATE: I think I found the one you mean.

  2. AmishRakeFight says:

    Thanks for bringing that June interview to my attention. I’d missed it. But it leaves me scratching my head a bit.
    If the Guardian is regularly consulting with the authorities that their stories are revealing information about, why would GCHQ show up at the Guardian and force them to destroy their hard drives? I guess Janine Gibson didn’t specifically name GCHQ in her reply, so maybe I can’t assume that they are also consulting with that entity. And I suppose the hypothesis that they are attempting to destroy all the physical copies of the documents would explain that apparent contradiction as well.

    • Tarzie says:

      There are two offices. Gibson works in the US. Her meetings are different. As Rusbridger says at one place in the video: ‘You have the First Amendement. No one’s going to barge into your offices.’

  3. MickStep says:

    The Indy could have parted with some serious cash to get one of the Graun journos with access to the files to hand ’em over.

    Do other journalists have access to the files, or do they need to come round Glenn’s house and sit at his computer when they write stories?

  4. thedoctorisindahaus says:

    Although GGS’s non denial denial doesn’t suggest any enthusiasm for these types of foreign policy issue leaks, it is not dispositive that they feel there is legitimate use of the NSA as an imperial tool to control others, only it must be limited to not spying on the citizens of the empire’s home republic.

    It’s also possible that this is reflexive anti psyops on the part of GGS, again to point out that oh-so-damning hypocrisy. The argument isn’t that the UK has endangered people. GG said they have revealed info that they claim is super dangerous terrorism helping stuff. So that they are full of shit.

    No proof here that GG doesn’t intend to publish this stuff later in accordance with his vaunted grand strategy. And gg talks like a lawyer all the time. It’s one thing that makes his writing so pedantic but error free. As much as it may be covering up for his bosses, it may also be distancing himself from them, publicly, to show he answers for himself and has no particular alliance to his bosses.

    If he’s lying, which he may be, prove it. I don’t think this comes off as a glennbot answer.
    I’ve already said I disapprove of the drip drip method, at this point.

    Also, talk of how the UK is trying to sour Snowden’s stay in russia seems pretty feeble. Putin isn’t going to throw out Snowden for anything at this point. We’re so beyond PR and appearances here. Unless there is a world conspiracy where, behind the scenes, even Putin is in bed with Obama and everyone else is too.

    Although, if snowden was jailed and the time bomb data release went off, that would expose all the NSA’s tricks to hacking by the Russians. Unless the Russians don’t want that either, because they use the very same tricks and don’t want to lose them before they have to.

    Really seems like a doc dump of technical details would do nothing but help everyone against every government. Very weird to delay releasing tech or to redact it, all for the grand strategy. The grand strategy is glenn’s one moment of naivete these days, making it highly suspicious.

    Without tech details, for example, the news of arab monitoring and any other monitoring, which should just be assumed now, does nothing. Tech details are the liberation, not a hope that we can vote our way out of this, if we just keep focus on the docs. Jesus, how many partisan votebots are going to vote against their preference on abortion or street crime when their main choices are only parties that all around support the spying.

    I guess the strategy must have been to cause the rise of pirate parties around the world, which will then rule us in 20 countries and reform everything. Great strategy.

    • MickStep says:

      Don’t you think that for every Snowden who is willing to release the documents to the public at great personal sacrifice and serious consequences.

      There are 10 people who are willing to sell the information to the Russians for a shit ton of money and most likely no consequences.

      I think the US government probably knows fine well that information has already been sold to the Russians and there is precious little they can do to prevent that from happening.

      I don’t think they are particularly concerned what the Russians know in comparison to their concern about what the public knows.

  5. AmishRakeFight says:

    After re-reading both the Independent article and Greenwald’s response this morning, here are a few points:
    Greenwald say that the Independent article is, “the type of disclosure which journalists working directly with NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden have thus far avoided,” while also claiming that, “I don’t think it’s a harmful leak – I think it’s designed to perceived as one, without any interesting value.” I’m guessing that he sees the disclosure as having the potential to be seen as damaging because it’s targeted at the Middle East, and the public would probably conclude that we should be gathering intelligence on that region and the disclosure therefore hurts our efforts to do so. Essentially its a disclosure wherein Greenwald thinks the public will actually side with the UK Government, and I think he’s right. And in fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Snowden would take the same side. It seems his motivations have largely been the injustice of the surveillance state targeting citizens, so I doubt he has a problem with the UK targeting the Middle East for surveillance, even if it is blanket surveillance as opposed to targeting specific individuals or groups, the privacy of innocent Middle Easterners be damned. This is worth considering for any future comparisons of Edward Snowden to Chelsea Manning.
    Secondly, Greenwald and Snowden’s conclusion that it must be the UK government providing the document(s) is quite suspicious. They have no evidence for it, and the Independent article repeatedly cites the documents downloaded by Snowden as their source. As others have said, it’s way too early to rule out the possibility that the Independent gained a copy of Snowden’s documents on their own, and Greenwald’s claim that “It clearly did not come from Snowden or any of the journalists with whom he has directly worked,” is premature.
    Anyway, just thinking out loud for the consideration of others.

    • Tarzie says:

      those are all good points and I have to say Greenwald’s disclaimer went by me, assuming it was there originally.

      • AmishRakeFight says:

        If you’re referring to the second statement I quoted, it does not appear in his article. He said that on Twitter. Sorry, I should have been clear about that.

    • Tarzie says:

      This bit here – “I don’t think it’s a harmful leak – I think it’s designed to perceived as one, without any interesting value.” – is that in the article, because I can’t find it. If it’s in a backpedaling tweet it would have been helpful to say so, otherwise it looks like I’m being deliberately misleading.

    • Kevin Dooley says:

      We shouldn’t have to speculate on why Greenwald and co have actively avoided publishing this story and others like it. If they’re not going to allow any public participation in this process, they should at least be clear about why they are currently withholding important stories that directly endanger no one. I think your guess is dead on and it makes me very uneasy that we’re basically relying on Greenwald’s reading of American public opinion to decide what gets published when. Apparently people in Brazil and Germany have the right to know about the degree to which they’re being spied on, but people in the Middle East don’t because Americans have a pathological fear of Muslims. They have to get better at this.

  6. walterglass4 says:

    Lord knows there’s not a shred of “interesting value” in a story about mass surveillance in the Middle East. Meanwhile the Guardian today busted out the major scoop that the NSA helped cover PRISM compliance costs for Silicon Valley companies, leading to immediate mass revolt.

    I find it so revealing that Greenwald would find no value in this story, considering that North African/Middle Eastern opinion was the major leverage point and change agent of the Wikileaks disclosures, in Tunisia and Iraq specifically, to a lesser extent in Yemen Afghanistan and elsewhere.

    Now let’s activate the populations of the US and UK, living under all-powerful governments utterly unresponsive to popular opinion. Can’t wait to see how that works out.

    • Tarzie says:

      Meanwhile the Guardian today busted out the major scoop that the NSA helped cover PRISM compliance costs for Silicon Valley companies

      Wow, government actually kicked in some cash for compliance. That’s it, today? You are fucking kidding.

      The Glennbots with their stupid Drip Drip revolution are actually more annoying than he is at this point. At least he’s getting the prizes and the movie deals.

      If anything good happens, yeah, the pressure will be coming from outside, and like you say, absolutely crazy to write off the middle east.

      • poppsikle says:

        Not only did private Tech companies hand over private data to the NSA putting our safety and security at risk but they got paid to do so, with our tax dollars. Do you understand how big of a story that is? Do you know how much money and power are threatened by the unveiling of that?

        I do.

      • Tarzie says:

        Once again, relevance is elusive, but yeah, I am failing to realize what a big story that is.

        That Silicon Valley is largely jumping through the NSAs hoops is already known, although thanks to the Guardian’s withholding of PRISM slides, the extent is still an open question. That the PRISM partners get paid for complying because it costs them money to do so is an accounting detail tarted up as a scoop. For rubes. The whole fucking racket is about money.

      • poppsikle says:

        “That Silicon Valley is largely jumping through the NSAs hoops is already known”

        If only… do you know the hits I have taken for saying that? Since the Snowden revelations came out, the big Tech companies, and most of Tech media too, have been bending over backward to distance themselves from association with the NSA, having the nerve to even say they can “Protect” us from the NSA.

        “That the PRISM partners get paid for complying because it costs them money to do so is an accounting detail tarted up as a scoop. For rubes. The whole fucking racket is about money.”

        Its a lot more than an accounting detail, it makes what they are doing that much worse. But I think you are right calling it a racket. Its all about money but its also all about Control, they love their toyz and ability to have the potential to strong-arm and control via them. That is the biggest danger of this whole scandal, that all our data is potential ammo and a method of control for anyone with an authoritarian mindset.

  7. MickStep says:

    I just want to point out about something about the harmful or not debate, not that I care whether it was harmful to the security state.

    The fact that the location has not been pointed out by the Independent is not really very relevant because any sensible person would realise that the this operation is running out of a datacenter in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

    What makes this fact obvious? Just look at http://www.submarinecablemap.com/ every single cable in the read sea is connected to Jeddah. Also Saudi Arabia is probably the only country in the Middle East where the British have a preferential relationship over the US.

    I have been trying to narrow down the location of the particular building it’s ran out of, and I can’t get an address, but it will be the Jeddah Datacenter Project, operated by the Seder Group.

    • Tarzie says:

      Good sleuthing.

      Please stop by again and leave other comments that get me scrutinized by the NSA!

      • MickStep says:

        It appears I could be wrong about Jeddah.

        http://cryptome.org/2012/01/0060.pdf (via @peterkofod)

        There also seems to be a possibility that it could be run out of Cyprus with clandestine undersea cable interceptions.

        Could this be related?

        http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2013/mar/28/egypt-undersea-cable-arrests

      • Tarzie says:

        TBH, I don’t care.

      • MickStep says:

        I wouldn’t expect everyone, or anyone in particular to care about the technical details of how and where this surveillance is done, but your point here is about Glenn Greenwald being the sole arbiter and director about what people should and should not be interesting to them is the problem.

        Not that I am criticising you stating your disinterest, you published the comment anyway which I respect, just saying it might be of interest to someone, to speculate on what’s being withheld, whether by the Guardian of the Independent.

      • Tarzie says:

        No, I know. I guess I am a little apprehensive about someone trying to suss out the location on my blog. But, you’re right. There are some interesting questions raised by that. You have a case there of the interest in there not being an attack on the facility weighed against the interest of the people in the region to know more, and then within that realm you greater goods and political calculations to make about outcomes of disclosure.

      • MickStep says:

        If it’s any comfort I have mentioned it on the Independent website itself in the comments and I haven’t hidden my identity, which may or may not be foolish.

  8. Happy Jack says:

    Help me out here. The article states that they’ve accessed the files Miranda was carrying. Were they encrypted? And if so, how did they open them? Miranda claimed that he didn’t know what he was carrying. If he was merely a courier, why would he have been given the key?

    Instead of learning about what’s in the Snowden files, I’ve spent the past week wondering what the fuck GG is doing. Perhaps he can drip out some answers so I can get back to the matter at hand.

  9. Jay29 says:

    I’m a longtime fan of GG and a more recent fan of Tarzie, and I must say I’m absolutely loving this debate. Both sides make good points and are clearly (to me) operating in the best of faith – I hope they can both see that as well.

  10. Nemo says:

    Did you see that the Guardian is sharing with the New York Times now? What’s your opinion on that? It does end the monopoly that you rightly condemned (by turning it into an oligopoly).

  11. thedoctorisindahaus says:

    One issue of drip drip is that it benefits the Guardian only for as long as the Guardian can be the only source. Amoral yes, but interesting to consider the Guardian fears or knows that it is going to have to lose this story at some point, faced with the threats from gchq. Until they have to share more and more, as with the NYT right now, they’ll milk this cow as hard as they can. Before the farmer comes, pitchfork blazing.

    I don’t think that the quarterly financial report is any small matter in their planning. And it was really self serving and dishonest of GG to praise the Guardian’s self sacrifice in giving the South America spying story to the biggest brazil paper, instead of hoarding it. As if amplifying it at exactly the right moment, to exactly the right audience, creating more publicity, wasn’t the absolute most economical and story supporting move they could have made.
    Like stories about south america are going to be of front page interest to US/UK papers.
    There may even be a strategy about the middle east reporting. There may be a plan for everything, including technical details.
    If GG spoke honestly, regardless of whether that is the ‘best’ course of action or not, he’d admit that even if his plan is perfect and of purest noblest intent, it’s still a paternalistic plan. If humanity is so hapless that it needs a paternal hero, so be it. But it’s undeniably an authority and domination based approach.
    In full fairness, “NSA leaks journalist says his method is ‘paternalistic’, ‘domination-based’ ” ; doesn’t play to anybody’s sound biting but the NSA’s.

  12. Ethan says:

    “I don’t think it’s a harmful leak – I think it’s designed to perceived as one, without any interesting value”

    How on earth is this not interesting? What?

  13. davidly says:

    At the end of the day, I think this entire scenario plays to the narrative that any of this matters. It doesn’t, in my opinion.

    Having said that, I wonder if it ever occurs to GG that he might be getting played by ES as well as the orgs in question. At any rate, disinfo is disinfo and false flags and limited hangouts and all the rest, more of the same.

    And with or without the witting cooperation of ES, the general populace so easily accepts contradictory narratives, once it gets this muddy, it’s too difficult for even a more discerning citizen to muster the energy to give a crap. So it’s either dig in deep or accept a simpler explanation or try to ignore it if you weren’t oblivious to it already.

    The most obvious part of the narrative the Indy story fits to me is “the good guys have an all-out plan to spy on the bad guys”, ie, it’s not nearly as focused on the citizenry of the good guys as one might think. It reminds me of the first take I read on Cable-gate: “State isn’t happy at all with how oppressive the Saudi regime is.” Not embarrassing or damaging to relations, as it was spun, but showing how thoughtful and responsible State is. In this regard, the spin is a distraction from a more effective message and target–though the spin plays its role as well.

    Now, it might be true that State prefers a kindler gentler S.A. But based on the history of State, I doubt it. More likely, in my opinion, is that the stuff of cables is as often as not the same kind of bs communication as anywhere else. In other words, the information one-day-to-be-maybe-leaked, is always going to be information with that in mind.

    To the alleged strategy of the Guardian and GG and ES: they could indeed be doing precisely what NSA would prefer–right down to the timing and sequence of each release. And I agree that dumping it all at once would be the best strategy, based on the alleged goal: they can still focus on individual aspects of the “story” and run with them in any cycle they want.

    Still, I can’t help but think it doesn’t matter much.

  14. Windom Earle says:

    No proof here that GG doesn’t intend to publish this stuff later in accordance with his vaunted grand strategy. And gg talks like a lawyer all the time. It’s one thing that makes his writing so pedantic but error free

    The “…but error free” addition really does buff and polish the guy. Perhaps you should review all the way back to UT circa 2005 and see the numerous errors he’s made in his writing. He’s been wrong about so many things, but in the modern era people remember 5 minutes fore/aft, and no more. So a track record of consistent wrongness, and thoroughgoing naivete about how the world works, that’s negligible enough to now call it “error free”?

    It’s incredible. If it were Ann Coulter we were talking about, everyone would be circled around her posted thoughts, spitting venom and hurling invective, calling her a stupid reactionary whore and worse, but since it’s not her or a male analog on the R side, we have a Hero and better, a Hero who is Error Free.

    The mythology is quite remarkable. So is the sock puppetry, and so are the unabashed apologetics hurriedly rehabilitating the Error Free Hero theme.

    Remember to check your skepticism at the door here. Our Error Free Hero is not a reactionary rethuglican who shills for corporate!

    Instead, let’s split hairs on what is or isn’t “leaked” and by whom — and ignore completely the fact that what’s been “leaked” is old news.

    Sure. That’s honest discussion. It’s a little like arguing over who is the more faithful interpreter of Marxism, while ignoring the question of whether Marxism is in any way relevant to the landscape in 2013.

    Please carry on. Keep refilling those holey buckets which drain their contents between water source and home. It’s the best use of anyone’s brainpower!

  15. Nell says:

    @Tarzie: Sorry for not providing a link. I went looking for it — it was a tweet conversation among ppl discussing prev reporting of the listening station and speculation on the location; one noted slide (pub by Guardian or WaPo) that contributed info to story. Thought I saved it in my Favorites but tweeter may have deleted since. [Must learn to screen grab.] He went on to say ‘we need the rest of the [Snowden] files, unredacted, to confirm…’ which made me think of you & this series of posts.

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