Last week, Glenn Greenwald was supposed to have published a “fireworks grand finale” NSA article drawn from documents leaked by Edward Snowden. The article was evidently going to reveal the names of various NSA surveillance targets, but as we reported on Tuesday, the article was withheld due to what Greenwald called “last-minute claims” by the government regarding national security concerns.
Fast forward to Saturday morning. The Washington Post‘s Barton Gellman, along with co-authors Julie Tate and Ashkan Soltani, appear to have collectively scooped Greenwald with a very similar story, titled “In NSA-intercepted data, those not targeted far outnumber the foreigners who are.” The article details the collection of electronic documents with references to non-targeted individuals, as well as NSA success stories and questionable practices.
That’s not to say Greenwald won’t publish his version. He will. And he’ll probably include information which Gellman prudently and responsibly declined to publish due to concerns over privacy and national security. So, in the end, Greenwald will probably have a few exclusive details, but only because he’s routinely been more liberal about including information that other publications have rightfully excluded.
This of course leads us to the content of the new Gellman article.
The story contains information that both vindicates NSA, along with some information that appears, at least on the surface, to raise questions about NSA minimization procedures. After extensive research via Snowden documents, The Post reported that around 160,000 emails and text messages were collected by NSA during the Obama administration partly via the PRISM database as legally authorized by Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act of 2008.
In and of itself, this doesn’t seem like news.
The hyperbolic, panic-button news here is that around 90 percent of the records collected were inadvertently collected from people who aren’t directly targeted by NSA. Out of the 160,000 records, including emails, texts, instant messages and so forth, there were 65,000 “references” to so-called “U.S. Persons” — citizens or foreigners living inside the U.S. To be precise, that’s 65,000 references, not 65,000 individual names. Some of these references might be repeated, so the actual total number of individuals could be far fewer than 65,000.
All of these references were “minimized,” meaning the email addresses and personally identifiable details were masked and encrypted per Justice Department rules designed to protect the privacy of Americans. However, The Post reported that 900 email references were not minimized and that they might be “strongly linked to U.S. citizens or U.S.residents.” A little murky, but we’ll take The Post‘s word for it and assume that the linkage is strong enough on these 900 references.
Now, the reason why this is overblown is… CONTINUE READING