Of Course the NSA Abuses Its Power To Target Journalists

Laura PoitrasKris Krug

Digging through a New York Times magazine profile of Laura Poitras (pictured at right), a documentary filmmaker who worked with Glenn Greenwald to publish Edward Snowden's revelations about the uber-creepiness of the National Security Agency, The Hill's Jonathan Easley came across an interesting nugget of information: the NSA reportedly targets journalists critical of the U.S. government. In true Grey Lady fashion, that tidbit was buried in the midst of the story (which is currently unavailable along with the rest of the Times Website, no doubt overwhelmed by fans of Tom Friedman's latest pearls of wisdom), but Easley extracted the information from allusions Snowden made as to his reasons for reaching out to Poitras and Greenwald. Honestly, though, it matters less whether this is actually a widespread government policy, than that it's a logical and predictable abuse of vast and secretive surveillance powers.

Writes Jonathan Easley at The Hill:

Leaker Edward Snowden accused the National Security Agency of targeting reporters who wrote critically about the government after the 9/11 attacks and warned it was “unforgivably reckless” for journalists to use unencrypted email messages when discussing sensitive matters.

Snowden said in an interview with the New York Times Magazine published Tuesday that he came to trust Laura Poitras, the documentary filmmaker who, along with Guardian reporter Glenn Greenwald, helped report his disclosure of secret surveillance programs, because she herself had been targeted by the NSA.

“Laura and [Guardian reporter] Glenn [Greenwald] are among the few who reported fearlessly on controversial topics throughout this period, even in the face of withering personal criticism, and resulted in Laura specifically becoming targeted by the very programs involved in the recent disclosures,” Snowden said for the article, a profile of Poitras.

Snowden didn’t detail how Poitras was targeted by the NSA surveillance programs he disclosed, but suggested the agency tracked her emails and cautioned other journalists that they could be under surveillance.

Such misuse of NSA surveillance powers is completely predictable, given recent revelations about the secretive Justice Department seizure of Associated Press phone records and its investigation of Fox News reporter James Rosen. These probes of the press were sparked by journalists doing nothing more than their jobs, in ways that annoyed powerful government officials. Attorney General Eric Holder says he's really, really sorry about those violations of Fourth Amendment protections and press freedoms — probably in the same way that a kid caught raiding the candy supply is sorry that he was caught.

This, after all, is the same Justice Department that spent decades chasing after journalist Jack Anderson.

Nobody likes being scrutinized and publicly embarrassed, but most of us either have to take our chances or else avoid doing embarrassing things that are worth scrutinizing and publicizing. Government officials have extra tools at their disposal to extract information, monitor people they find threatening, and punish their tormenters. Those tools are powerful both in reach and resources, because of the legal authority under which they're used and the funding that's extracted from you and I without so much as a "pretty please."

The use of these tools is supposed to be limited by the Constitution and protective procedures. But when government officials operate vast surveillance programs secretly, under classified interpretations of the law, rubber-stamped by courts literally walled off from the public, you can probably expect that they'll be subject to a few temptations in the use of their toys.

We already know that government officials have abused their power to spy upon journalists whose work they find inconvenient. It's inconceivable that a secretive surveillance program would be immune to the abuses to which Justice Department subpoena powers have been subject. So It should be no surprise to learn that Laura Poitras and other journalists have been targeted by the NSA.

And that's just the beginning of the dangers posed by government surveillance.

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  • anon||

    In other news, scientists discovered today that large accumulations of H2O are in fact, wet.

  • John||

    Combine this with the DEA manual on how to lie to courts and coverup that the information came from the NSA and you get the picture. Had any of those reporters been guilty of any crime, that information would have been passed to the DEA or FBI, a sham investigation would have been launched to cover the tracks of the NSA and the reporter would have gone to jail.

    I would like to think the fact that this started under Bush would give liberals some cover to put an end to it. But it won't. It will just cause them to say "see Obama ended all of the abuses under Bush so all we need to do is keep electing Democrats and everything will be fine".

  • anon||

    Oh, and don't forget, if they can't make something up Obama still has the right to drone you anyways.

  • Sevo||

    NSA'a "abuse" starts with the data-gathering. Anything else is commentary.
    The gathering is in violation of A-4. Fire the people involved, dismantle the equipment, arrest those in charge.

  • anon||

    That'll happen right about the time I get my first unicorn.

  • Sevo||

    anon| 8.14.13 @ 1:17PM |#
    "That'll happen right about the time I get my first unicorn."

    You don't start negotiations with what you know you *can* get.

  • anon||

    There can't be any negotiations; the government doesn't view us as equals but as subjects.

    You don't negotiate with your servant.

  • CatoTheElder||

    Ok, let's say they get arrested and justly convicted in district court. Then the appeals process gets started, and it finally gets to USSC. The berobed paradigms of jurisprudence at the USSC will likely rule that Congress properly authorized NSA surveillance because telephone and Internet networks involve commercial networks, and Commerce Clause.

  • Invisible Finger||

    But when government officials operate vast surveillance programs secretly, under classified interpretations of the law, rubber-stamped by courts literally walled off from the public,

    .. they have absolute power.

    And deserve all they hatred they get worldwide.

  • DEATFBIRSECIA||

    Which brings up the question of what is remaining in Ed Snowden's bag of tricks.

    I am curious to know whether he has direct evidence of these powers being used in specific political cases to rig the outcome of an election. If he does, one school of thought would suggest that he should have brought that out first for the shock value. Another way of thinking about it is that he's softening up his opponents in preparation for a wicked left hook, by letting them expose themselves first as liars, then as political crooks.

    I do realize that the phrase "political crooks" is a tautology.

  • mad libertarian guy||

    Another way of thinking about it is that he's softening up his opponents in preparation for a wicked left hook, by letting them expose themselves first as liars, then as political crooks.

    In a way Greenwald has been doing this all along. He allows government officials to state their case, then blows it away with previously unreleased information. He has played this very smartly, methinks. Too bad the rest of the media is too busy gurgling OJizz to do their fucking jobs.

  • Gladstone||

    I don't think the NSA needs to spend lots of resources on journalists since most of them tow the Admin lion anyway. How exactly can journalists be watchdogs when their beef with the USG is that its too small and doesn't have enough power?

  • Gladstone||

    It's too small. Damn, I don't usually make that mistake.

  • DEATFBIRSECIA||

    Sometimes its hard for me not to make that same mistake.

  • Bryan C||

    It happens. You were probably distracted by the lion.

  • ||

    Well, there are crazy people out there, and the government can't reveal how it protects us from them without compromising that protection.

    If you don't accept that these things programs have to exist, and must do so independently of public knowledge and oversight, then you're just a naive idealist with no idea how the real world works.

    I have been assured of this by both democrats and republicans recently.

  • John||

    It amazes me how stupid these people are. The Democrats I expected it from. They are just hacks caught up in the cult of personality that is Obama. But the Republicans have turned out to be even dumber than their worst critics think they are. Their argument seems to be anything the government does in the name of fighting terrorism must be entirely above debate.

  • anon||

    Their argument seems to be anything the government does in the name of fighting terrorism must be entirely above debate.

    It's weird, my father-in-law won't fly anymore unless it's absolutely necessary because of the TSA, yet when I brought up the example of the TSA searching people getting off a train he shrugged and said "well, what are ya gonna do?"

  • ||

    I think that's what gets me most. When it comes to the military industrial/national security complex, it truly is a 100% bipartisan fuckfest of idiocy, logical fallacies, and pure authoritarian worship. I've not seen it's like in my lifetime.

  • Finrod||

    At least some Republicans (Rand Paul) are making some noise about it now.

  • anon||

    I have been assured of this by both democrats and republicans recently.

    Same.

    They cannot comprehend living in a world where someone might rather die than hope their ruler is benevolent.

  • Bobarian||

    Just remember all the terrorist attacks that didn't happen, rub your tiger rock, and rest assured that Big Brother is quietly watching everything you do...

    Oops, I mean quietly watching over you.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    Something something power corrupts.

  • Zombie Jimbo||

    Isn't it :
    Power corrupts, and FYTW?

  • The Late P Brooks||

    the NSA reportedly targets journalists critical of the U.S. government.

    Slanderous poppycock! Vile calumny!

  • Monty Crisco||

    Nobody at NSA has fucking time to track a fucking REPORTER. We are too busy dealing with Iran, Russia and - have you heard? - CHINA! Jesus, you fucking wackos give it a fucking break....

  • Raston Bot||

    you don't have time to post at HnR either, eh?

  • Monty Crisco||

    Now, TSA, DHS, DoE and the OTHER DoE - you can abolish all those fuckers for all I care.

  • Erik Jay||

    I am really not the grammar police, but this particular erratum always bugs the bejabbers out of me: "...the funding that's extracted from you and I..."

    It is simple to test. Take out the "you and" then see if your pronoun works. The phrasing "extracted from I" would fail even the average person's familiar-to-the-ear test.

    Yeah, I know: In the end, we're all dead, etc. Keynes' iceball theory, remember? At least he was right about THAT...!

  • Dave Krueger||

    By outlining the events that ultimately brought Snowden, Greenwald, and Poitras together, the Times profile of Poitras shows the potential for the Snowden story to be a Hollywood blockbuster, likely to eclipse even the very successful "All the Presidents Men" as a non-fiction political thriller.

    For the movie to be a success, Snowden will have to be the hero. So far, nothing about Snowden has disqualified him from becoming a true American folk hero.

    But, more importantly, the Obama administration will necessarily be the antagonist. The impact on Obama's legacy will be unavoidable. Barring a another major war, there is never going to be a blockbuster movie about anything else Obama has done. Any good that rubbed off on Obama from movies like "Zero Dark Thirty" will be completely nullified by the first movie about Snowden. And there is not a danm thing Obama can do about it.

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