Glenn Greenwald's new book, distilled

May 13, 2014, at 6:59 PM

No Place To Hide is an exceptionally interesting book, although it doesn't have as much to say about the National Security Agency as I had hoped. It does distill the Glenn Greenwald phenomenon down to the essence of the man himself.

To put it frankly: he does not care if you find him to be a narcissist, a dogmatist, or even self-unaware. He is self-consciously the hero of his own story. If you agree with Greenwald's basic premises about the functions and ambit of the national security state, about the state of journalism, and about the moral corruption of politics, then he deserves to be called whatever he wants to be called. His candor about who he is and what he wants is refreshing. The book is divided into three parts, with most of the protein sandwiched between the tale of Edward Snowden as related by a hagiographer and Glenn Greenwald's caustic, entertaining, sometimes bewildering, and absolutely uncompromising indictment of the media. (A well-reported and more substantial piece about Snowden's evolution can be found in Vanity Fair.)

A number of Greenwald's points and some bits of news about the NSA stood out to me.

1. Snowden did not want to reveal the secrets of the Central Intelligence Agency because, he said, "When you leak CIA secrets, you harm people. I wasn't willing to do that. But when you leak the NSA's secrets, you only harm abusive systems."

2. Snowden "repeatedly emphasized that his goal was not to destroy the NSA's capability to eliminate privacy," Greenwald writes. Instead, he wanted the American people to have the option to dismantle the NSA if they believe it necessary.

3. A major reason why Snowden chose Greenwald: the New York Times' decision to wait a year before publishing its warrantless surveillance story until after the re-election of President Bush. "Hiding that story changed history," he says.

4. When the NSA disputed the original conclusions of the story about the PRISM collection program, Greenwald "had to rewrite the story, not just to include the denials but to change the focus to the strange disparity between the NSA documents and the tech companies' positions" [that they did not directly interface with the NSA.] Greenwald reasoned thusly: "Let's not take a position on who's right. Let's just air the disagreement and let them work it out in public." Greenwald had reasonable reasons to want to publish the story as soon as possible, but he did not believe it necessary to do further reporting to figure out exactly who was right.

5. The NSA brags about strategic partnerships with more than 80 "major global corporations," including telecoms. But each relationship is well-protected, so much so that Snowden himself does not know who the major provider that allows the NSA to collect foreign intelligence from within the United States — the "BLARNEY" program, it's called. (The Wall Street Journal reported, and I can confirm, that this provider is AT&T.) Snowden does not know, further, the identities of the two service providers that cooperate with the NSA under the STORMBREW signals activity designator. ARTIFICE and WOLFPOINT, the cover terms for the two companies, are protected by what's called an "ECI," an Exceptionally Controlled Information sub-compartment to which Snowden was not read in. These two companies provide NSA with direct links to traffic from major underseas cables, with facilities existing at these cables' coastal landing sites, as well as traffic that flows through the United States en route to somewhere else.

6. The then-U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice asked the NSA to help her obtain foreknowledge of various countries' postures on an Iranian sanctions bill in 2010. The BLARNEY program office went to work, processing FISA orders with the target countries and then quickly tapping in to AT&T's access to the U.N. communications of those countries. The BLARNEY team worked with the FBI in order to figure out how and where to put their spy equipment.

For a look at all the of the new classified slides Greenwald published in the book, go here.






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