“There are two more issues intelligence officials want noted”

Walter Pincus fancies his work to be about “reading documents” and finding the bits that everyone else has missed.

The way I’ve always done it is reading documents. I mean there is a huge amount of public material that’s put every day out in the public record and people don’t read it. The key to the column whether it’s good or not is documents. I just – I try to base every column on something I read; a transcript, a report, a hearing, whatever.

Somehow, that approach to journalism has resulted in this, basically an entire piece listing the things Intelligence Community bigwigs wish people had noticed in the White Paper released last Friday.

There are two more issues intelligence officials want noted.

For the most part, however, Pincus’ piece either reiterates the same tired bullet points the IC keeps repeating.

The NSA document notes that of 54 terrorist events discussed publicly, 13 had a U.S. connection, and in 12 of them, the phone metadata played a role.

[snip]

Intelligence officials later pieced together — and have remembered ever since — that 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar resided in California in early 2000 and that while some of his conversations with an al-Qaeda safe house in Yemen were picked up, the NSA did not have that U.S. phone number or any indication that he was located in San Diego.

[snip]

Another point they note is that over the length of these NSA programs, and similar ones that date to the late 1960s, there have been layers of oversight by the NSA, the Justice and Defense departments, Congress and the judiciary.

Or, in what is really only Pincus’ close focus on the released documents, uses thin evidence from the White Paper to “support” whiny complaints from the IC.

What also angers many former senior intelligence officials is the complaint by members of Congress and particularly some on the intelligence oversight committees that they were never told about the extent of the phone metadata program.

As the Justice paper notes, the Senate and House Intelligence and Judiciary committees “by December 2008 . . . had received the initial application and primary order authorizing the telephone metadata collection. Thereafter, all pleadings and orders reflecting significant legal developments regarding the program were produced to all four committees.”

What Pincus fails to mention is that the White Paper actually proves the critics to be correct. Not only does it prove the Administration waited 5 months — from Silvestre Reyes’ September 30, 2009 request to their December 14, 2009 response to Reyes’ request to the February 24, 2010 letter to members making them aware of that notice, effectively stalling through the entire period of debate over this issue — before actually informing Congress about the dragnet. It also suggests — as has been all-but confirmed since — that Mike Rogers simply decided not to pass on the notice at all the following year. The White Paper proves critics’ point, but Pincus hides that fact.

And all those details about 2009 and 2011 distract from the question of why the Bush Administration didn’t even try to give notice to Congress in 2006, when it had already briefed the FISA Court it planned to use the “relevant” language Congress intended to use to constrain Section 215’s use to blow up it up beyond recognition. Why is it adequate to provide the judiciary committees notice (note, even here the Administration’s claims fall short, as I’ll show in a follow-up) only 3 years after the fact?

Remember, too, that Pincus is a JD. At least in theory, he is trained to do the kind of analysis that Jeffrey Rosen and Orin Kerr have done, pointing out the legal flaws in this logic. Or maybe he might just want to point out how hard the Administration had to look for a definition of “relevant” that didn’t totally undermine their argument.

All of which is to show that Pincus has himself failed to do what he claims is his schtick. A close reading of the White Paper actually introduces more problems, not fewer, for the Administration’s dragnet programs.

Which makes these two parroted claims all the more painful to read.

Such transparency is useless if the news media do not pass it on to the public. Few, if any, major news outlets carried any of the details from the Justice and NSA papers.

[snip]

Intelligence officials say that if the U.S. media do not provide what the government claims are the facts underlying what critics and supporters say, the public cannot understand the issue.

Here Pincus is in a major news outlet passing on not what the White Paper actually shows, not the actual facts presented there, but reinterpreting it with the mostly anonymous guidance of the IC, spinning it to put in better light.

I guess Walter Pincus should read Walter Pincus.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

21 replies
  1. bell says:

    Walter Pincus is a pimp for the establishment.. he can say whatever he wants to say while omitting the information that doesn’t align with the authorized gov’t version of events.. it is called currying favour with those in power.. as for the general public – he could care less about them, or he’d be presenting information that gave a very different view on all this.. the only reason to read pincus is to stay informed on where the gov’t supported propaganda is presently at with this story line.

  2. peasantparty says:

    Wow. Just Wow!

    So we should all take every news article, spend hours over it and dissect the darn thing in a sort of spy lookout in order to come up with what WE think the article actually says?

    Sheesh!

    I don’t have time for that. Nobody Does!

    Well, I will say that some things I do tear apart. I’ll also say that Emptywheel makes sure there are no stones left in the empty spaces.

    He just effectively gave every reason NOT to read or watch anything from mainstream media. Thanks, Pincus! I’ve been saying this for years!

  3. bsbafflesbrains says:

    Pincus now on short list for Minister of Propaganda. Sadly short list has about 50,000 more qualified people on it.

  4. peasantparty says:

    Actually, he should explain to the public how the Patriot Act was written and ready only a few weeks after 9-11. He should explain to his readers how all those thousands of pages effect the public.

    He should alert his fellow citizens to the additional thousands of pages added or reworked since 2001 make sure there is no recourse.
    He should also explain how people behind the scense are currently working furiously to give the impression that what is and has been done somehow works Constitutionally.

    Instead, he gives us some sort of wishy washy reason why people should not really be upset because they didn’t read it the right way that he suggests! Maybe he would like to just take a few articles in the Act and flesh them out well for us. He could start with section 109 and move on to section 119. Surely he can explain the sections on council and judges too.

  5. peasantparty says:

    @peasantparty: Way back then, I was accused of having a “hair on fire” reaction to the Patriot Act, Spying, and Detention.

    Looks to me that Pincus and his buds are currently having the reaction, but for different reasons.

  6. JohnT says:

    It’s been a few years, but I used to have a link to the former CIA director (Colby?) admitting that the agency had moles in corporate media, and he explained how they framed and manipulated news stories by using the moles

    Without doing a search, I’m wondering if Pincus is one of the ones he was referring to

  7. bsbafflesbrains says:

    @JohnT: Back when Colby was Director maybe there were a few moles but now I would think the harder task would be finding the non CIA corporate media person.
    That is probably a short list.

  8. Frank33 says:

    Intelligence officials later pieced together — and have remembered ever since — that 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar resided in California in early 2000 and that while some of his conversations with an al-Qaeda safe house in Yemen were picked up, the NSA did not have that U.S. phone number or any indication that he was located in San Diego.

    Those intelligence officials are piecing together the 9/11 conspiracy. They did not piece together that Ali Mohammed, Green Beret, was helping Al Qaeda and relocating Bin Laden every so often.They did not piece together Able Danger. Or the Saudi secret agents taking flying lesson, and reported to the FBI. Or the $100,000 to Mohammed Atta. Or all the Saudi secret agents being paid through the Riggs Bank and Bandar Bush.

    But someone has a good memory and remembered Almihdhar! They, the intelligence officials and NSA almost stopped 9/11. But ironically the 12 years of spy fail before and after 9/11 has been very good for NSA-Dragnet.

    But Pincus has put 9/11 and the NSA into the public debate. Susan Lindauer has a totally different story. That the intelligence officials were very aware of Bin Laden and Al Qaeda and an attack by hijacked airliners.

  9. klynn says:

    “There are two more issues intelligence officials want noted.”

    He is so disconnected…He really wrote those words…

    Amazing.

    “…parroted claims…” spot on wording.Thank you EW.

    The more I read about this mess the more I hear Condi’s, “You don’t know what it was like…” rationalization banter as a cover for deconstructing freedom.

  10. peasantparty says:

    @Frank33: Hey!

    Come sit beside me. ;-) Not only Susan, but Sibel Edmonds. If they weren’t telling the truth, why did the Government go after them like they did? Why does Sibel still have a gag order on her to this very day?

    Why did the media send out articles and reports about Susan WHILE she was in Indefinite Detention? They were all false, of course, but you know they had to make sure that she appeared crazy. Just like our current stupidity of Government for Assange, Manning, and Snowden!

    They don’t want you to know about the police state, the empire, or the truth of anything.

  11. Jessica says:

    Walter should read Marcy, that’s who he needs to read.

    I have a question about the number of terrorist cases this NSA program was involved in, or should I say “numbers”, plural, that keep being thrown around. 53 seems to be the popular pro-NSA figure but I swear someoNe testified recently that indeed there was actually only one case they can definitively point to. Am I remembering this incorrectly?

  12. JohnT says:

    @Jessica:

    I could be wrong, and someone correct me if I am, but I think it was Leahy who was questioning someone and they could only point to ONE instance where it could have possibly have worked against something

  13. Frank33 says:

    That Walter Pincus is a funny guy. You know, funny like a clown. Funny like a rodeo clown in a John Brennan mask and being chased by a bull. So much psyops, so much spy drama. Remember Ap-Gate. The AP made John Brennan expose Undie Bomber #2. That thwarted future Undie Bomb False Flag attacks. The AP helped the criminal terrorists and a part of a crime.

    It was not a terror plot. It was a CIA ruse. They all are. AP implied Carney said something untrue. Government spokesliars lying! We are shocked. Stop implying things, AP.

    The AP story implied that Carney’s statement was untrue. But Carney was right. This was a CIA ruse, not a terrorist-initiated plot.

    And this is neat. Pincus is making an authorized leak about an authorized leak. John Brennan was authorized to reveal Undie #2 was a False Flag attack. And AP was somehow in control of that official leak.

    From the start, the AP had placed the plot in the wrong context.

    Responding after the AP story, White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan held a media backgrounder to reassure the public that the United States was somehow “in control” of the situation. That triggered other media inquiries, which led to the administration explaining the Saudi double agent and other details. The authorized leak was to control political damage.

    AP is part of a crime. They helped a leaker leak. The leakers took an oath. A sacred oath to lie, cheat, steal and kill for the empire. AP had previously been helpful to the Pentagon war criminals, with AP catapulting Pentagon approved propaganda declaring victory year after year. But now, who can say if AP has become a secret enemy.

    Given past leak investigations in the Bush and Obama administrations, journalists at the AP and elsewhere know they could face scrutiny. Like it or not, they are part of a crime. The leaker or leakers had taken an oath under the threat of prosecution to protect the information.

  14. earlofhuntingdon says:

    If “intelligence officials” want something noted, let them do it.

    Pincus, even under new management, should be doing journalism, not stenography.

  15. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Whatever Mr. Pincus is doing, it’s not journalism. He should read Izzy Stone, Sy Hersh and Marcy Wheeler if he wants to understand what “reading documents” and telling readers what they say – not what officials wish they said – is all about.

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