First off: Moose I miss You. My long absences are only explained by manic writing sessions covering lots of breaking news (and a new novel). But I’m hoping, as so well displayed by Shaun in previous post, to have a sensible discussion about the NSA leaks without it reverting to the usual Rox/Sux Obama debate, or framing intelligence services as all good, or all bad.
I’ve published a piece today in The New Republic which (going beyond the personalities of either Manning or Snowden or their interlocutors Assange and Greenwald) tries to look at the role of whistleblowing and the press in the modern age.
More below the flip
One of my major interviewees for this piece, Heather Brooke, a US trained journalist who broke the MPs expenses scandal here, and was responsible for bringing the wikileaks classified cables to the Guardian makes two interesting points, often overlooked in the debate/furor
The first is how dangerous the surveillance powers are for any whistleblower wanting to contact a journalist.
Often overlooked in the discussion of personal privacy and national security is the impact that digital surveillance has on journalist source protection. Even if only a tiny fraction of social networking and email accounts are examined by government intelligence agencies (around 19,000 out of 1.1 billion Facebook users according to James Ledbetter at Reuters), that’s still an untenable risk for a would-be whistleblower contacting a journalist. “The flip side of the digital revolution is that this technology is so easily hijacked by state surveillance,” says Brooke, who has since written up her experiences in her book The Revolution Will Be Digitised. “It was a steep learning curve for me three years ago,” she says. Brooke would “go dark” before important meetings, ditching her smart phone which could be hijacked as a tracking device, electronic bug or remote camera. She was told most email and online messaging services were insecure, and she relied on encryption keys and secret chat rooms. Three years before it had been acquired by Microsoft, other journalists would communicate with Assange using Skype. She wouldn’t trust it now (nor Assange apparently, who she claims tried to destroy the credibility of the Guardian when it wouldn’t do his bidding).
The second is about the temerity of big news organisations these days, when confronted with government secrets
But Brooke, who cut her teeth as a crime reporter in the U.S., thinks the American press has since become a victim of “regulatory capture.” “Whistleblowers are vanishingly rare, and every newspaper needs government briefings and insider information just to survive,” she says. But since the Beltway is not the preoccupation of a U.K.-based news service, the Guardian could afford not to play ball.
It’s an odd side effect of the borderless exchange of information-a kind of regulatory arbitrage. While Apple, Amazon, Google and other corporations can use global communications to escape national taxes, the Guardian seems to have a found a niche where it can play to U.S. readers while avoiding the worst consequences from the authorities-exclusion from briefings, refusal to confirm or deny stories, or provide interviews from senior politicians and staff.
As you all know, I am an Obama supporter. But I’m also deeply critical of concentrations of power, in the media, in certain sections of international finance, and – because power corrupts – in an unaccountable security service.
On the Moose I look forward to discussing these issues without rancour or resentment
So fire away!