This is just a quick post to register two disagreements with Glenn Greenwald's post claiming the NYT's data-mining story is a shiny object. First, Glenn claims that the stories were floated by "anonymous sources seeking to protect Alberto Gonzales" and "anonymous pro-Bush sources." But then he goes on to point out that the NYT story (unlike the WaPo story) includes a detail--which I pointed out in my post on the story--that doesn't help Gonzales.
A half-dozen officials and former officials interviewed for this article would speak only on the condition of anonymity, in part because unauthorized disclosures about the classified program are already the subject of a criminal investigation. Some of the officials said the 2004 dispute involved other issues in addition to the data mining, but would not provide details. [Glenn's emphasis]
In other words, the story relies on six sources, but at least two of those sources are actually pointing out the same thing that the blogosphere is pointing out: the problem was data-mining, plus other issues. At least two of the sources for the story are not "pro-Bush sources ... seeking to protect Alberto Gonzales."
Now, I'm not going to bet any money that the NYT, if two of its sources stated, "well, yeah, data-mining was a problem, but the real problem ..." would faithfully render that point of emphasis. But at least as reported, these at-least-two sources who are not helping Bush still confirm that data-mining is part of the problem.
My other complaint with Glenn's post is that he ignores parsing that hurts his case, as when he repeats Michael Hayden's denial that the program involves data-mining.
In January, 2006, Gen. Michael Hayden -- the NSA Director during the implementation of the "TSP" and the current CIA Director -- gave a press briefing at the National Press Club in which he emphatically denied that the NSA had been engaging in the type of "data mining" which this morning's articles describe. During his opening remarks, Hayden said:
Let me talk for a few minutes also about what this program is not. It is not a driftnet over Dearborn or Lackawanna or Freemont grabbing conversations that we then sort out by these alleged keyword searches or data-mining tools or other devices that so-called experts keep talking about.
This is targeted and focused. This is not about intercepting conversations between people in the United States. This is hot pursuit of communications entering or leaving America involving someone we believe is associated with al Qaeda.
He then made clear that the NSA could not and would not engage in such data mining because of the "ethical" and "practical" considerations involved:QUESTION: Are you spying on or intercepting our communications, e-mails and telephone conversations of those of us who are organizing The World Can't Wait to Drive Out the Bush Regime?
GEN. HAYDEN: You know, I tried to make this as clear as I could in prepared remarks. I said this isn't a drift net, all right? I said we're not there sucking up coms and then using some of these magically alleged keyword searches -- "Did he say 'jihad'?
[bold Glenn's; italics mine]
Here Glenn is just plain ignoring Hayden's language. Hayden is not denying that the program relies on the "type of data-mining" described by these articles. On the contrary. Here's what the NYT article describes:
In addition, court approval is required for the N.S.A. to search the databases of telephone calls or e-mail records, usually compiled by American phone and Internet companies and including phone numbers or e-mail addresses, as well as dates, times and duration of calls and messages. Sometimes called metadata, such databases do not include the content of the calls and e-mail messages — the actual words spoken or written. [my emphasis]
In one reference, Hayden specifically refers to conversations, which suggests data-mining based on content. In the other, Hayden says they're not doing keyword searches on the language used in the communications. Whereas the NYT is talking about the data-mining of metadata, which explicitly excludes the kind of content that Hayden asserts they're not searching.
Glenn's assuming the data-mining is of content. But that's not what the NYT asserted.
Now don't get me wrong. As I said in my post on this topic, this article may well have been an attempted limited hang-out. And David Johnston is a great target for such efforts, to reveal some things while still keeping the big secrets hidden. But somehow, in the writing process, the NYT article incorporated the views of at least two people who weren't party to attempts to exonerate Gonzales. And even these sources confirm that data-mining was one part of the multiple problems with the program. There are clearly other aspects that were problematic too. But if we're going to trust that claim that there were other problems, then we probably also have to assume that those sources aren't trying to do Bush a favor.
The former government official who spoke to CNN about Gonzales Sunday said there had been a legal concern in 2004 about the data mining that led some officials, including then-Deputy Attorney General James Comey, to threaten to resign from the administration in protest.
Since that controversy was technically about the data mining, however, Gonzales could claim there was not an internal argument about the surveillance itself.
"The attorney general may have been splitting hairs here," the former government official said. "He may be able to say 'the dispute' was not about the NSA monitoring program per se. But I would not have said what he said."
The data mining involved computer searches through electronic databases that identified the senders and recipients of millions of Americans' e-mails and phone calls, though not their contents. [my emphasis]
And more clarity--when these folks are talking data-mining, they're not talking about the content-based data-mining that Hayden denied.