New NSA revelations far more newsworthy than missing airplanes

The headlines might feature something new every day, but really important news stories have a nagging tendency to remain important, no matter how much time they get on television. In fact, you can usually tell a really important news story by its distinct lack of mainstream media coverage, particularly after the initial shock has worn off and ratings return to their uniformally dismal standards. The revelations of the sweeping surveillance practices of the National Security Agency (NSA) have probably been the most important story on any given news day during the nine months since Edward Snowden initially contacted journalists last summer. And yet, despite the fact that new documents with new facets of the NSA story are being published on a seemingly daily basis, the media would have us believe that nothing in the world is worthier of discussion than a missing Malaysian airplane.

If you’ve spent the last few weeks glued to CNN’s 24-hour missing plane coverage, you might have missed some of the most recent stories about the NSA. For example, you might have missed the one about the TURBINE automated malware infection system, which is designed to covertly install malware on millions of computers worldwide. Once in place, the malware allows the NSA to hack into the computer in question and access any data it feels it is entitled to.

The classified documents detailing these tactics, provided by Snowden, reveal a variety of surveillance programs that can be clandestinely installed by the NSA. They can record conversations off your computer’s microphone, take pictures with your webcam, record your browsing history and passwords, and access the data on your flash drive. One of their hacking techniques is designed to imitate a Facebook server, collecting personal data while both the computer and the user think they are engaged in social media. Mark Zuckerberg himself reportedly called President Obama to complain following the publication of this particular twist in the story.

The NSA’s international surveillance practices are still coming to light, as well. According to The Washington Post, again reporting on documents provided by Snowden, the NSA is recording every single phone call made in an undisclosed foreign country. It is also recording phone calls in four other nations, though not to the same extent. The Post withheld the names of the nations in question at the request of the United States government.

All of these surveillance systems have been up and running since 2010, at the latest.

Meanwhile the response to all this by both the government and the mainstream media has been quite telling. Even when the major networks decide to include the NSA spying programs in their news of the day, their stories usually focus on Snowden himself, not the documents he revealed. Some members of the government, most notably Representative Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, have taken up a similar tactic. Rogers has been saying for months that Snowden is a Russian spy, and that Glenn Greenwald, the journalist who first reported on Snowden’s documents, is a thief who sold classified secrets for personal gain. Last week, in keeping with the “new Cold War” theme that has been developing in the wake of Russia’s annexation of the Crimea, Rogers claimed that “no counterintelligence official in the United States does not believe that Mr. Snowden…is not under the influence of Russian intelligence services,” and that “He is actually supporting in an odd way this very activity of brazen brutality and expansionism of Russia.”

Of course, this is all ludicrous, and Rogers knows it. Greenwald is a journalist, not an information thief; he hasn’t sold anything to anyone. Snowden is in Russia because the US revoked his passport while he was sitting in the Moscow airport. The FBI’s investigation on Snowden concluded that he worked alone in acquiring the classified documents, and even the NSA’s own internal review “found no evidence that he had help either within the NSA or from adversary spy agencies.” This talk of Russian influence is merely a smokescreen to divert attention from the real story.

The fact is, “smokescreen” is the name of the game for government and media alike. Those who benefit from the status quo have a vested interest in maintaining it. “Yes,” they seem to say, “it’s true, we are undermining the very idea of a democratic society by secretly keeping tabs on as much of the world as we possibly can…but isn’t it more important to wonder if Flight 370 was sucked into a black hole?”

Originally published in The Lumberjack (


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