Getting "XKeyscore" right

Greenwald does not substantiate any claim to systemic abuse of XKeyscore. He does not provide a single instance where it was used — illegally — to collect information on a U.S. citizen. In fact, the discussion about potential abuse of NSA programs remains theoretical. There are no credible allegations of widespread, illegal abuse of the programs in place to identify and track suspected terrorists. (Even Senator Ron Wyden, in noting that the intelligence community “misled Congress about the usefulness” of mass collection programs, is not identifying systemic abuses or failure of oversight audits within the system.) The potential for abuse is real and not to be discounted, but it is misleading to present it as actual abuse.

The Guardian also posted an entire deck of slides (warning to government-employed readers: the slides are highly classified) on its website, which purport to describe the XKeyscore system. This is where the question of journalistic overreach advances from quibbling about presentation and tabloid-style hype to outright misrepresentation.

Greenwald claims in his piece that Xkeyscore allows analysts to indiscriminately read emails, including those of American citizens. Yet the slides themselves only mention indexing and metadata. Nowhere do they mention reading the content of emails, either because it is illegal without a warrant (in the case of U.S. citizens) or XKeyscore is not the correct system to do so.