No One Outside the NSA Seems Particularly Happy with the 60 Minutes NSA Story

Monday, December 16, 2013 - 12:01 PM

The NSA whistleblower and former agent of CIA & NSA, Edward Snowden. (Laura Poitras/Praxis Films/Shutterstock)

Last night, 60 Minutes aired a piece on the NSA that many reporters found overly credulous.


The piece doesn't include any on camera interviews with critics of the NSA, and interviews with NSA employees were overseen by a team of minders. 

There have also been conflict-of-interest questions. The reporter of the piece, John Miller, previously worked in the office of the Director of National Intelligence. Miller disclosed that in the top of the segment, but some some reporters are angry today after reading fresh rumors that Miller plans to leave CBS for a job in law enforcement.

The piece also includes a good deal of NSA mud-slinging at Edward Snowden the person. We're reminded that he's a drop-out who cheated on his NSA entrance exam test, and told he wouldn't let his girlfriend look at his computer while he worked from home. 

Over at Forbes, Andy Greenberg has a sort of counter-profile of Snowden. Greenberg talks to a coworker from the NSA who describes Snowden as smart and principled. Also: a fan of Rubik's Cubes.


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Comments [9]

Mike White from Westland, MI

Great piece guys. I wanted to add something that may have been overlooked when it comes to the NSA and the way it's being portrayed in the media. There recently was a new character added to the CBS(!) show NCIS, Agent Ellie Bishop.

She's a hip, young, "hot blonde" who ostensibly fills the shoes of the recently-departed Agent Ziva but she's also on loan from the NSA. Her introduction a few weeks ago was a ham-handed attempt to show how "with it" the NSA is.

I feel that this is more of an attempt by the NSA, more than even the writers/producers of NCIS, to give their agency a "face" on television.

Dec. 23 2013 08:25 AM

Can't help but notice timing of the NSA story. Not only it is a puff piece but atonement for fake Benghazi interview that is supposed to make up for fraud. The first was arguably unintentional and this is one not so. At the end of the day it is all about the brand and access. Every thinking press-titute will tell you this.

Dec. 19 2013 02:52 PM

Aaron, Greenwald is a fount of spin, hyperbole, and exaggeration.

Remember when his poor innocent husband was just traipsing on vacation when he was detained by the big bad UK? GG screeched that the authorities were going after his family to intimidate him. Yet as it turned out, that Miranda was traveling with thousands of illegally appropriated state secrets, UK secrets in fact, which was bringing through the UK. In fact, GG had sent him on this errand. Look for GG's retraction of his original spin on that one. Good luck.

More to the point, he has depicted almost every NSA story as "the NSA is doing this to you, American citizen!" when he knows this is false. What nearly all of the stories amount to is: "the NSA has developed this capability in order to conduct foreign intelligence gathering." GG equates the hypothetical ability of the NSA to use these capabilities domestically to claim that this is in fact being done. In almost all cases, he offers no proof of this.

In those cases where the NSA did catch up American communications in the dragnet, those instances were identified by the NSA itself. Those instances account for way less than 1% of data collected.

Follow his twitter feed in which he lashes out at someone in verbal violence almost every day. He is the farthest thing from a dispassionate and careful journalist. He is an activist with a huge chip on his shoulder and no journalistic ethics whatsoever. The story for an organization that purports to cover the media, is the extent to which the mass media tends to gobble up his very slanted interpretation of the very selective leaks he is making.

Dec. 17 2013 03:53 PM
Lori from New York City

Am I the only one that thinks 60 Minutes has been collapsing? Starting with the Benghazi debacle and the subsequent botching of acknowledging their mistakes? Then Charlie Rose's advert for Amazon and their drones? Now this. Don Hewitt is turning in his grave.

Dec. 17 2013 01:12 PM
Ben from Cincinnati

"told he wouldn't let his girlfriend look at his computer while he worked from home. "

Is this hyperbole or did they actually say that in the program?
Call me crazy but if they actually said that....isn't that what you are SUPPOSED to do?
I mean if he is VPN'd into secure servers, you know the ones you need clearance to access, isn't it his duty to not let others snoop on that?

Dec. 17 2013 09:58 AM

There's a line that can be crossed where propaganda becomes starkly unbelievable, and thus is likely to undermine its intended purpose, angering its audience as they realize they're being lied to. The 60 Minutes story is a fine example.

Dec. 16 2013 10:19 PM

"[Glenn Greenwald] plays pretty fast and loose with his interpretations of these documents when it serves his purpose."

[citation needed]

Dec. 16 2013 05:36 PM
Snats from Phoenix

The flip side is how much media on both the left and right really really want to back Snowden, and to a lesser extent Greenwald. For every story like this 60 Minutes segment, there are 100 regurgitating the spin of Glenn Greenwald, a man who doesn't exactly seek to hide that he is biased, has an activist agenda, and plays pretty fast and loose with his interpretations of these documents when it serves his purpose.

Is this 60 Minutes piece too credulous? Maybe. But I would accuse 85% of the mediasphere with being much too credulous of Greenwald's spin on the whole Snowden affair and actual import of some of these documents.

Most of what has been leaked in the last five months, after the initial stories, has been very small-ball stuff that is not illegal, is part of the every day international spying that all countries do, and has been leaked by Greenwald for no other purpose than to embarrass the United States. That isn't "whistle blowing." There is nothing wrong with us spying on Brazil. They try their best to spy on us.

In short, how about some stories about how Glenn Greenwald is basically a cult of personality, and that there has been significant problems with the spin he has put on many of these leak stories. Inaccuracies that often have to be walked back by the more professional media companies he works with.

Dec. 16 2013 03:03 PM
Mason from Chicago, IL

Let's be fair with our titles, here -- I'm sure several 60 Minutes employees and all of the independent contractors who are paid to supply the NSA with the tools they use to spy are ecstatic.

Dec. 16 2013 12:57 PM

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TLDR is a short podcast and blog about the internet by Meredith Haggerty. You can subscribe to the TLDR podcast here. You can follow our blog here. I tweet @manymanywords and @tldr.

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