Over in the US last night, CBS ran an American 60 Minutes special about the ongoing NSA debacle. It claimed to give "unprecedented access to the agency's HQ" and "for the first time" explain "what it does and what it says it doesn't do: spy on Americans." It was also, incidentally, a pile of steaming bull. Watch...
The problems arose even in the basic premise; the interview was conducted by CBS correspondent John Miller — who happens to be an ex-employee of the director of National Intelligence, and is rumoured to be in the running for a top NYPD intelligence job. Conveniently, then, he was able to pitch a series of easily answerable softballs to NSA officials, allowing them to parrot the agency's standards spiels about bulk surveillance.
So, there was lots of rhetoric about "not collecting everybody's email... not collecting everybody's phone things." But then, the NSA was never accused of listening in to phone calls. It did, however, collect metadata from every phone call placed within the United States, a follow-up point conveniently not raised.
Elsewhere, NSA director Keith Alexander denied reports that it was tapping internal traffic between Google and Yahoo servers, and went to great lengths of discredit Edward Snowden. Even the host John Miller described him as a "20-something-year-old high school dropout contractor." All this with next to no criticism, no pushback; no attempt to suggest that the NSA has been doing anything wrong. The agency couldn't have asked for a better interview if it had written the script itself.
Between this and the bizarre way that 60 Minutes jumped on the over-hyped drone ploy peddled by Amazon recently, it seems the program is keen to run with headline-grabbing marketing points rather solid reporting. Which is great for large organisations who have a story to sell with zero questions asked, but a crying shame for audiences across the US. [CBS News]