So I've been waiting for our nation's leading press critics at TPM, Mediaite, the Washington Post and other outlets to weigh in on Andrew Fishman and Glenn Greenwald's devastating expose this month of the shoddy, fear mongering work of NPR's Dina Temple-Raston. So far, it's been mostly crickets.
That's good news for Temple-Raston, a high priest of the national media elite. Maybe her credentials from Northwestern, Columbia, and Harvard make her untouchable.
But it is bad news for American citizens who deserve fierce, independent and adversarial journalism, especially in a post 9-11 nation.
On August 1st, Temple-Raston relayed a study by Cambridge, Mass.-based "big data" company Recorded Future that claims "an increased pace of innovation" in Al-Qaeda's encryption software since since the June 2013 leaks by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. Here is Temple-Raston's money quote:
"The company trolled the Internet for al-Qaida mentions of Snowden. It downloaded versions of al-Qaida's encryption software and it discovered signs that al-Qaida had changed, specifically, it upgraded its encryption systems. For years, al-Qaida had used an encryption program written by its own coders. They called it Mujahideen Secrets. And most al-Qaida affiliates used it to scramble their communications. Since its introduction in 2007 there had been some minor updates. Then, in late 2013 after the Snowden leaks, the program got a major overhaul. Three different groups with links to al-Qaida introduced three new encryption products. It was like jumping from Windows 2.0 to Windows XP. Ahlberg says, that wasn't a coincidence."In The Intercept a week later, Greenwald -- the journalist who first published the Snowden leaks in The Guardian -- and Fishman eviscerated the report's logic. They detailed the many obvious, non-Snowden reasons for al-Quaida to be upgrading its encryption software, including the State Department's public boast in August 2013 that its decision to close 21 embassies was informed by eavesdropping on al Qaeda's high command.
They also report that Temple-Raston failed to disclose crucial information about Recorded Future's ties to the government.
"With this report, Temple-Raston seriously misled NPR’s millions of listeners. To begin with, Recorded Future, the outfit that produced the government-affirming report, is anything but independent. To the contrary, it is funded by the CIA and U.S. intelligence community with millions of dollars. Back in 2010, it also filed forms to become a vendor for the NSA. (In response to questions from The Intercept, the company’s vice president Jason Hines refused to say whether it works for the NSA, telling us that we should go FOIA that information if we want to know. But according to public reports, Recorded Future “earns most of its revenue from selling to Wall Street quants and intelligence agencies.”)Fishman and Greenwald report that Temple-Raston was well aware of Recorded Future's financial relationship to the intelligence community, since she reported on them in 2012.
"Back in 2012, NPR’s Morning Edition broadcast her profile of Recorded Future and its claimed ability to predict the future by gathering internet data. At the end of her report, she noted that the firm has “at least two very important financial backers: the CIA’s investment arm, called In-Q-Tel, and Google Ventures. They have reportedly poured millions into the company.”That is the company she’s now featuring as some sort of independent source that can credibly vindicate the claims of U.S. officials about how Snowden reporting helps terrorists.I encourage everyone who cares about U.S. journalism to read what Greenwald and Fishman wrote about the journalistic crime that Temple-Raston committed. It is one of the best critiques of inside-the-beltway news reporting you will ever read. I promise.
But you haven't heard about it from Mediate or TPM, which are usually keen to cover the sensational aspects of feuds between high profile reporters. Nothing by the Washington Post's usually fearless Erik Wemple. And only a passing reference on the usually hyper-vigilant press critic Jay Rosen's Twitter feed. And sadly, nothing here on the Daily Kos, an oversight this post is meant to correct.
Here is why this matters: Glenn Greenwald represents an existential threat to the inside-baseball "Church of the Savvy" (Rosen's term) Morning-Joe-cool-kids table approach that has compromised and undermined our national media.
Temple-Raston is a high priest of that Church, with degrees from the prestigious schools of journalism at Northwestern and Columbia Universities. She has just been named a fellow at Harvard's Neiman Foundation for Journalism, and recently moderated a panel held during a very cosy gathering of national security elite hosted by the Aspen Institute's Security Forum.
(Note: According to the Neiman Foundation's website, she will be using her fellowship to "study the intersection of Big Data and the intelligence community to understand how information from Twitter and other social media can be used to predict and understand events in the future. She also will study the rise of Islam and the first caliphate to research how Shariah law might be included in the transitional governments of the Arab world." This may explain the hackery uncovered by Greenwald and Fishman, since it sounds like she will be studying the work of companies like Recorded Future.)
What Greenwald and Fishman have done with their reporting is to call those credentials into question. They are forcing us to ask to what end is the access granted by those credentials being used? The answer provided by Temple-Raston's reporting is depressing. She has used her access to serve as a watchdog for the government, rather than of the government that has been all too willing to use national security as an excuses for invading the privacy of American citizens. She will justify doing this because she is "in the know," unlike you and me.
But thanks to Greenwald and Fishman, you and I are in in the know in a way we have not been before. Sunlight is shining on a part of our post 9-11 society that has been overlooked for too long -- the willingness of our media elite to do the government's bidding on issues of national security.
One encouraging development is that NPR Ombudsman Edward Schumacher-Matos tweeted this on August 13: "Gotten a lot of feedback re: The Intercept article. Am investigating." Let's hope that Rosen, Josh Marshall, Wemple and others do the same.
Sun Aug 17, 2014 at 10:36 AM PT: NPR Ombudsman Schumacher-Matos exonerates Temple-Raston, saying her omission of Recorded Future's ties to the intelligence community was due to deadline pressure. He quotes her making this excuse: "I was aware that the companies had worked with In-Q-Tel and the government on some projects in addition to their commercial work," Temple-Raston told me. "I had meant to include a line in the piece saying as much. On deadline, as we were making changes to the story, I just forgot to include that. It would have been better to have noted it, but I certainly didn't leave it out on purpose." The ombudsman notes her Neiman Fellowship as proof of her distinguished reporting career. I find it odd that he does not note the work of companies such as Recorded Futures was part of her scope of study during the fellowship. That fact makes her omission of its ties to the government in her story more -- not less -- suspicious.
Sun Aug 17, 2014 at 3:06 PM PT: NPR issues correction:
Aug. 17, 2014
This report should have said that In-Q-Tel has invested in the firms Record Future and Reversing Labs. As NPR ombudsman Edward Schumacher-Matos notes, In-Q-Tel is "a quasi-government venture capital fund that publicly invests in young high-tech companies on behalf of the CIA and other partner intelligence agencies." Record Future and Reversing Labs are among the companies In-Q-Tel has invested in.
Mon Aug 18, 2014 at 6:04 AM PT: Jay Rosen weighs in -- NPR did not correct the story until it was investigated by their ombudsman. Also notes that Temple-Raston's excuse -- omission of Recoded Future and Reversing Labs CIA funding due to deadline pressure -- is lame because of self-imposed deadline.