emptywheel and First Look Media: Beginnings and Continuity

I’ve got some exciting new beginnings — and some continuity — to announce.

As Pierre Omidyar and Eric Bates just announced, I will be joining First Look Media as part of a new magazine that will publish Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras, Jeremy Scahill, and others’ work. It’s really exciting to join Glenn and others in their work, and to join the larger First Look effort as it launches.

But that opportunity won’t change much here. I am just working for First Look as a consultant — just doing document analysis, not my own reporting — and just part time. I will continue to do the kind of reporting I always do here — and potentially for other media outlets.

Some of the stories I have broken or significantly advanced since the Snowden leaks started (ignoring that I guessed the Bush’s illegal program had been moved under PATRIOT back in 2009) include:

  • FISC never issued an opinion finding the dragnet legal until last year (confirmed by PCLOB 7 months later)
  • NSA’s phone dragnet violated Section 215’s minimization requirements (confirmed by PCLOB 2 months later)
  • NSA can query the Section 215 dragnet for Iranian targets in addition to al Qaeda related ones
  • NSA uses the dragnet to identify potential informants
  • Technical personnel have unaudited access to raw dragnet data to remove “high volume” numbers and carry out other still-secret tasks
  • NSA destroyed the evidence of such tech personnel moving and retaining data outside FISC guidelines
  • NSA watchlisted 3,000 US persons under the phone dragnet with no First Amendment review
  • NSA itself considered some of its 2009 practices similar to Project Minaret’s watch-listing of anti-war activists
  • NSA trains analysts to recreate domestic phone dragnet queries using EO 12333 data to get around dissemination protections
  • NSA rolled out a new contact-chaining approach overseas just as NSA began disclosing its 5-years of Internet dragnet violations to FISC (the timing was subsequently confirmed by additional government disclosures)
  • Section 702 is used for counterterrorism, counterproliferation, and cybersecurity (strongly suggested by the Review Group 6 months later)
  • NSA uses upstream Section 702 collection for cybersecurity purposes (and Leahy-Sensenbrenner would end this use)
  • NSA can query US person content incidentally collected under Section 702 (reported by the Guardian 2 months later)
  • NSA does not even need Reasonable Articulable Suspicion to conduct these queries
  • FBI has had that authority to search incidentally collected content since 2008 (confirmed by subsequent government release)
  • NSA secretly expanded minimization procedures meant to protect life and body to cover property
  • Mike Rogers never shared the written notice to Congress in 2011 (confirmed by Justin Amash, then reported by multiple outlets)
  • In one of the briefings held instead, FBI misled Members about abuses committed under Section 215
  • NSA did not inform the Intelligence and Judiciary Committees about significant interpretations of Section 215 until after PATRIOT was reauthorized in 2010
  • NSA did not inform the Judiciary Committees about its geolocation efforts until after PATRIOT was reauthorized in 2011
  • John Brennan briefed Colleen Kollar-Kotelly on the need for the Internet dragnet in 2004 along with the “hospital confrontation” heroes and villains (I’ve been promising more interesting details about this in the future — stay tuned!)
  • Roughly 9% of NSA’s violations consist of analysts breaking standard operating procedures they’ve been trained on

All this in addition to debunking the obfuscations and lies of the NSA’s defenders on a daily basis.

I’ve done that work with the support and encouragement of emptywheel’s readers. You’ve been a big part of that work.

You should still expect to see the same caliber of reporting here at emptywheel for the foreseeable future and my original reporting will continue to be my emphasis.

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.

83 replies
  1. joanneleon says:

    Fantastic news. Best of both worlds. I’m so glad you’ve found a role that works for all of you. Sounds like a win all around. Congratulations!

  2. Ralph Lombreglia says:

    I can almost hear Alexander and Hayden and Clapper gnashing their teeth. But not quite (I’m far away). Make them gnash a little louder, please.

    First Look is exciting. Thank you, Pierre Omidyar. Apparently, “money makes you stupid” is not a law of nature after all.

  3. Snoopdido says:

    Sometimes when one hopes for the best, it actually happens! Congratulations Marcy!

    I expect you of all people understand that this will make you even more of a prime target for the black propaganda and harassment tactics of the National Security State and it’s apologists, and perhaps even attempted intimidation through it’s “law enforcement” drones.

    May the force be with you!

  4. bystander says:

    This is just so damned excellent that words fail. Best wishes Marcy for a well deserved honor. Kick ass darlin’, just kick ass!

    – (a long ago) bystander (aka TallyHoGazehound elsewhere)

  5. Valley Girl says:

    f’ing wonderful! I am thrilled.

    I was so excited that I mistyped my moniker (Valey instead of Valley) and that comment is in mod!

  6. Tzadtednitz says:

    Congratulations! Give them hell…

    I hope that your work can help put those bastards away for as long as they deserve…..

  7. Peterr says:

    @Ralph Lombreglia: I can hear them. They are not happy at all.

    But down the bureaucratic food chain a step or two, I suspect there are various folks in DC who are in need of a change of underwear at this point. These are the folks who’ve watched Marcy at work in that (incomplete) list above, and know better than anyone exactly what she’s capable of.

    Congrats, Marcy!

  8. earlofhuntingdon says:

    I suspected you were high on the list of recruits. I’m delighted at your opportunity. I’m ecstatic that you will continue this rare combination of research and commentary that makes you (and, vicariously, your readers) a fitting successor to Izzy Stone. The NYT should be recruiting you to replace empty heads like David Brooks.

  9. lefty665 says:

    Congratulations. Been hoping there was a place for you there since they snagged Froomkin. Whole operation makes me believe there’s a future for journalism, and thus hope for us all. Go gettem and Wheelem in!

  10. rosalind says:

    Right- the fuck – On!!!

    The three words our Security State Overlords dread the most, a Marcy: Wild. Arse. Guess.


  11. earlofhuntingdon says:

    I assume that you will be upgrading your virtual security. “They” may not launch a swarm of Suarez’s drones to inhibit your criticism, but surely they will not welcome greater recognition (and, I hope, compensation) for your work. If Mr. Obama believed any of his PR, he would welcome the greater transparency your work generates. Your fans do.

  12. Heliopause says:

    Congratulations. Does this mean that you will have to keep the daily tweets under triple digits? Or the multiple daily blog posts under 5000 words each? Or will the NSA Quantum Colossus (wink, wink) keep up the volume?

  13. Greg Bean (@GregLBean) says:

    Woohoo, way to go Marcy, though I have to say I’ve expected this announcement for over 3 months and was beginning to wonder what the delay was.

    Now I am left asking when does it all kick off in earnest?

    A bit OT but I have also been thinking what a clever strategy of Greenwald to write a book about all this NSA stuff. The powers can spin each news story one-at-a-time as they are released and do a reasonable job of poo-pooing the damaging aspects to those who are paying less attention; the bulk of the population. But when a tell-all book hits the stand they will have no chance of spinning the full story. And while most of us prefer to get our news hot on the net, a book will be attractive to many many people (my 85 year old mother) who do not use the net actively. And I surmise, once the book hits the stands, Greenwald will then back it with an avalanche of hard hitting news stories.

    What exciting times ahead.

    And again, congrat’s Marcy, you truly are the best.

  14. KM says:

    Congrats, EW. I was wondering when this would happen — you’re too perfect a fit for Glenn’s organisation and what it is seeking to do not to be there. I was really hoping they’d get some people to do serious, in-depth analysis, and if their intention is to promote truly novel forms of journalism, then they can hardly do better than to get the person who perhaps best represents the sort of unique new niches and possibilities for political analysis that have been spawned by the blogosphere in the last decade and a half.

    I hope your consulting and document analysis will involve actually writing up the material.

  15. JohnT says:


    Soooo, does this mean you’ll get copies of the Snowden docs? If you do, will you get them all at once, or in snippets?

  16. Jessica says:

    How exciting! They are lucky to have you on their team. Can’t wait to see what your genius mind connects next!

  17. posaune says:

    What wonderful news, Marcy!
    We are SO grateful for your work, and those folks at First Look are too!

    Awesome, Awesome, Awesome!

  18. bell says:

    i hope this works out well for you. congratulations! personally i crave more international coverage then the focus that i have generally read on your site, in spite of the fact i have given money to your site. part of this is that i live in canada and although our country shares much in common with yours, the focus on the nsa to the exclusion on a lot of other topics wears me down.. i have taken a blanket attitude towards the nsa – it is one huge bullshit operation and all the excruciating details aren’t going to make me change my view on any of it.. i am sure all the illegal spying is going on in canada too fwiw..i suppose i am hoping that we will get more coverage on other issues then the nsa.. i admire your work immensely and am sure you will bring a lot of great insight into this new project. kudos!

  19. b says:

    Good to hear that Marcy.

    If you haven’t been a “target” or “selector” yet you can now rest assured that you are one :-)

  20. RexFlex says:

    There IS a light at the end of the tunnel and it’s not the headlight of an on coming train!
    Makes me tingly!

  21. Jeff Kaye says:

    Jumping on late, but full of excitement for you. What a list of stories and breakthrough analyses! No one more than you deserves the recognition you are getting. Congrats!

  22. orionATL says:

    well i kinda expected this – why would this new news venture not want the intellectual firepower and the integrity of america’s best forensic document analyst.

    congratulations, ew.

    now will you “first look” guys get on with it. this nation desperately needs your services and your product.

    i’m hoping first look will not only offer excellent, accurate reporting,

    but will prosper in a way that demonstrates to our staid, stale, stereotype-loving media corporations that there is business opportunity in first-rate reporting that does not cater to power.

  23. richard langness says:

    Congratulations Ms Wheeler. Glen and Laura are good but you may be the only one that can knit all the threads together.

  24. landreau says:

    So many hurrahs since the Next Hurrah. Congratulations, Marcy. Doing the right thing in the right way is always the best path to follow, but it doesn’t always lead to personal success. I’m so glad that it has for you.

    Doesn’t seem like a decade since I signed on, but I still can’t get enough of you wandering through the weeds of our governmental swamp. Excelsior!

  25. bittersweet says:

    Wow…and to echo others, it’s about time! Glen and company have now recruited the best! They are unbelievably lucky. With your brilliant mind, they have also signed on your integrity. (Bull-shit-o-meter)
    Just yeah!
    I am, and have always been proud to be within your one hop radius!

  26. klynn says:

    Wow, what a well deserved honor. Congratulations!

    I am so pleased to have found you way back when. You are a gift — a “truth to power” gift.

    Thank you. Thank you for the past times you have allowed me to go weeding too. Wish life would allow for me to do that level of contribution again… But for now, it is simply an honor to follow along the path your written words light.

  27. TheraP says:

    Congrats!!! I was hoping they’d ask you. It was to be expected, in my view. But wow! You so deserve this!

  28. katie jacob says:

    Congratulations Marcy,
    That is fabulous news. It was smart of them to hire you, and you are in great company.

  29. Eureka Springs says:

    No congrats needed. About time. What took so long? Warm up that lear jet Omidyar! Get thee Marcy down to Rio into the files post haste!

    And the rest of those criminals in a jail cell.

  30. Donald Isenman says:

    Sounds good but I hope you are remunerated in some way for all the fine work you have done over these many years. Recognition would be a first major step.

  31. delia ruhe says:

    Congratulations, Marcie. Pierre musta got my message, sent via telepathy a few weeks ago, to scoop you up for his new venture. (He didn’t get the one about Matt Taibbi, however. Who else writes so evocatively about Wall Street?)

  32. pdaly says:

    Great news! For once media conglomeration as a force for good.

    To reach the masses I hope Omidyar also buys out some of the Clear Channel LED billboards that can update pictures (and news flashes) and which dot the American highways. Commandeer the ones around Washington DC and well-trafficked corridors to major cities to spread the word!
    Erect one in a northern Virginia strip mall and light it brightly enough to pierce even the darkest storm cloud in the vicinity. ;-)

    Looking forward to having two bookmarks for your work.

  33. ReaderOfTeaLeaves says:

    Well deserved.
    Somewhere, Mary’s spirit, and Bob in AZ’s spirit, are surely calling an early Beerthirty in celebration.

    Very cheering news.

  34. lefty665 says:

    Special thanks for promoting us to 2 or 3 hops from Snowden. It assuages my 40 years of angst over not making Nixon’s enemies list.

  35. MtVernonCannabisFarms... says:

    I’m ashamed to say , even after newsweek , if not for OpEdNews i still wouldn’t know about the emptywheel .
    mind boggling talent combined with Roy Neary class obsession/dedication/tenacity


  36. ReaderOfTeaLeaves says:

    @bmaz: Very kind of you, bmaz.
    Lovely to see so many familiar screen names, as well ;)

    Here’s an enticing nugget I stumbled upon at Col. Lang’s Sic Semper Tyrannis just yesterday:

    Among the (quite interesting) comments is a link to an English version of an Al Akbar story suggesting that the US recently presented the Saudi’s with evidence of their bankrollong terrorism. (Ahem….). It even appears the Saudi royals may have become fed up with our old buddy and pal Bandar Bush bin Saud. Evidently, he’s been sent to US on medical leave. Pity, eh?

    Now, had I not been reading EW several years back, I’d have had no clue who ‘Bandar’ is, nor why this info — IF accurate — might suggest intriguing power shifts behind the scenes.

    Not quite sure my heart can withstand the joy of EW finding more eyeballs AND the Seahawks demolishing their Super Bowl opponents all in the space of a week. But I’ll give it my best shot ;)

  37. LeMoyne says:

    Said it before and I’ll say it again… Yay you! Yay emptywheel!

    I’m glad you are gonna get paid for and have a wider audience for the analysis work you are obviously gonna do well anyway. Especially glad that you will continue to provide your service direct to the public, and I rest assured that even if professional courtesy holds back your zeroth look to avoid scooping the first look, your posts with their pictures and arrows explanations and links will serve everyone as an annotated+reference second look.

    Thanks for the remedial reading list – 22 scoops!
    8-o… So generous.

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