Streetwise Professor

September 9, 2013

Glenn Greenwald: All BS, No Cattle

Filed under: Economics,Energy,Military,Politics — The Professor @ 3:08 pm

Greenwald’s latest story is that the NSA spied on Brazil’s national oil company, Petrobras.  A long day of intense meetings in Geneva, so  I’ll be brief in my analysis.

Typical BS Greenwald story.  Starts out with an alleged fact based on a Snowden document.  (No one ever mentions that one can deceive by telling only part of the truth, but I’ll pass over that.)  Then proceeds with paragraph after paragraph of speculation of what the NSA could be doing.  In this case, the speculation is that NSA is engaged in commercial espionage for the benefit of US corporations.

Evidence for this? Bupkus.

Then, at the very end, Greenwald quotes a US denial, in this case by Clapper.  Clapper says that, duh, the US has an interest in economic matters, and that NSA does not engage in commercial espionage.

Does Greenwald have any evidence to dispute NSA does not engage in commercial espionage?  No.  But on his Twitter tl, he says that Clapper is lying.  Because, of course, the only reason that the US could be interested in Petrobras is for commercial purposes.  That is, he asserts and assumes that spying on a national oil company is for the purpose of benefitting US companies.

Um, not really.  Note two other very salient reasons.  First, the US Export-Import Bank lent Petrobras $2 billion.  Second, Petrobras has been the frequent subject of corruption allegations, including an accusation of money laundering made by a . . . wait for it . . . whistleblower.  Some allegations involve Dilma herself.

Gee, I thought Glenn was all about lionizing whistleblowers.

I guess that’s selective.  Go figure.

But enough expecting some sort of intellectual consistency.  Let’s just recognize that (a) the US government, and most governments, take an interest in major economic developments, especially in energy, and employ all elements of their national power to obtain information on this, (b) this does not imply that the governments use this information to advantage their domestic companies, though many do-notably China and France, (perhaps the US is an exception that proves the rule) (c) Greenwald provides no evidence, but merely asserts, that the NSA used information on Petrobras to advantage US companies, in one of his by now tiresome “can therefore does” exercises in illogic, and (d) most importantly, the US had a direct economic stake in Petrobras, and a strong reason to know whether the company was corrupt, and whether government officials involved with the company were corrupt.

Funny that Greenwald never mentions the ExIm Bank deal or the corruption allegations involving Petrobras and Brazilian public officials.  After all, that might provide some context, and we can have THAT interfering with our narrative, can we?

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  1. We seem to be witnessing a complete intellectual inversion. A decade ago, hackers – individual and state sponsored – were the problem and user, state and corporate data were at risk from them. Meanwhile, organizations such as NSA or GCHQ were seen as the national agencies part of whose mission was to protect strategically important commercial, military and security data from intrusion.

    Today, if we let them, people like Greenwald will change the entire public perception. NSA and GCHQ are starting to be portrayed as threats to individual liberty – on zero evidence – and outlaws like Snowden are gradually being re-branded as the true champions of liberty and rights. The notion that high tech industry in the West is in danger from Chinese or Russian hacking has disappeared from the news, and all people can talk about is the NSA reading their petty emails.

    And this whole inversion exercise is a kind of judo throw, because it depends on the public taking themselves far too seriously. It’s a case of the guy wearing a tinfoil hat to prevent the NSA from reading his thoughts, who misses the point that the last thing the NSA needs is to read his thoughts at all.

    Yet the intellectual inversion is actually quite dangerous. Taken to its logical conclusion it will end with the public in the US and UK – at least – fearing and suspecting their own security services, while viewing loose cannons like Snowden as heroes, along with their Russian protectors and sponsors.

    The individuals like Snowden and Greenwald are easy to dismiss as delusional self-promoters, but the puppet-masters who stand behind them are sinister figures who know just what weapons they have in their hands and how much damage they can do to liberal democracy by using them.

    Hence the drip-feed of little stories that aren’t very significant in themselves, but which keep the overall story in the headlines and keep reviving the initial reaction of outrage in the minds of the public.

    Comment by jon livesey — September 9, 2013 @ 4:49 pm

  2. I agree that there is not even a remote case for accusations against NSA in spying for US corporations here. What this article, like most such articles, should serve as is a “buyer beware” warning:

    ” The story shows that cryptography, the system of codes provided by some internet operators, comes with a built-in vulnerability, inserted on purpose by the NSA, which allows the spies to enter the system, copy, snoop, even make alterations, without leaving footprints. There is also evidence that some equipment put together in the United States comes with factory-installed spying devices. The “New York Times” says this was done with at least one foreign government that bought American computers. ”

    In other words, companies (both foreign and domestic) and governments should be aware of the above information and, unless they want to be spied on, should buy non-American software and hardware, or those sold by US companies from their abroad offices with guarantees that the US government has no hooks into it.

    Let me ask the reader: If, say, a Kaspersky anti-virus product had hooks that allowed the FSB to spy on you, would you buy it? How about similar products from Israel/Germany/Korea that had purposely installed hooks for Israeli/German/Korean spy agencies to spy on you? Apply the same logic to the NSA.

    Comment by Vlad — September 9, 2013 @ 7:15 pm

  3. The answer is simple: I will not buy a Kaspersky product simply because it could possibly have hooks for FSB or GRU. I could not care less about NSA or Israeli/German spy agencies.

    Reputations go a long way. And moral equivalence is a fallacy.

    Comment by LL — September 9, 2013 @ 7:25 pm

  4. @LL

    First of all, we are talking not about American individuals like you and me, but about foreign – for example, Latin American – companies and governments. And Latin Americans have seen much less harm done to them by the FSP or even KGB than by the CIA/NSA. Just recall the Chilean junta or the rape of Panama. Or the Monroe Doctrine that says that all Latin American politics must be approved by Washington, DC, although nowadays the same can be said about most of the world. So, my analogy is that to a Brazilian, the CIA/NSA is what the FSB is to an American: a very scary thing.

    But even if I were in charge of an *American* company, I would NOT want the Big Brother to spy on my internal computers and emails. Of course, the NSA/CIA would be less of a problem than the IRS, the FBI or some other “internal” agencies. Nor would I allow Israeli/German/Korean spy agencies to spy on my company either.

    Nor in our, libertarian opinion, should individual law-abiding Americans be happy with the Big Brother spying on them. You could be a law-abiding Coloradan but be thrown in jail for several years by the Federal government for smoking or eating pot. Or it could happen that you are falsely accused of a crime that you didn’t commit, as we have seen happen many times in film/TV documentaries and in on-line stories. For example, imagine a tragic event that your wife/girlfriend gets killed. The police will concentrate on you and her other former or current partners/lovers and will go out of their way to cook up a case against one of you. They hate unsolved murders. They don’t reflect well on them. And as part of this effort, they will go through all your emails to compose a selection that depicts you in negative light. Every time you swore, every time you weren’t totally honest with your respondent, the police will use it as evidence to the gullible jury that you are a compulsive liar and a hateful/evil person who was just waiting to kill somebody. In my 6 or 7 appearances in traffic court over the years, I have seen traffic cops lie through their teeth at least twice, with judge’s approval. So, would criminal courts be any different?

    Comment by Vlad — September 10, 2013 @ 1:10 am

  5. +++Nor in our, libertarian opinion, should individual law-abiding Americans be happy with the Big Brother spying on them.+++
    No, they should not be happy and they should always be wary. However, they should accept as a given fact a certain amount of what you call spying in an environment which is technically not possible to close from prying eyes. Some reality check.

    +++And as part of this effort, they will go through all your emails to compose a selection that depicts you in negative light +++

    I am sorry, with a court warrant or without one? That is where the difference lies and not in the ability to read your e-mails.

    No one has ever promised any privacy in electronic communications. No one. Never. You are gravely mistaken if you think otherwise and I would challenge anyone to come up with a reliable method of preventing all the spy agencies from reading your e-mails, not just the American ones. You can stop NSA activities by law. Try stopping the Russians or the Chinese.

    Comment by LL — September 10, 2013 @ 9:33 am

  6. I disagree strongly with Vlad’s moral equivalence argument. The activities of the NSA have very little to do with morality and a lot to do with utilitarianism. The argument that if you want to defend your data from the FSB you somehow morally “should” also want to defend it from the NSA is simply the wrong sort of argument.

    If you have valuable data and the FSB is making the effort to get it, that is for the benefit of a foreign state, since the FSB certainly isn’t in the business of “protecting” US data. The NSA, on the other hand, is in business for the benefit of the residents of the US, and to do that job, it has to practice surveillance.

    It is also the job of the NSA to help to protect Americans from terrorism and they can’t do that job either, without the ability to eliminate harmless communications so as to concentrate limited resources on potentially harmful ones.

    The notion that the NSA is carrying out surveillance of ordinary US resident for nefarious reasons is one of the basic cons that people are being sold right now. You can’t eliminate ordinary people from consideration in terrorism investigations without being able to view their communications or at least the associated meta-data.

    We’ve been here before. In 1914, when the Great War began, the first thing the UK did was to dredge up all telegraph cables out of Europe except for those going through the UK. And then any unencrypted message was transmitted, while the code-breaker concentrated their efforts on encrypted messages.

    The tortured lo9gic about dead girl-friends completely escapes me. The idea of the NSA helping the police to frame me for some crime I didn’t commit isn’t something I lose a lot of sleep over. As for residents of South America, it is completely up to them how much effort they are willing to put into protecting their data from either the NSA or FSB.

    Comment by jon livesey — September 10, 2013 @ 1:18 pm

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