Journalism Intercepted

Who’s the Deep State now?

Less than an hour after Intercept published an article based on a leaked NSA report on Russian military intelligence hacking of the US election, the alleged leaker was arrested by the FBI and charged with removing classified material from a government facility and sending it to a news outlet. A pastebin version of that article is here. I won’t be directly linking to Intercept now or in future. The name of the alleged leaker has been released, as have details of their life, which is now fairly effectively destroyed. Greenwald responded to a query about why Intercept published the article by saying, “Journalism requires that document be published and reported. Rationality requires it be read skeptically.” Anyone acquainted with right-wing discourse online knows words like “skepticism” and “rationality” have particular, self-aggrandizing currency in those circles. Perhaps that’s Intercept‘s main audience, who knows (*they are clearly sensitive to criticism from Wklks). But assuaging those circles seems less important than the arrest, surely. As for the claim that ‘journalism’ necessitated publication: patent nonsense. If there was even a hint prior to publication that the source was unsafe (assuming that the person arrested is that source), there was always an option to not publish.

So before the amnesia and spin from various quarters sets in, a reminder: there is nothing in this Intercept article that could not have been reasonably inferred from the Joint Statement from the Department Of Homeland Security and Office of the Director of National Intelligence on Election Security, released in October 2016. The Intercept article furnishes some more details, but it is not substantially different from what the Joint Statement suggested months ago during the final weeks of the Obama presidency. In other words, had there been any concerns at Intercept about the safety of their source, at whatever point in the process, they always had the option of not publishing.

There is an inexplicable degree of incompetence at issue here, even if we tell ourselves that an outlet which purports some expertise on national security issues doesn’t know how to keep its sources secure. Almost as inexplicable as why Intercept would publish this article at all, given Greenwald’s consistent and longstanding efforts to discredit and deflect from suggestions of an alliance between Russian government and the Trump campaign. My own position on that hasn’t much changed. A political confluence between the US far Right and the Putin government makes sense on the ideological grounds of a shared white, Christian supremacism and belief in ‘civilizational war,’ not to mention the rampant homophobia and misogyny. Kleptocracy, meet kleptocracy. Russia has one of the most unequal distributions of wealth in the world; despite attempts by some Democrats to play up to conservative Cold War fears and those like Greenwald who counter this nonsense with the similarly absurd accusations of ‘McCarthyism,’ Russia is by no means communist by any stretch of the most nostalgic, overheated imagination. But that is not sufficient to explaining much of anything. What I do think is the case is that Trump LLC was bailed out by Russian financiers after 2007-08 and owes them a great deal, as I’ve mentioned before. And while I understand the need to point out that the US has long interfered in politics around the world, pointing out hypocrisy is still an ad hominem deflection from posing a question about what the stakes and consequences are of any interference. For someone who throws ‘rationality’ and ‘skepticism’ around so much, Greenwald’s arguments are invariably illogical and propagandistic – especially so when he waves around words like ‘rationality’ and ‘skepticism’ as a means of not saying anything. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about this is the extent to which Intercept, along with others, have managed to evacuate this discussion of any mention of what it means for US and Russian capital. It’s not as if anything of this links, say, the DAPL pipeline to global oil politics and ExxonMobil, to the climate change agreement, to the two prominent petro-states of Russia and Saudi Arabia, to the fate of Trump LLC after the financial crisis of 2007-08 and the flows of money into real estate, and so on. We’re only supposed to talk about “the billionaire class” in the most abstract of ways?

Addendum 06/07/2017

The arrest warrant and affidavits have been unsealed. Intercept responded by releasing a very short statement, where they counsel skepticism toward the details contained in those documents, as well as the guilt of the person who allegedly leaked the NSA document.

Instead of addressing the manner of their involvement, Greenwald and others from Intercept have pointed people to a Washington Post article, “Did the Intercept bungle the NSA leak?” Wemple has written in Greenwald’s defense before. The article throws the blame for the arrest at the alleged leaker and seeks to exonerate Intercept. Among other things, the article characterizes the alleged leaker as “bush-league.”

And while it positively affirms Intercept‘s suggestion to not speculate, Wemple’s article is more than happy to speculate that “… the mistakes of the leaker before the Intercept even received the document would likely have sealed her fate, regardless of any clumsiness by the reporter in verifying the scoop.” There is no evidence for this claim.

As for Intercept‘s “clumsiness,” Wemple writes: “It’s ever so easy to look back at a reporter’s decisions and mock them. With that luxury, we can question the wisdom of telling the contractor about the Augusta postmark, not to mention sending the documents to the contractor. Did the contractor then feel implicated and thus obligated to report this incident?”

Presumably Greenwald being “mocked” on twitter is more devastating than someone facing jail time.

Here’s the thing: No one expects potential leakers to know much about infosec. They certainly would not want to be caught, but whether they know what to do to evade capture is another question. I don’t know why Intercept would not have assumed the military contractor they handed copies of the documents to for verification would not have alerted the government. I’ve never come across anyone stupid enough to think that, and it’s remarkable that this is even a question or that it was done. And, most anyone who’s not invested in spinning this in Intercept‘s favour expects that journalists working at something called Intercept to have a basic grasp of how not to burn their sources in record time. The problem that Intercept have right now is not only that they seem incompetent, but that they seem inexplicably incompetent.

To reiterate:

  1. Intercept‘s publication of the article is strikingly inconsistent with their longstanding view that there was no Russian government interference in the US elections, and that those who claimed there was are merely making excuses for why Clinton did not win. By contrast, Intercept have shown a remarkable reluctance to address or broach questions as to why the Russian government might have invested in Trump’s campaign.
  2. Intercept‘s article adds nothing of substance that was not already presented in the Joint Statement released by the Obama administration in October 2016. It furnishes some detail that is not included in the Joint Statement, but informationally it has the status of a footnote or appendix. Important, perhaps. But weighed against possible jail of the leaker, on balance, no.
  3. Therefore, given there was no ‘journalistic obligation’ to publish, and given Intercept‘s hostility to what these documents detail, why did they publish? And, if the arrest warrant is to be believed, why did they seek to verify the document’s authenticity by handing over material which identified its source to a military contractor who then passed it along to the FBI?


2 thoughts on “Journalism Intercepted”

  1. isn’t it ironic? the one time The Intercept actually publishes something that acknowledges that Russia has spies & they might be able to take effective action inside the US, the source of that info is immediately outed to authorities, despite The Intercept constantly advertising itself as the place to go with confidential leaks. I’m sure it’s just coincidence

  2. I’m not sure Intercept would deny the presence of Russian spies in the US, but they seem remarkably dull-witted and unconcerned when it comes to explaining what interests they might serve. The most generous explanation I can give, since there are people at Intercept who are competent in opsec, is that they failed to ensure adequate opsec because they cared more about the ‘scoop’ and the clicks than they did about whoever leaked the material to them. That seems consistent with Greenwald’s constant babbling about ‘the deep state,’ as if the real problem here is that Trump is being impeded by the separation of powers and the bureaucracy. That’s a monarchical view of politics and the presidency, which is to say, a right wing critique of democracy (and not one I share in any way).


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