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'The Washington Post' and 'The Guardian' Expose Secret NSA/FBI Internet Spy Program | The Nation

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Greg Mitchell

Greg Mitchell

Media, politics and culture.

'The Washington Post' and 'The Guardian' Expose Secret NSA/FBI Internet Spy Program


Chris Cioban, manager of the Verzion store in Beachwood, Ohio holds up an Apple iPhone 4G. (AP Photo/Amy Sancetta)

So how do you top last night’s NSA phone/data collecton bombshell? This evening from the estimable Bart Gellman and Laura Poitras at The Washington Post, who obtained slides for briefings:

The National Security Agency and the FBI are tapping directly into the central servers of nine leading US Internet companies, extracting audio, video, photographs, e-mails, documents and connection logs that enable analysts to track a person’s movements and contacts over time.

The highly classified program, code-named PRISM, has not been disclosed publicly before. Its establishment in 2007 and six years of exponential growth took place beneath the surface of a roiling debate over the boundaries of surveillance and privacy. Even late last year, when critics of the foreign intelligence statute argued for changes, the only members of Congress who know about PRISM were bound by oaths of office to hold their tongues.

While the White House, and allies in Congress (with only a few exceptions), defended the NSA phone program as nececessary, legal, not really snooping on content and kind of old hat, PRISM is quite different, as it collects personal content/material. How is this?

Firsthand experience with these systems, and horror at their capabilities, is what drove a career intelligence officer to provide PowerPoint slides about PRISM and supporting materials to The Washington Post in order to expose what he believes to be a gross intrusion on privacy. “They quite literally can watch your ideas form as you type,” the officer said.

The Guardian, again partly via Glenn Greenwald, has much the same (even the same slides?) and it’s hard to tell who got what first or joint or what.

The Guardian has verified the authenticity of the document, a 41-slide PowerPoint presentation—classified as top secret with no distribution to foreign allies—which was apparently used to train intelligence operatives on the capabilities of the program. The document claims “collection directly from the servers” of major US service providers.

Although the presentation claims the program is run with the assistance of the companies, all those who responded to a Guardian request for comment on Thursday denied knowledge of any such program.

Twitter notable by its absence in the program (refused to cooperate?).

Roger Simon of Politico jokes in a tweet: “Glenn Greenwald is an American working for British publication & living mainly in South America. So how many drones circling him now?” But here’s Greenwald's own tweet: “I wish English language were broader so I could express my simultaneous contempt & mockery for the investigation threats emanating from DC.” Another tweet from him tonight: “The dam has broke—let the water and sunshine flow.”

And now The Wall Street Journal adds: They’ve got our credit card receipts, too.

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More to come, but for now consider this: Responding to last night’s NSA , The New York Times published this afternoon an editorial blasting the Obama administration in no uncertain terms. And that was before tonight’s PRISM shocker. What next? Here’s what the paper said already:

The administration has now lost all credibility. Mr. Obama is proving the truism that the executive will use any power it is given and very likely abuse it. That is one reason we have long argued that the Patriot Act, enacted in the heat of fear after the 9/11 attacks by members of Congress who mostly had not even read it, was reckless in its assignment of unnecessary and overbroad surveillance powers.

Ponder that first sentence awhile, coming from The New York Times. And now know that the paper had second thoughts, or drew heat, or…something…because they have now added the words “on this issue” to the end of that sentence, softening it dramatically.

Greg Mitchell’s book on the US vs Bradley Manning (with Kevin Gosztola) has just appeared in an updated edition. He blogs several times a day at Pressing Issues.

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