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Keith Alexander Unplugged: on Bush/Obama, 1.7 million stolen documents and other matters

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From youtube.com/watch?v=cEY4FW6nee0: Just retired NSA Director Keith Alexander
Just retired NSA Director Keith Alexander
(image by YouTube)


The just-retired long-time NSA chief, Gen. Keith Alexander, recently traveled to Australia to give a remarkably long and wide-ranging interview with an extremely sycophantic "interviewer" with The Australian Financial Review. The resulting 17,000-word transcript and accompanying article form a model of uncritical stenography journalism, but Alexander clearly chose to do this because he is angry, resentful, and feeling unfairly treated, and the result is a pile of quotes that are worth examining, only a few of which are noted below:

AFR: What were the key differences for you as director of NSA serving under presidents Bush and Obama? Did you have a preferred commander in chief?

Gen. Alexander: Obviously they come from different parties, they view things differently, but when it comes to the security of the nation and making those decisions about how to protect our nation, what we need to do to defend it, they are, ironically, very close to the same point. You would get almost the same decision from both of them on key questions about how to defend our nation from terrorists and other threats.

The almost-complete continuity between George W. Bush and Barack Obama on such matters has been explained by far too many senior officials in both parties, and has been amply documented in far too many venues, to make it newsworthy when it happens again. Still, the fact that one of the nation's most powerful generals in history, who has no incentive to say it unless it were true, just comes right out and states that Bush and The Candidate of Change are "very close to the same point" and "you would get almost the same decision from both of them on key questions" is a fine commentary on a number of things, including how adept the 2008 Obama team was at the art of branding.

The fact that Obama, in 2008, specifically vowed to his followers angered over his campaign-season NSA reversal that he possessed "the firm intention -- once I'm sworn in as president -- to have my Attorney General conduct a comprehensive review of all our surveillance programs, and to make further recommendations on any steps needed to preserve civil liberties and to prevent executive branch abuse in the future" only makes that point a bit more vivid.

AFR: Can you now quantify the number of documents [Snowden] stole?

Gen. Alexander: Well, I don't think anybody really knows what he actually took with him, because the way he did it, we don't have an accurate way of counting. What we do have an accurate way of counting is what he touched, what he may have downloaded, and that was more than a million documents.

It's hard to recall a better and clearer example of how mindless and uncritical the American media is when it comes to the unproven pronouncements of the U.S. Government. Back in December, 60 Minutes broadcast a now-notorious segment of pure access journalism in which they gullibly disseminated one false NSA claim after the next in exchange for being given exclusive(!) access to a few Secret and Exciting Rooms inside the agency's headquarters. The program claimed that Snowden "is believed to still have access to 1.5 million classified documents he has not leaked." On its Twitter account, 60 Minutes made this claim to promote its show:

How Edward Snowden managed to steal an alleged 1.7 million documents from the NSA. Sunday: http://t.co/gbrIu5yMcc

-- 60 Minutes (@60Minutes) December 13, 2013

Mike McConnell, the vice chairman of Booz Allen and former Director of National Intelligence in the Bush administration, then claimed that "Snowden absconded with 1.7 million to 1.8 million documents."

Ever since then, that Snowden "stole" 1.7 or 1.8 million documents from the NSA has been repeated over and over again by US media outlets as verified fact. The Washington Post's Walter Pincus, citing an anonymous official source, purported to tell readers that "among the roughly 1.7 million documents he walked away with -- the vast majority of which have not been made public -- are highly sensitive, specific intelligence reports." Reuters frequently includes in its reports the unchallenged assertion that "Snowden was believed to have taken 1.7 million computerized documents." Just this week, the global news agency told its readers that "Snowden was believed to have taken 1.7 million computerized documents."

In fact, that number is and always has been a pure fabrication, as even Keith Alexander admits. The claimed number has changed more times than one can count: always magically morphing into randomly chosen higher and scarier numbers. The reality, in the words of the General, is that the US Government "really [doesn't] know[] what he actually took with him" and they "don't have an accurate way of counting." All they know is how many documents he accessed in his entire career at NSA, which is a radically different question from how many documents he took. But that hasn't stopped American media outlets from repeatedly affirming the inflammatory evidence-free claim that Snowden took 1.7 million documents. As usual, even the most blatantly unreliable claims from National Security State officials are treated as infallible papal pronouncements by our Adversarial Watchdog Press.

Go to The Intercept to read the rest of this article.

 

For the past 10 years, I was a litigator in NYC specializing in First Amendment challenges, civil rights cases, and corporate and securities fraud matters. I am the author of the New York Times Best-Selling book, How Would A Patriot (more...)
 

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