60 Minutes Betters Their Benghazi Debacle: Pirates Ahoy! and Chinese Global Suicide Bombers

I will have more to say about tonight’s 60 Minutes debacle.

But for now, let me make three points.

First, John Miller should never work in journalism again (he’s reportedly prepping to run NYPD’s intelligence shop, so he may not need to). There were numerous examples in tonight’s 60 Minutes piece where even a mildly curious journalist would have asked follow-up questions. But given that Miller, who has an ODNI and FBI background, knows this stuff, his failure to ask obvious follow-up questions is proof this was not at all about journalism.

Of particular note that everyone is getting snookered on: Lying Keith Alexander said that NSA only listens to the phone calls of 60 US persons. When Miller sort of asked a follow-up, Alexander seemed to reiterate that this is NSA.

Of course, FBI formally owns the wiretapping of US persons in the US. So that 60 number may only be Americans we wiretap overseas. One of those follow-up questions that might have been useful.

Then there was the NSA’s effort to show us what contact chaining looks like. As a threshold matter, they had subbed out all the real phone numbers with “555-1212” type numbers. Which means the computer was altered for TV.

Then, CBS showed an NSA analyst contact chaining off pirates.

Yes, pirates!

Aside from opening up NSA to the claim that we’re now all 3 degrees of Captain Hook, the pirate operation of course means the claims of the analyst only apply to EO 12333 collection (cause pirates are almost never US persons).

That is, we should assume it is completely meaningless as a demonstration of what the US phone dragnet is about.

Then there’s the scary BIOS plot.

I’ll need to go back and review this, but the jist of the scary claim at the heart of the report is that the NSA caught China planning a BIOS plot to shut down the global economy.

To.

Shut.

Down.

The.

Global.

Economy.

Of course, if that happened, it’d mean a goodly percentage of China’s 1.3 billion people would go hungry, which would lead to unbelievable chaos in China, which would mean the collapse of the state in China, the one thing the Chinese elite want to prevent more than anything.

But the NSA wants us to believe that this was actually going to happen.

That China was effectively going to set off a global suicide bomb. Strap on the economy in a cyber-suicide vest and … KABOOOOOOOM!

And the NSA heroically thwarted that attack.

That’s what they want us to believe and some people who call themselves reporters are reporting as fact.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

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 the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, 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 and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

24 replies
  1. P J Evans says:

    I expect better from all of those guys.
    If ‘China shutting down the global economy’ is something they believe is even possible (never mind likely), they’ve gone into never-never land.

  2. Snoopdido says:

    We need to call this what it is – an NSA Infomercial. Bought and paid for by the US National Security State.

    As I stated a couple of days ago, we should consider this “get” on 60 Minutes as part of the Information Operation by both private and public sector entities to tarnish Snowden/Greenwald and to varnish the NSA.

    As for the “get”, usually its the media that is doing the getting. In this case, it was the other way around.

    Since I DVR’d the entire show, I’ll be looking as the credits roll by at the end to see whether CBS confirms that “this program was brought to you by the always watchful folks at the NSA”.

  3. Op Hatch Act says:

    Marcy – I have a couple of items that need to be maintained in the public domain, regarding our mutual ‘friend’at the U.S. Naval War College. The following is my Hatch Act complaint filed in late October with Nadia K. Pluta of the Justice Department’s Office of Special Counsel against John R. Schindler:

    Dear Washington D.C. Hatch Act Unit, October 2013

    I am writing to request that your office open an investigation and if necessary issue an advisory opinion to the Naval War College President and Dean of Academic Affairs regarding the highly public, [partisan] political activities of Prof. John Schindler.

    This tip is being sent anonymously as the information required by investigators is freely available online on Mr. Schindler’s Twitter feed, @20Committee.

    The only non-public information investigators may require consists of facts not available to this correspondent, including:

    1 interviews with Prof. Schindler

    2 interviews with his supervisors/colleagues, Wayne Madsen — the Naval War College alumni and Washington D.C. area independent journalist who first alleged that Prof. Schindler had committed Hatch Act violations

    3 NWC cardkey logs of when Schindler has been entering or exiting buildings to determine if he is engaging in partisan or pro-NSA lobbying tweets while on campus or using taxpayer-supplied office space and equipment.

    4 The NWC’s contract with Prof. Schindler that discuss DoD limitations and restrictions on political speech and activities by NWC faculty and staff that he agreed to as an employee

    Specific provisions of concern:

    “(ii) Employees are prohibited 24/7 from sending or forwarding political/campaign literature, materials, information (including jokes) while using their DoD email account or while using a DoD computer.”

    Would tweeting out articles that are derogatory towards Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) and lobbying against specific legislation proposed by the Congressman be considered partisan political activity under the above or related Dept. of Defense regulations? Would this also fall under the definition of “grassroots lobbying” in the DoD rules about employee political activity?

    The following are partisan tweets derogatory towards the Republican Party and its tea party member federal lawmakers available at this hour on Prof. Schindler’s Twitter account (direct links to the tweets quoted below have been published in the previous post on this blog).

    1 of many ways Tea Party has hurt US nat’l security. http://nationalinterest.org/commentary/the-tea-party-national-security-9264

    6:05 AM – 21 Oct 13

    Just woke from weird dream where Hill GOP went nuts, shut USG for 16 days, nearly caused epic financial disaster, & got *nothing* in return.

    2:10 PM – 16 Oct 13

    Boehner & GOP House leadership now waking from 3-week bender, realizing they’ve blown all their cash & cred and got…a hangover in return.

    8:44 AM – 16 Oct 13

    GOP biz community tiring of TP antics / RT @beingmyselfaok Some Tea Party Reps find signs of pol backlash #Amash http://wapo.st/1e2QulF

    2:47 AM – 7 Oct 13

    Know who Tea Party on Hill is really helping? China. “Financial jihad” is about 2 have serious consequences. #default http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-10-03/congress-plays-with-fire-as-asia-examines-debt.html

    6:34 PM – 3 Oct 13

    There is another provision related to propaganda not authorized by specific Congressional authorization that may be revelant to Mr. Schindler’s public NSA advocacy, which could reasonably be estimated to have involved dozens if not hundreds of hours spent online since June 2013 engaging in public relations activities on NSA’s behalf (for which he was NOT hired by the Naval War College):

    ii. Recurring Appropriations Act provisions—e.g., DoD Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2004, P.L. 108-87, §§ 8001, 8012.

    1. No use of appropriated funds for “publicity or propaganda purposes not authorized by the Congress.”

    I look forward to seeing the Naval War College, the Office of Special Counsel, and if necessary the U.S. Navy’s Inspector General’s office issue a public statement or settlement of this issue in a satisfactory manner.

    Best regards,
    A taxpaying American citizen

    See more specifics and answers to Schindler and his groupies objections below, with heavy citations of Department of Defense guidelines issued in recent years.

  4. Op Hatch Act says:

    Please note: This author received an email from Nadia K. Pluta, an attorney with the Office of Special Counsel’s Hatch Act unit, on Tuesday, November 5, 2013. I will not reproduce the email here, but only use the attorney’s name which I could not possibly have known without receiving the email to demonstrate that OSC has indeed received my anonymous complaint and is making a preliminary investigation of John Schindler’s [partisan, pro-NSA lobbying tweeting activities. Contrary to Prof. Schindler’s statements, even if he was making the tweets from his personal smartphone sitting in his taxpayer-funded office — he’s STILL violating DoD regulations…

    http://www.dod.mil/dodgc/defense_ethics/resource_library/deskbook/10ecc_political_activities.pdf

    Political Activity of Civilian Employees (5 C.F.R. Parts 733 and 734). The Hatch Act (Act) is the law that restricts the partisan political activity of civilian executive branch employees of the Federal Government.

    1. General Information

    a. For purposes of the Act, “Political Activity” is defined as an activity directed toward the success or failure of a political party, candidate for partisan political office or partisan political group.

    This is where the Hatch and Anti-Lobbying Acts case against John Schindler starts, with his tweets targeting Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, as well as more recently Senator Rand (“derp”) Paul of Kentucky. The idea that Schindler is not seeking Rep. Amash’s failure in retaliation for his legislation introduced to place restrictions on the National Security Agency this summer is laughable. Of course Schindler is opposing Rep. Amash’s reelection, even if both men are registered Republicans. Partisan activity as defined by the Hatch Act NEED NOT BE restricted only to working against the reelection of a candidate from a different political party. If that were true, then civil servants in the IRS (for example) would be free to tweet all day in support of Hillary Clinton over say Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley in the upcoming 2016 Democratic Party presidential primaries…

    http://www.184iw.ang.af.mil/shared/media/document/AFD-120203-050.pdf

    8. What political activities are prohibited for all DoD civilian employees?

    (4) participating in political activity while on-duty or in any room or building occupied in the discharge of official duties by an individual employed by DoD;

    While Prof. Schindler has insisted since this summer that he only tweets from his personal computer and not a taxpayer-funded device, the fact of the matter is if ANY of the Amash or Paul-bashing tweets were sent from his Naval War College office or ANY NWC building on campus he’s in violation of the above provision. Even Schindler’s tea party/general GOP trolling would qualify for partisan activity. Schindler need not have used a taxpayer-funded computer to have engaged in regulation-violating political activity on behalf of the NSA from the War College facilities during taxpayer-paid time, such as during office hours or even paid meetings of NWC faculty.

  5. Peterr says:

    @Snoopdido: I didn’t see it, but it sounds more like a Ron Popeil commercial.

    “How much would you pay for keeping pirates at bay? Don’t answer yet — If you call now, we’ll throw in ‘keeping the Chinese from crashing the world economy’ for no extra cost . . .”

    Sounds like a great deal, but the shipping and handling charges are a killer.

  6. TomVet says:

    Greg Mitchell at The Nation just put up a collection of tweets and other rebukes of the show.

    Also, cbsnews.com has the video and a full transcript up now in case you missed it.

  7. rollotomasi says:

    Saw your tweet, emptywheel, regarding the “chair-less” meetings, which brought to mind a seemingly superficial but perhaps important point. Contrast those meetings that to the comments regarding Snowden’s work habits just a few paragraphs before that. Snowden’s behavior is portrayed (literally) as “strange” while the NSA’s is portrayed as dedicated and heroic. To me, Snowden’s habits made perfect sense, given what he was doing.

    Who has the stranger behavior? I can’t imagine Snowden scrolling through the PRISM diagrams, for example, while leaving his computer screen available for anyone to walk by and see. (He certainly wouldn’t be doing anyone who saw this stuff any favors.) Conversely, I don’t see the NSA’s practice as anything more than being about proving masculinity. I remember that Sec. of Defense Rumsfeld bragged about standing up all day, and I thought that was strange then – I guess that’s one his legacies. Anyway, it reveals the human biases at play, and should give pause to anyone who wants to continue letting the NSA be judge and jury on who is and who is not a “radicalizer” without oversight.

    Another tell for me 60 minutes applying no pressure whatsoever for the NSA to acknowledge procedural problems and not asking even a generic question on what the NSA has done to improve its controls and procedures.

  8. orionATL says:

    look –

    this is the second major reporting fuccup by 60 minutes since late 10-13.

    benghazi-and-lucious-lisa was a straight political hit piece with beards and tits.

    but, then, uh-oh!

    reporter and editor/director are put on “indefinite leave”, i.e.,made off limits to reporters, kind of like the prez leaving for a visit to paraguay.

    but, then, uh-oh –

    cbs and its premier news show, 60 minutes, drop yet another turd of a report in the family rooms of america –

    our foolish, mindless, leaderless, blind spying monster of a bureaucracy, the nSECURITYa, is presented to us as saving us

    – from pirates and

    – from those slant-eyed geniuses (who we secretely fear are smarter than us, remember the japanese scare of the ’70’s-’80’s when the japs were makin’ cars that worked and sold and, adding insult to feelings of inferiority, buying up rockefekller plaza to boot?) plotting to do us all in by manipulating our bios.

    have any of these reportorial morons ever tried to work with bios? to flash it for example?

    have they ever looked thru the endless, endless lists of bioses for the right one for their mb?

    i would never admit it publicly, but it is at least conceivable that i might have wished for such a chinese intervention in weaker moments of bios despair or rage at bios/mb chaos.

    the larver question is though, this:

    why should any american now trust the leadership of cbs or any subsequent 60 minutes reporting?

  9. Saul Tannenbaum says:

    I read the transcript but didn’t see the show. Did CBS put up anything on the graphics saying that what they were showing were simulations? That’s Journalism 101, and even TV ads have to include disclaimers about cars on closed tracks or simulated pictures.

  10. Greg Bean (@GregLBean) says:

    Haha, is 60 Minutes an investigative news program in the US? In Australia it is a re-badged production of a program called Australian Story where some soppy but heart-breaking, gotta be heart-breaking, story is played out as if it is news.

    Pure shit, sloppy teary story, celebs and politicians and sycophant news persons all contributing to bring a sickly sweet puke-inducing story to the headlines while delivering less content than Days-of-Our-Our-Lives or other of its day time melodrama equivalents.

    So, I didn’t watch 60 Minutes US, and proud to say I’ll likely not watch any version of 60 Minutes anywhere ever again.

  11. Mike says:

    And the Cherry on Top was the concluding piece on Egypt’s Copts. Scary Muslims and Jihadists on the rampage, with ample views of destroyed Coptic sites. The Copts certainly are suffering in Egypt, which should provide us with a cautionary tale about religious extremism in secular politics. Especially so after the Coptic Pope stuck his nose into that field.

    http://www.aucegypt.edu/gapp/cairoreview/pages/articleDetails.aspx?aid=417

    But not ONE! Muslim voice or religious leader in the story.

    After all, our minds are made up and there’s no need for that, is there?

  12. David Rose says:

    The most glaring problem in the first section of the 60 Minutes NSA doc were the bare-faced lies about 9/11 and NSA – that meta-data collection would have allowed NSA to stop 9/11. This is a total lie! They only get away with this BS because nobody (including national security journalists and academics) has actually read the 4 main 9/11 official reports. Also NSA was under-investigated by the 9/11 Commission (see Philip Shenon’s 9/11 Commission book).

    http://www.defenseone.com/ideas/2013/10/no-nsa-poster-child-real-story-911-hijacker-khalid-al-mihdhar/72047/

    “No NSA Poster Child: The Real Story of 9/11 Hijacker Khalid al-Mihdhar”

    “There are a few problems with using Mihdhar as the poster child for new domestic spying programs, however. The intelligence agencies, which normally benefit from being able to keep secret any facts that might undermine their arguments, seem to have forgotten that the 9/11 Commission, the Justice Department Inspector General and the intelligence committees in Congress published in detail what the government knew about Mihdhar before the attacks. It turns out that the NSA was intercepting calls to the al Qaeda safe house in Yemen as early as 1999, and both the FBI and CIA knew Mihdhar was an al Qaeda operative long before the 9/11 attacks.”

  13. orionATL says:

    from the cbsnews website:

    “..Miller also speaks to NSA Information Assurance Director Debora Plunkett, who reveals the discovery by one of her 3,000 analysts of a secret computer weapon that could destroy any computer it infected. She would not name its origin, but 60 Minutes has learned it was engineered in China. The NSA allowed Plunkett to talk about it for the first time in detail. She says it was called the Bios Plot, for the foundational component, the Bios, that all computers have that performs basic functions like turning on the operating system and activating the hardware. The attack on the Bios would have been disguised as a request for a software update. If the user clicked on it, the virus would turn their computer into “a brick,” says Plunkett.

    “One of our analysts actually saw that the nation-state had the intention to develop and deliver, to actually use this capability to destroy computers,” Plunkett says. If successful, says Plunket, “Think about the impact of that across the entire globe. It could literally take down the U.S. economy,” she tells Miller. The NSA quietly…”

    is this reportage from the real world?

    or a selection from a charles dickens novel:

    “NSA Information Assurance Director Debora Plunkett”?

    information assurance director?

    the agency that steals information and privacy on a WORLDWIDE scale

    and routinely lies to the congress and the american people

    has an “information assurance” director.

    this is grotesque.

    this is stalinist-sounding rhetoric.

    this is like the maffia having a life-insurance department for those it intends to hit.

  14. C says:

    Ok, now that the transcript is up I think a simple point needs to be made. The NSA did not, apparently, present any evidence that the BIOS plot had been deployed only that the capabilities exist for it. This is important because just as posession of a firearm gives you the theoretical capacity to kill every person on the planet one at a time practical implications make the threat unlikely. If you parse the comment closely they don’t make clear that the threat was actually imminent or planned only possible.

    Second flashing the BIOS is a normal process for most PCs and one that is relatively unsecure. It is something that teh haxors have been able to do since computer viruses were made. This is not stuxnet technology this is in the realm of anyone with a virus kit. So unless the NSA had proof positive that the BIOS Virus was deployed and ready to strike with a single button then this is less threatening than the unecessarily slow lowering platform.

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