Where to begin? Let's start here
: The British sent some thugs to the Guardian offices to destroy hard drives that might contain Snowden's NSA material.
In an article posted on the British newspaper's website on Monday, Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger said that a month ago, after the newspaper had published several stories based on Snowden's material, a British official advised him: "You've had your fun. Now we want the stuff back."
After further talks with the government, Rusbridger said, two "security experts" from Government Communications Headquarters, the British equivalent of the ultra-secretive U.S. National Security Agency, visited the Guardian's London offices.
In the building's basement, Rusbridger wrote, government officials watched as computers which contained material provided by Snowden were physically pulverized. "We can call off the black helicopters," Rusbridger says one of the officials joked.
Remember how, a couple of posts back, we defined "Chatty Terrorist Syndrome" (or CTS) which strikes whenever the NSA's snoopery needs justification? Well...
Two years ago, following the raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, a number of journalists wrote dramatic accounts of the Al Qaeda leader’s last moments. One such story, co-authored by Eli Lake in the Washington Times, cited Obama administration officials and an unnamed military source, described how bin Laden had “reached for a weapon to try to defend himself” during the intense firefight at his compound, and then “was shot by Navy SEALs after trying to use a woman reputed to be his wife as a human shield.”
It was exciting stuff, but it turned out to have been fictitious propaganda concocted by U.S. authorities to destroy bin Laden’s image in the eyes of his followers. Based on what we know now, the SEALs met virtually no resistance at the compound, there was no firefight, bin Laden didn’t use a woman as a human shield, and he was unarmed.
The White House blamed the misleading early reports on the “fog of war,” but as Will Saletan pointed out in Slate, “A fog of war creates confusion, not a consistent story like the one about the human shield. The reason U.S. officials bought and sold this story is that it fit their larger indictment of Bin Laden. It reinforced the shameful picture of him hiding in a mansion while sending others to fight and die. It made him look like a coward.”
Harpers goes on to say what I've been saying all along: That the major CTS tales we've been recently told are probably just...yarns.
The sources for the story were three U.S. officials “familiar with the intelligence.” “This was like a meeting of the Legion of Doom,” one told Lake and Rogin. “All you need to do is look at that list of places we shut down to get a sense of who was on the phone call.”
The piece also cited Republican senator John McCain, who drew a predictably grim conclusion from the news. “This may punch a sizable hole in the theory that Al Qaeda is on the run,” he said. “There was a gross underestimation by this administration of Al Qaeda’s overall ability to replenish itself.” The story was picked up widely, especially on the right. On his show, Rush Limbaugh charged that the Obama “regime” had leaked the story for political gain.
For once, Rush may have been on to something. But Limbaugh can't bring himself to examine the possibility that the intelligence community
(not simply a Democratic administration) may be concocting whoppers.
Limbaugh can't make that admission, because doing so requires looking at the history of Washington Times writer Eli Lake, known for spreading lies that helped pave the way for the Iraq war. Lake is now spreading the latest CTS "conference call" tales.
In a follow-up story published the day after the original article, Lake wrote that at the request of its sources, the Daily Beast was “withholding details about the technology al Qaeda used to conduct the conference call.” The suggestion was that the story had omitted information to keep terrorists from knowing too much about U.S. intelligence operations. But as Dan Murphy of the Christian Science Monitor noted, “If a conference call of some sort took place, then the participants know full well how they did it. And the moment they see a news report that says the United States was listening in to the call, they’re going to shut that means of communication down.” Others wondered why, given the worldwide uproar about National Security Agency spying, Al Qaeda would risk gathering all of its top operatives for any form of simultaneous multiparty communication.
This business of intelligence concoctions brings us to this Salon story, which revisits the 2001-2002 myth of Bin Laden's underground lair
. Remember that one? A widely reproduced graphic gave the world the impression that Bin Laden was a James Bond supervillain.
The myth of bin Laden’s subterranean fortress began with a story in the London Independent newspaper on November 27, 2001, which described a mountain honeycombed with tunnels, behind iron everything is a clue 301 doors, with “its own ventilation system and its own power, created by a hydroelectric generator,” capable of housing 2,000 people “like a hotel.” This story was quickly picked up and embellished by American media. The result was that on November 29th the Times (London) published a cutaway drawing titled “Bin Laden’s Mountain fortress,” showing thermal sensing equipment and tunnels wide enough for a car to drive through. … When “Meet the Press” was broadcast on December 2nd, Tim Russert showed the drawing to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who suggested there might be many such sophisticated redoubts, and not only in Afghanistan.
When American forces arrived at Osama’s actual lair, they found something somewhat simpler. They found some caves.
The Salon story is one of those by-the-numbers pieces that criticizes America's affection for conspiracy stories. But the example chosen here works against the writer's intent. Those fake stories about Bin Laden's "Dr. No" compound didn't make themselves. Such things don't just happen. No, those stories were concoctions promulgated by the intelligence community.
You can affix any label you choose to such concoctions. But if you want to be accurate
, you're going to have to reconcile yourself, at some point, to use of the dreaded C word. The only proper way to describe the graphic reproduced above is to admit that it was the result of a conspiracy to mislead the public.
(Oddly enough, a good discussion of the Bin Laden "fortress" myth comes to us by way of Edward Epstein
, who is responsible for spreading quite a few myths of his own. Epstein was the creature of the CIA's ultra-paranoid James J. Angleton. Under JJA's tutelage, Epstein wrote Legend
, an outrageous attempt to pin the JFK assassination on the Russians.)
Let's bring our discussion back to the present day. Marcy Wheeler
notes that the NSA has been telling some obvious lies about its capabilities lately...
Today, as part of a story describing that NSA still doesn’t know what Edward Snowden took from NSA, MSNBC quotes a source saying NSA has stinky audit capabilities.
Another said that the NSA has a poor audit capability, which is frustrating efforts to complete a damage assessment.
(We’ve long known this about NSA’s financial auditing function, and there have long been signs they couldn’t audit data either, but apparently MSNBC’s source agree.)
For the past several months, various Intelligence officials have assured Congress and the public that it keeps US person data very carefully guarded, so only authorized people can access it.
Today, MSNBC reports NSA had (has?) poor data compartmentalization.
NSA had poor data compartmentalization, said the sources, allowing Snowden, who was a system administrator, to roam freely across wide areas.
Again, there have long been signs that non-analysts had untracked access to very sensitive data. Multiple sources agree — and possibly not just non-analysts.
All of these stories lead us to one big question: Why should we believe anything
the spooks tell us?