Along with Charles Johnson from Green Footballs and Jeff Gauvin, Bob Cesca from the Daily Banter has taken the torch leading the cultish island of denial regarding Glenn Greenwald’s and the Guardian’s blockbuster NSA PRISM scoop. For the past few days, Cesca has taken to the twitter-vesre questioning Glenn Greenwald’s journalistic integrity by publishing a blog with 9 points that try to discredit the original PRISM story. In his blog timeline, he wrote (more after the timeline):
3. While everyone was busily losing their shpadoinkle on Twitter and the blogs, Google, Facebook, Dropbox, Yahoo, Microsoft, Paltalk, AOL and Apple all announced in separate statements that not only were they unaware of any PRISM program, but they also confirmed that there’s no way the government had infiltrated the privately-owned servers maintained by these companies. Furthermore, Google wrote, “Indeed, the U.S. government does not have direct access or a “back door” to the information stored in our data centers. We had not heard of a program called PRISM until yesterday.” Google also described how it will occasionally and voluntarily hand over user data to the government, but only after it’s been vetted and scrutinized by Google’s legal team.
4. The freakout continued.
5. Furthermore, Glenn Greenwald used the phrase “direct access,” as in unobstructed direct server access, four times in his article, most prominently in his lede, “The National Security Agency has obtained direct access to the systems of Google, Facebook, Apple and other US internet giants, according to a top secret document obtained by the Guardian.” Unless the tech companies were collectively lying, Greenwald’s use of “direct access” is inaccurate. And if it’s inaccurate, the most alarming aspect of this NSA story is untrue.
On Twitter, Greenwald defended his reporting by reiterating that the NSA said within the PRISM document that there has been “collection directly from the servers of these US service providers: Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook…” But this could mean that the data was drawn from the servers, vetted and handed over to the NSA per Google’s stated process of legal vetting. And if the data was made available, it’s possible that the tech companies posted it on a server for the NSA analysts to download, just as you might download a file from work or a friend via Dropbox or an FTP server. Regardless, it seems as if Greenwald’s entire story hinges on a semantic interpretation of the PRISM language. And his mistake was to leap from “collection directly from servers” to “direct access.”
As you can tell after reading Cesca’s timeline, the crux of his story revolves around the “shoddy” reporting by both Greenwald and the Washington Post and that the NSA cannot just find a way into the servers of Google, Facebook, Yahoo and other tech giants. The article that Cesca uses as his main source – or the source that he provided on his website – came from page 5 of the June 6th Washington Post article “U.S., British Intelligence mining data from nine U.S. Internet Companies in Broad Secret Program.” On the last page of the article, statements of denial were issued by most of the tech companies named in the original PRISM report. While carrying water for the Obama apologists, Cesca doesn’t mention other articles regarding how the NSA could actually mine the data, especially the latest Washington Post article who quotes members from the intelligence community that back up the original claims on the PRISM program. Before we get into that Washington Post article, let’s take a gander at what other blogs and news agencies are reporting on the PRISM controversy.
“Dismay in Silicon Valley at N.S.A.’s Prism Project” NY Times reports that the tech giants didn’t know about or signed themselves about for the PRISM program, but “[t]he companies deny directly working with the government on the project, called Prism. But they have not been exactly eager to talk about how they are working indirectly and where they would draw the line.”
Then on June 8th, the NY Times published “How the US Uses Technology to Mine More Data More Quickly,” and that article describes how the NSA has gained the capabilities to collect more internet data. This article also cites the heatmap that was released with the Boundless Informant leak that Cesca fails to mention. Then the article talks about an IBM computer program that would have the same capabilities as PRISM, but this program is named “Watson.” The article states:
I.B.M.’s Watson, the supercomputing technology that defeated human Jeopardy! champions in 2011, is a prime example of the power of data-intensive artificial intelligence.
Watson-style computing, analysts said, is precisely the technology that would make the ambitious data-collection program of the N.S.A. seem practical. Computers could instantly sift through the mass of Internet communications data, see patterns of suspicious online behavior and thus narrow the hunt for terrorists.
Both the N.S.A. and the Central Intelligence Agency have been testing Watson in the last two years, said a consultant who has advised the government and asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak.
Lastly, Cesca fails to mention that on June 8th, the Washington Post acknowledged their inaccuracies in the original PRISM report, but the Post was able to confirm PRISM like capabilites from members of the intelligence community. The Post stated:
These executives said PRISM was created after much negotiation with federal authorities, who had pressed for easier access to data they were entitled to under previous orders granted by the secret FISA court.
One top-secret document obtained by The Post described it as “Collection directly from the servers of these U.S. Service Providers: Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube, Apple.”
Intelligence community sources said that this description, although inaccurate from a technical perspective, matches the experience of analysts at the NSA. From their workstations anywhere in the world, government employees cleared for PRISM access may “task” the system and receive results from an Internet company without further interaction with the company’s staff.
So, if Cesca and the Daily Banter is more obsessed with sticking to the Obama administration talking points, it’s fair to acknowledge the information he is selectively using to make his claims. Thankfully, he’s not like his readers who claim that Greenwald is a Koch-funded, CATO paid journalists with the Guardian.