Given access to a large trove of the NSA documents leaked by whistleblower Edward Snowden, the New York Times has published an aerial view of the agency—cataloging numerous and varied surveillance programs—which the paper says shows that President Obama and other high-ranking officials who defend the agency by citing its counterterrorism credentials are using “a misleadingly narrow sales pitch for an agency with an almost unlimited agenda.”
Though critical and informative on many levels, however, the approach and perhaps unintended consequences of the story raises some questions.
According to the Times, “the scale and aggressiveness” of the NSA’s global spying apparatus detailed in the Snowden documents “are breathtaking.”
And in three key paragraphs, the Times rattled off a series of acronym-laden programs and clandestine cyber-operations conducted by the NSA:
However, despite the scale and scope of the Times’ reporting on the documents, it was difficult for some to avoid the feeling that part of the exhaustive review was designed to scuttle future—perhaps more detailed—reporting on the same programs.
Unlike most other reporting so far done on the leaked NSA documents, which seem to have followed a more deliberate kind of approach by looking at one surveillance program or revelation at a time, the decision to publish a single feature-length piece on numerous programs raised the ire of some.
As the transparency advocacy group Wikileaks responded:
The reference is to former Bobby Inman, who directed the NSA himself in the late 70s and early 80s. For those who think the Times‘ rapid-fire review of the Snowden documents might, in fact, serve the interests of the agency over the public, Inman’s unsolicited advice to his former employer serves as an interesting clue.
“My advice would be to take everything you think Snowden has and get it out yourself,” Inman told the Times. “It would certainly be a shock to the agency. But bad news doesn’t get better with age. The sooner they get it out and put it behind them, the faster they can begin to rebuild.”
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