Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.

Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Tag:

Contractor Charged With Leaking Classified Data On Russian Election Hacking

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Department of Justice on Monday charged a federal contractor with sending classified material to a news organization that sources identified to Reuters as The Intercept, marking one of the first concrete efforts by the Trump administration to crack down on leaks to the media.

Reality Leigh Winner, 25, was charged with removing classified material from a government facility located in Georgia. She was arrested on June 3, the Justice Department said.

The charges were announced less than an hour after The Intercept published a top-secret document from the National Security Agency that described Russian efforts to launch cyber attacks on at least one U.S. voting software supplier and send “spear-phishing” emails, or targeted emails that try to trick a recipient into clicking on a malicious link to steal data, to more than 100 local election officials days before the presidential election last November.

The Justice Department declined to comment on the case beyond its filing. Federal Bureau of Investigation did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

While the charges do not name the publication, a U.S. official with knowledge of the case said Winner was charged with leaking the NSA report to The Intercept. A second official confirmed The Intercept document was authentic and did not dispute that the charges against Winner were directly tied to it.

The Intercept‘s reporting reveals new details behind the conclusion of U.S. intelligence agencies that Russian intelligence services were seeking to infiltrate state voter registration systems as part of a broader effort to interfere in the election, discredit Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, and help then Republican candidate Donald Trump win the election.

The new material does not, however, suggest that actual votes were manipulated.

The Intercept co-founding editor Glenn Greenwald did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Winter’s mother also did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

While partially redacted, the NSA document is marked to show it would be up for declassification on May 5, 2042. The indictment against Winner alleges she “printed and improperly removed” classified intelligence reporting that was dated “on or about May 5, 2017.”

Classified documents are typically due to be declassified after 25 years under an executive order signed under former President Bill Clinton.

The NSA opened a facility in Augusta in 2012 at Fort Gordon, a U.S. Army outpost.

The FBI and several congressional committees are investigating how Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election and whether associated of President Donald Trump may have colluded with Russian intelligence operatives during the campaign.

Trump has dismissed the allegations as “fake news,” while attempting to refocus attention on leaks of information to the media.

Winner graduated from basic military training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio in 2011. Investigators determined she was one of only six individuals to print the document in question and that she had exchanged emails with the news outlet, according to the indictment.

U.S. intelligence agencies including the NSA and CIA have fallen victim to several thefts of classified material in recent years, often at the hands of a federal contractor. For example, former NSA contractor Edward Snowden in 2013 disclosed secret documents to journalists, including The Intercept‘s Greenwald, that revealed broad U.S. surveillance programs.

(Additional reporting by John Walcott)

IMAGE: Reality Leigh Winner, 25, a federal contractor charged by the Department of Justice for sending classified material to a news organization, poses in a picture posted to her Instagram account.   Reality Winner/Social Media via REUTERS

No Good Argument For Clinton Needing A Challenger

Even before Hillary Clinton formally announced her intention to seek the office of the presidency, left-of-center pundits had been worried about the appearance of primogenitor. While the Republicans are generally comfortable with the coronation of heirs to the party’s nomination, the Democrats are not. There’s something monarchical about political ascension, the pundits say, something authoritarian and dynastic: it’s anathema to the principles of egalitarianism and meritocracy.

After Jeb Bush announced the launch of his exploratory committee, Glenn Greenwald, the civil-libertarian journalist, said a matchup between the wife and son/brother of former presidents would “vividly underscore how the American political class functions: by dynasty, plutocracy, fundamental alignment of interests masquerading as deep ideological divisions, and political power translating into vast private wealth and back again. The educative value would be undeniable.”

David Corn didn’t go as far as Greenwald. But he found Clinton’s apparent inevitability equally distasteful. Corn advanced the name of former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley as a foil. O’Malley, he said, “would make a good sparring partner. He’s a smart guy with sass, but he’s not a slasher, who could inflict long-lasting political damage.” Critically important, he said, is that Clinton shouldn’t assume victory. Only with a primary fight, Clinton would “earn—not inherit—the nomination,” Corn wrote. “She’d be a fighter, not a dynastic queen. The press and the public would have something to ponder beyond just Clinton herself.”

I admire Corn and Greenwald immensely, and agree with them mostly. But I’d argue their assessments, as well as those of others in the left-liberal commentariat, are not arguments. Instead, they are statements reflecting a discomfort with power, a discomfort widely shared among Democrats. Meanwhile, Republicans have no such qualms whatsoever.

Despite her flaws, Clinton and her campaign represent a singular moment in the history of the Democratic Party. Namely, there probably has not been this much party unity since 1964 when President Lyndon Baines Johnson, campaigning in the memory of an assassinated president, beat conservative Barry Goldwater in a landslide. But that unity failed to last. Four years later, in the shadow of Vietnam and in the backlash against the Civil Rights Act, LBJ’s Democratic Party would crack up forever.

In the wake of that crack-up, the Republicans routinely won by deploying an array of wedge issues to divide and conquer—from Richard Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” in 1968, to George H.W. Bush’s “Willie Horton” attack in 1988, to his son’s “gays, guns, and God” in 2004. But by 2008, something essential had shifted. Barack Obama forged a coalition among minorities, young voters, and white liberals and John McCain refused to go negative on his opponent’s race, fearing backlash. In 2012, the Obama coalition held despite Mitt Romney’s clumsy attempts at race baiting.

Holding that coalition together is vital to maintaining the gains, large and small, made in eight years of unprecedented, massive, and total resistance on the part of the Republicans. And I’m not only talking about the Affordable Care Act, which is transforming life for millions, nor the Dodd-Frank financial reform law, which is finally taking effect.

Since 2013, when Obama realized he’d get nothing in terms of legislation from the Republicans, the president used his executive authority to make several small-bore advances in climate change, immigration, foreign policy, gay rights, and the minimum wage (among federal contractors). All it takes to turn that around is the next Republican president.

In 2000, Ralph Nader won a few million votes by claiming there was no difference between the major parties. While his message was undeniable, his campaign was indisputably destructive. Nader’s take of the popular vote was enough for George W. Bush to beat Al Gore by a hair. In addition to a disastrous war, giveaways to the wealthy, and incompetent governance, we have Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justice Samuel Alito, who, along with the high Court’s Republican majority, believe money has no corrupting effect on politics and that closely held businesses may discriminate on the basis of religious liberty.

Nader isn’t responsible for the Bush era. My point is that the stakes are high—too high to worry about a candidate’s foibles and fret over a “dynastic queen.” That matters less than Clinton’s being a Democrat who will, at the very least, hold the line against attempts to redistribute more wealth upward, to dismantle the welfare state, to privatized the public sphere, and wage more war abroad. Hopefully, if Clinton wins in 2016, she will build on the progressive record started by her predecessor.

Left-liberals are right in saying Clinton must clarify her positions on immigration, Wall Street, unemployment, foreign policy, and a host of other issues. She has been and will continue to be like her husband: maddeningly circumspect and hard to pin down. But that, in addition to all the other complaints thus far, doesn’t amount to an argument against her winning the nomination. Those complaints reflect liberals’ unease with power and the use of that power to protect hard-won progressive gains.

It’s time to get over that.

After all, voting is a political strategy that hopes to achieve political ends, not a quadrennial occasion to assess a candidate’s ideological worth.

John Stoehr is managing editor of The Washington Spectator. Follow him on Twitter and Medium.

Photo: Michael Kovac via Flickr

What Glenn Greenwald Gets Wrong

Earth to Glenn Greenwald: if you write a book slamming The New York Times, it’s naïve to expect favorable treatment in the New York Times Book Review. Been there, done that. Twice as a matter of fact.

On the first go-around, the NYTBR reviewer — a Times alumnus— described mine as a “nasty” book for hinting that name-brand journalists don’t always deal off the top of the deck. No inaccuracies cited, only nastiness.

Next the newspaper located the most appropriate reviewer for Joe Conason’s and my book The Hunting of the President in its own Washington bureau — the original source of the great Whitewater hoax our book deconstructed. That worthy accused us of partisan hackery on the authority of one of the few wildly inaccurate Whitewater stories the Times had itself actually corrected.

If you think we got a correction, however, you’d be mistaken.

So when Greenwald complains that his book No Place to Hide, detailing his and Edward Snowden’s exciting adventures in Hong Kong before the Boy Hero flew off to Moscow, got savaged by NYTBR reviewer Michael Kinsley, it’s easy to feel sympathetic. It’s no fun getting trashed in the only book review that really matters.

Kinsley’s biting wit and withering cynicism can be hard to take. But for all that, the review wasn’t entirely negative. It never denied the importance of Greenwald and Snowden’s revelations about government snooping, nor did it question the author’s journalistic integrity. “The Snowden leaks were important—a legitimate scoop,” he wrote, “and we might never have known about the NSA’s lawbreaking if it hadn’t been for them.”

True, Kinsley’s tone is far from worshipful. “His story is full of journalistic derring-do, mostly set in exotic Hong Kong,” he writes. “It’s a great yarn, which might be more entertaining if Greenwald himself didn’t come across as so unpleasant. Maybe he’s charming and generous in real life. But in No Place to Hide, Greenwald seems like a self-righteous sourpuss.”

Alas, anybody who’s experienced Greenwald’s dogged ad hominem argumentative style can identify. I’m rarely mistaken myself, but I do try not to impute evil motives to everybody who disagrees with me.

However, contrary to the army of syntactically-challenged Greenwald fans who turned his essay into an Internet cause célèbre, Kinsley never said the man should be jailed. He wrote that being invited to explain why not on Meet the Press hardly constitutes evidence of government oppression.

Indeed, also contrary to the Times public editor Margaret Sullivan, Kinsley nowhere “expressed a belief that many journalists find appalling: that news organizations should simply defer to the government” in deciding what secrets to reveal. He wrote that “the process of decision making—whatever it turns out to be—should openly tilt in favor of publication with minimal delay.”

Call me old-fashioned, but I do think the newspaper’s public editor should be more capable of fair paraphrase—an important journalistic skill.

However, what Kinsley’s provocative essay did very effectively was to question how seriously the author (and Edward Snowden) had thought through the logic of their position that when it comes to government secrets, it’s every man his own director of National Security.

And the answer seems to be, not too seriously at all. But then my view is that the Greenwald-Snowden revelations about NSA “metadata” hoarding made for exciting headlines and a Pulitzer Prize but little or no practical difference to people’s actual lives.

So that when Greenwald writes that “by ordering illegal eavesdropping, the president had committed crimes and should be held accountable,” I’m inclined to ask if he knows the meaning of “eavesdropping.”

It doesn’t mean storing phone and Internet records in a giant database; it means listening in on conversations or searching people’s hard drives, and to date there’s no evidence of that being done without court-ordered search warrants. I’d add that if Americans feel politically intimidated, they’ve got awfully noisy ways of showing it — especially those jerks swaggering around with assault rifles daring the feds to make something of it.

George Packer makes a related point in Prospect: “A friend from Iran who was jailed and tortured for having the wrong political beliefs, and who is now an American citizen, observed drily, ‘I prefer to be spied on by NSA.’”

So which of the two million-odd documents Edward Snowden swiped from the National Security Agency should end up in the newspaper, and who gets to decide? On that score, Kinsley’s otherwise crystal clear argument gets foggy. His point is that in a fallen world the government has legitimate secrets to protect: classic example, the date and location of the D-Day landings.

“In a democracy,” he writes “(which, pace Greenwald, we still are), that decision must ultimately be made by the government.”

Hence misunderstanding. Had he simply specified “Congress and the courts,” there would have been lot less hyperventilating.

Where’s an editor when you need one?

AFP Photo/Stan Honda

eBay Founder Pierre Omidyar’s Online Magazine Launches With Fresh NSA Story

Washington (AFP) – The online news venture backed by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar debuted Monday, featuring fresh revelations about U.S. intelligence from investigative reporter Glenn Greenwald.

The news site dubbed “The Intercept” launched with two articles, including one co-authored by Greenwald stating that the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) is relying on electronic surveillance, such as cell phone location, rather than human intelligence, to locate targets for lethal drone strikes.

The report said the NSA “geolocates” the SIM card or handset of a suspected terrorist’s mobile phone for raids and drone strikes to capture or kill suspected terrorists.

Citing a former drone operator and supported by leaked NSA documents, the report said this method has been effective in many cases in Yemen, Somalia and Afghanistan, but that innocent people have been killed by this tactic.

The article, with co-authors Laura Poitras and Jeremy Scahill, said that Taliban forces in Afghanistan are increasingly aware of the geolocation and have been taking actions to thwart the tactic, such as switching SIM cards.

The former drone operator was quoted as saying the NSA unit known as Geo Cell sometimes orders strikes without knowing whether the individual in possession of a tracked cell phone or SIM card is in fact the intended target of the strike.

“They might have been terrorists,” the ex-drone operator was quoted as saying. “Or they could have been family members who have nothing to do with the target’s activities.”

Responding to an AFP query, an administration official said the report was misleading and offered a distorted picture of how the intelligence agencies review information about terror suspects before any drone strike.

Prior to a possible drone operation, the administration carries out an elaborate assessment of an array of intelligence reporting and only gives a green light when all the information is carefully weighed, the official said.

“This is somewhat selective reporting,” the official told AFP. “When we make a decision, to take any sort of action, we look at multiple streams of information.”

“Any suggestion that we use only one source . . . shows just a total misunderstanding of how the intelligence community operates,” the official said.

The Intercept is the first publication to come from Omidyar’s First Look Media announced last year.

The entrepreneur and philanthropist has pledged $250 million for the venture and has allocated the first $50 million to start operations.

According to the website, the “short-term mission” is to provide a platform to report on the documents previously provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

“Our long-term mission is to produce fearless, adversarial journalism across a wide range of issues,” according to the website.

First Look Media includes a non-profit journalism entity, and a for-profit company to develop new media technology, according to Omidyar.

A second article on the site by photographer and artist Trevor Paglen includes previously unpublished aerial images of the NSA, the National Reconnaissance Office, and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.

AFP Photo/Brian Harkin