Video: CBS News gives the NSA a chance to make its case

posted at 12:21 pm on December 16, 2013 by Ed Morrissey

Last night, I was too tired from recent travel to do any real work, so I skipped the 60 Minutes segment hosted by John Miller that delved more deeply into the NSA than any news organization had been allowed to do before now.  Because I was tweeting about the NFL games during the afternoon and evening, I caught plenty of the instant reaction on Twitter to Miller’s report.  Most of it was sharply critical, with complaints that Miller — who disclosed his own earlier work with the NSA — was too deferential to NSA chief Gen. Keith Alexander and other officials, accusing him of tossing softballs instead of asking tough questions.

For instance, the report starts off with this exchange according to the 60 Minutes transcript, but doesn’t include a follow-up:

John Miller: There is a perception out there that the NSA is widely collecting the content of the phone calls of Americans. Is that true?

Gen. Keith Alexander: No, that’s not true. NSA can only target the communications of a U.S. person with a probable cause finding under specific court order. Today, we have less than 60 authorizations on specific persons to do that.

John Miller: The NSA as we sit here right now is listening to a universe of 50 or 60 people that would be considered U.S. persons?

Gen. Keith Alexander: Less than 60 people globally who are considered U.S. persons.

There is definitely journalistic value in allowing the NSA to provide a full response to the allegations made over the last several months, mostly from the massive data theft from Edward Snowden. The segment includes some potentially new information about cyberattacks from hostile states, and an explanation of how metadata works to chain potential bad actors together into a pattern without (supposedly) intruding on the communications of Americans. To the extent that NSA reveals anything about their operations, it at least has the potential for making Americans better informed about the operation of their government and the surveillance that Congress authorized in the wake of 9/11.

However, Miller never bothers to press Alexander on his misleading testimony to Congress, not even to get a denial.  Miller never even mentions Congress in this segment, where legislators have had grave reservations about NSA activities long before Snowden took off with his cache. Miller does briefly raise the issue of the FISA court’s reprimands of the NSA, but drops it after a brief Alexander denial:

Gen. Keith Alexander: No. That’s not true. Under FISA, NSA can only target the communications of a U.S. person with a probable cause finding under specific court order.

John Miller: A judge in the FISA court, which is the court that secretly hears the NSA cases and approves or disapproves your requests. Said the NSA systematically transgressed both its own court-appointed limits in bulk Internet data collection programs.

Gen. Keith Alexander: There was nobody willfully or knowingly trying to break the law.

How are we to know? Another term missing from this report is “oversight,” which seems to be significantly lacking both in Congress and in court. Miller never asks Alexander or anyone else about that issue, which has been repeatedly raised by Senator Ron Wyden and former Rep. James Sensenbrenner, the author of the PATRIOT Act who now believes that the NSA abuses it.

Given how insular the NSA has been about its activities, this is at least a huge missed opportunity. Check it out for yourselves.

Update: Esquire calls this a “field trip” for Miller and 60 Minutes, and it’s difficult to disagree.

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CBS News gives the NSA a chance to make its case


Is that what they are calling State issued propaganda now?

PolAgnostic on December 16, 2013 at 12:34 PM

I thought it was an Ok story – a lot of double-talk – a lot of CYA. The story of the BIOS virus was interesting.

I did enjoy seeing the young minds at work at the NSA. That was refreshing to see.

jake-the-goose on December 16, 2013 at 12:35 PM

Totally gutless “interview” of an entity that richly deserves
to be held accountable……summary of the interview:

The government is GREAT, move along…

ToddPA on December 16, 2013 at 12:36 PM

Gen. Keith Alexander: No, that’s not true. NSA can only target the communications of a U.S. person with a probable cause finding under specific court order. Today, we have less than 60 authorizations on specific persons to do that.

There seems to a lot of evidence to the contrary, General.

jaywemm on December 16, 2013 at 12:40 PM

Is that what they are calling State issued propaganda now?

PolAgnostic on December 16, 2013 at 12:34 PM

I watched about half of the report on 60 Minutes before turning it off – far too much propaganda, softballs / lack of challenges by Miller, and as noted by Ed, nothing about oversight / checks on the NSA.

On a side note, this was probably Miller’s CBS swan song – he’s probably off to a senior counter-intel position with the NYPD as his old bud, Bratton, is slated to be the next NYPD Commish. Miller worked for Bratton during both his first tenure as NYPD Commissioner and during Bratton’s LAPD tenure.

Athos on December 16, 2013 at 12:45 PM

It doesn’t help that CBS’s corporate logo is a big giant eye.

Shy Guy on December 16, 2013 at 12:46 PM

Is that what they are calling State issued propaganda now?

PolAgnostic on December 16, 2013 at 12:34 PM

I am not a fan of what I have heard so far, but always keep in mind when it comes to the NSA leaks, we only see what people like Glenn Greenwald want us to see.

DJ Rick on December 16, 2013 at 12:46 PM

If Snowden falls for the NSA’s bullchit, and returns to the US, he is a fool, and deserves to be killed by the goons.

You stay there, if you want to live. You helped to bring obama to the ground and he hates, hates, hates you, and wants you dead.

Schadenfreude on December 16, 2013 at 12:50 PM

I’m highly disappointed in Hayden – yesterday “the NSA is only doing what is legal”.

NO, they are not, and you know it.

I no longer trust anyone in the US gov’t. They are liberty’s enemies, all of them.

Schadenfreude on December 16, 2013 at 12:51 PM

Snowden

Syria

obama’care’

What ‘killed’ obama.

Schadenfreude on December 16, 2013 at 12:55 PM

Might as well watch the People’s Minute interviewing Kim Chub Un on whether or not there are gulags in North Korea.

Bishop on December 16, 2013 at 1:14 PM

I love how they attack Snowden as some type of weirdo loser high school dropout, yet he outsmarted the everloving SH!T out of the NSA. And btw, according to at least one of Snowden’s former colleagues the propaganda aired last night is FAR from accurate:

http://www.forbes.com/sites/andygreenberg/2013/12/16/an-nsa-coworker-remembers-the-real-edward-snowden-a-genius-among-geniuses/

thphilli on December 16, 2013 at 1:24 PM

thphilli on December 16, 2013 at 1:24 PM

Thank you

Schadenfreude on December 16, 2013 at 2:08 PM

However, Miller never bothers to press Alexander on his misleading testimony to Congress, not even to get a denial.

well of course not. that was something i imagine NSA, alexander and his lawyers insisted couldnt be asked. and in fairness since he could face perjury charges it shouldnt be asked.

chasdal on December 16, 2013 at 2:09 PM

I am not a fan of what I have heard so far, but always keep in mind when it comes to the NSA leaks, we only see what people like Glenn Greenwald want us to see.

DJ Rick on December 16, 2013 at 12:46 PM


OK …

… but I was referring to the “fluffing” piece with “unprecedented access” and undoubtedly “final approval of what would be aired” rather than anything revealed by Snowden/Greenwald/WaPo.

PolAgnostic on December 16, 2013 at 2:11 PM

well of course not. that was something i imagine NSA, alexander and his lawyers insisted couldnt be asked. and in fairness since he could face perjury charges it shouldnt be asked.

chasdal on December 16, 2013 at 2:09 PM

“it shouldn’t be asked”???

It is an interview – not sworn testimony.

I’m guessing you weren’t “around” for the days of Watergate – when REAL reporters asked HARD questions, were you?

PolAgnostic on December 16, 2013 at 2:15 PM

Judge displays a set

Schadenfreude on December 16, 2013 at 2:46 PM

“Now, let’s get to the bottom of this, General Alexander, because we’re a hard-hitting News Program here at 60 Minutes.

“Two questions: What’s your favorite color, and is It’s A Wonderful Life, or Miracle on 34th Street the best Christmas move ever?”

“Wow, John, you’ve really cut me to the quick. I’m glad you news guys are making us at the NSA come clean…”

orangemtl on December 16, 2013 at 5:18 PM