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Glenn Greenwald Criticizes NPR for Relying on CIA-Linked Firm in Report on Impact of Snowden Leaks

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Glenn Greenwald’s latest article for The Intercept is headlined "NPR Is Laundering CIA Talking Points to Make You Scared of NSA Reporting." Greenwald takes a highly critical look at a story by NPR’s counterterrorism correspondent, Dina Temple-Raston, which aired on Morning Edition earlier this month. Temple-Raston’s report focused on claims by the tech firm Recorded Future that it has "tangible evidence" that National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden harmed national security by prompting terrorists to develop more sophisticated encryption programs. Greenwald says the NPR report erred in failing to mention that the firm is funded by the CIA. "This was such a pure and indisputable case of journalistic malpractice and deceit," Greenwald charges. "NPR radically misled millions of people with this report."


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: We’re speaking with Glenn Greenwald, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, as we turn now to his new piece for The Intercept headlined "NPR Is Laundering CIA Talking Points to Make You Scared of NSA Reporting." It’s a highly critical look at a story by NPR’s counterterrorism correspondent, Dina Temple-Raston, that aired on Morning Edition. Her story focused on a tech firm’s claims that it has, quote, "tangible evidence" that NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden harmed national security by prompting terrorists to develop more sophisticated encryption programs. The problem? She failed to mention that the firm is funded by the CIA. This is a clip from Temple-Raston’s story that aired on August 1st.

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON: The CEO of big data company Recorded Future is a man named Christopher Ahlberg. He had heard the Obama administration say that terrorists had changed the way they behave because of the Snowden leaks. He wanted to see if it was really true.

CHRISTOPHER AHLBERG: So, we dove into that, sort of diving into forums and product platform releases and the like.

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON: The company trolled the Internet for al-Qaeda mentions of Snowden. It downloaded versions of al-Qaeda’s encryption software, and it discovered signs that al-Qaeda had changed. Specifically, it upgraded its encryption systems. For years, al-Qaeda had used an encryption program written by its own coders. They called it Mujahideen Secrets. And most al-Qaeda 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-Qaeda introduced three new encryption products. It was like jumping from Windows 2.0 to Windows XP. Ahlberg says that wasn’t a coincidence.

CHRISTOPHER AHLBERG: Three major product releases coming out of three different organizations under al-Qaeda and associated organizations fairly quickly after the Snowden disclosures.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s an excerpt from the story by NPR’s Dina Temple-Raston. We invited her to join us today, but she was not available. NPR did provide a statement in response to the story, saying, quote, "The piece was measured and fair. It cites research by the two companies that found changes in the methods al-Qaida-linked groups use to encrypt communications. It also cites their conclusion that those changes were likely a response to the Snowden leaks. We contacted computer security expert Bruce Schneier, someone who has defended Snowden, for his views. We gave him substantial space to make two points: that changes in al-Qaeda encryption might be explained by something other than the Snowden leaks; and that even new encryption would not prevent NSA from finding other ways to intercept al-Qaeda communications." That was the statement NPR gave us. Glenn Greenwald, you note that in 2012, NPR’s Morning Edition broadcast Dina Temple-Raston’s profile of Recorded Future, and at the end of her report she mentioned they’re backed by the CIA. This is a clip from that report.

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON: Ahlberg has about a hundred subscribers and at least two very important financial backers: the CIA’s investment arm, In-Q-Tel, and Google Ventures. They have reportedly poured millions into the company. Maybe they see something about the future that the rest of us can’t. Dina Temple-Raston, NPR News.

AMY GOODMAN: That report was from 2012. Glenn Greenwald, lay out your problems with the current NPR story.

GLENN GREENWALD: This was such a pure and indisputable case of journalistic malpractice and deceit. I mean, NPR radically misled millions of people with this report. To sit there and present this firm as though it’s some independent big data company, as she called it, that just listened to news reports, heard this claim that Snowden had helped the terrorists and then set out earnestly to investigated it, without telling their listeners what they—Dina Temple-Raston herself knew, because she had reported two years earlier that the CIA itself had invested millions of dollars in this company, that the investment arm of the CIA, In-Q-Tel, sits on the board of this company and that the researcher on whom they relied himself is the head of a company in a strategic partnership with the CIA, that is about as journalistically indefensible as it gets. She misled NPR’s listeners into believing that this was some independent, credible source, rather than what it is, which is a government-loyal firm. And that’s to say nothing of the huge numbers of fallacies in the report itself. They gave Bruce Schneier 42 seconds at the end of the story, in two sentences, more or less, to say, "Here are a couple questions I’d have about this report," but the first three-and-a-half minutes were as Dina Temple-Raston uncritically and mindlessly summarizing the report. It’s press release journalism on behalf of the Pentagon that she covers. And it’s the reason that the U.S. media has collapsed in terms of the trust and esteem with which the American public holds them.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Glenn Greenwald, in the piece itself, you outline some of the other reasons that may have explained why al-Qaeda upgraded its encryption software, that have nothing to do with Snowden’s revelations. Could you explain those?

GLENN GREENWALD: Yeah. Well, first of all, all this report said is that the Snowden reporting began in June of 2013, and then in September and December, al-Qaeda had different encryption programs. But the most basic logical premise teaches us that just because event A preceded event B doesn’t mean that event A caused event B. That isn’t evidence of causation. The reality is, is that you can go back to 2001 and find all kind of news stories every year describing the efforts of al-Qaeda to develop sophisticated and advanced forms of encryption. They’ve known forever that the U.S. government wants to electronically surveil their communications. They’ve been developing encryption for many, many years before the Snowden stories ever began. And in August of 2013, the U.S. government, the Obama administration went to the media, to McClatchy and to The Daily Beast, and they bragged about how they had intercepted a conference call between al-Qaeda leaders, in which al-Qaeda leaders were planning to attack U.S. embassies. And according to The New York Times, that leak, that came from the government, where they revealed they had—

AMY GOODMAN: Bear with us, folks. It’s a little faulty video stream, but I think Glenn is back. Glenn? Glenn Greenwald? We seem to be still connected. We’re just trying to see if we can hear Glenn’s voice. I think we’re going to have to wrap it up here. But that’s Glenn Greenwald, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist. His new piece for The Intercept at First Look Media is "NPR Is Laundering CIA Talking Points to Make You Scared of NSA Reporting." His new book is called No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State. We’ll link to the other articles we talked about, as well.

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