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    Discussing press freedoms with Julian Assange, David Coombs, Alexa O'Brien and others

    I'm working on several stories, so posting this week will be difficult. Until then, below is the video of the 90-minute event I did this week at the Sydney Opera House on the war on whistleblowers and journalism, along with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, Chelsea Manning's lawyer David Coombs, the intrepid independent journalist Alexa O'Brien, and the Australian commentator Robert Manne, hosted by the Australian writer Bernard Keane. It was a great discussion and really covered in a broad way many of the issues discussed here over the last year, especially the last several months (I dropped out for roughly 25 minutes after I first spoke due to some technical difficulties with the video feed but returned to participate actively in the rest of the discussion).

    Two related notes: 1) John Cusack has an excellent Op-Ed in the Guardian from yesterday on many of these same topics; 2) Mark Weisbrot has a helpful analysis of the fallout from the extraordinary cancellation by Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff of the state dinner planned at the White House for October due to NSA surveillance, and McClatchy has good background on what happened there and why.

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    Revelations continue to produce outcomes on multiple levels in numerous countries around the world

    (updated below - Update II [Tues.])

    I'm still working at trying to get the next set of NSA stories published. That, combined with a rapidly approaching book deadline, will make non-NSA-article postings difficult for the next couple of weeks. Until then, here are a few items to note regarding a point I have often tried to make: namely, one of the most overlooked aspects of the NSA reporting in the US has been just how global of a story this has become:

    "The disclosures are yet another illustration of the extremely aggressive scope of the clandestine spy operations that have been conducted by both the United Kingdom and the United States. Infiltration of computer networks is usually more commonly associated with Russian and Chinese government hackers, but the British and Americans are at it, too, even targeting their own allies' communications. The surveillance tactics appear to have few limits, and while government officials have played up the necessity of the spying for counter-terrorism, it is evident that the snooping is often highly political in nature."

    "For years, the government has shielded its surveillance practices from judicial review through excessive secrecy. And now that that secrecy has been lifted to some degree, we now know precisely who is being surveilled in some of the dragnet policies of the NSA, and those people can now challenge those policies. . . . . No matter what you think of the lawfulness of these programs, I think everyone should think their legitimacy or illegitimacy is better debated in public and decided by a court."

    "Four of the five review panel members previously worked for Democratic administrations: Peter Swire, former Office of Management and Budget privacy director under President Bill Clinton; Michael Morell, Obama's former deputy CIA director; Richard Clarke, former counterterrorism coordinator under Clinton and later for President George W. Bush; and Cass Sunstein, Obama's former regulatory czar. A fifth panel member, Geoffrey Stone of the University of Chicago, leads a university committee looking to build Obama's presidential library in Chicago and was an informal adviser to Obama's 2008 presidential campaign.

    "Stone wrote in a July op-ed that the NSA surveillance program that collects the phone records of every American every day is constitutional.

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    A top secret NSA document provides context for yesterday's abusive detention of Baraa Shiban • Read the excerpts of the drone document here

    A well-known and highly respected Yemeni anti-drone activist was detained yesterday by UK officials under that country's "anti-terrorism" law at Gatwick Airport, where he had traveled to speak at an event. Baraa Shiban, the project co-ordinator for the London-based legal charity Reprieve, was held for an hour and a half and repeatedly questioned about his anti-drone work and political views regarding human rights abuses in Yemen.

    When he objected that his political views had no relevance to security concerns, UK law enforcement officials threatened to detain him for the full nine hours allowed by the Terrorism Act of 2000, the same statute that was abused by UK officials last month to detain my partner, David Miranda, for nine hours.

    Attacks against American and European persons who have become violent extremists are often criticized by propagandists, arguing that lethal action against these individuals deprives them of due process."

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    About the Snowden disclosures, the Oregon Democrat told the NSA chief: 'the truth always manages to come out'

    (updated below - Update II [Sat.])

    The Senate Intelligence Committee yesterday held a hearing, ostensibly to investigate various issues raised about the NSA's activities. What the hearing primarily achieved instead was to underscore what a farce the notion of Congressional oversight over the NSA is.

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    The NBC star tells his viewers that Iranian leaders are 'suddenly claiming they don't want nuclear weapons', even though they've been saying it for years

    There is ample reason for skepticism that anything substantial will change in Iran-US relations, beginning with the fact that numerous US political and media figures are vested in the narrative that Iran is an evil threat whose desire for a peaceful resolution must not be trusted (and some hard-line factions in Iran are similarly vested in ongoing conflict). Whatever one's views are on the prospects for improving relations, the first direct communications in more than 30 years between the leaders of those two countries is a historically significant event.

    Here is what NBC News anchor Brian Williams told his viewers about this event when leading off his broadcast last night, with a particularly mocking and cynical tone used for the bolded words:

    This is all part of a new leadership effort by Iran - suddenly claiming they don't want nuclear weapons! ; what they want is talks and transparency and good will. And while that would be enough to define a whole new era, skepticism is high and there's a good reason for it."

    "Q: 'Are you saying that at some point in the future you may want to acquire a nuclear deterrent, a nuclear weapon?'

    "Ahmadinejad: 'Never, never. We do not want nuclear weapons. We do not seek nuclear weapons. This is an inhumane weapon. Because of our beliefs we are against that.

    The Iranian nation has never pursued and will never pursue nuclear weapons. There is no doubt that the decision makers in the countries opposing us know well that Iran is not after nuclear weapons because the Islamic Republic, logically, religiously and theoretically, considers the possession of nuclear weapons a grave sin and believes the proliferation of such weapons is senseless, destructive and dangerous."

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    A 90-minute "ask me anything" feature with tech-savvy readers produces a fruitful discussion

    (updated below) This afternoon, along with Guardian US editor-in-chief Janine Gibson, I participated in Reddit's "ask me anything" feature, where the highest rated questions rise to the top and the guest answers each of them. The questions focused on our NSA reporting, and were largely smart and provocative. The full discussion can be read here.

    "This is an astute point, and the credit for this is due to Snowden.

    "One of the most darkly hilarious things to watch is how government apologists and media servants are driven by total herd behavior: they all mindlessly adopt the same script and then just keep repeating it because they see others doing so and, like parrots, just mimic what they hear.

    "I never see any political questions as hopeless or unchangeable, but consider this:

    "When I first began writing in 2005, I was focused primarily on the Bush NSA program, and I was able to build a large readership quickly because so many Democrats, progressives, liberal bloggers, etc, were so supportive of the work I was doing. That continued to be true through 2008.

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    A 14-minute interview on BBC highlights the debate over the proper relationship between journalists and government

    In late June, the economist Dean Baker astutely observed that our NSA reporting was "doing as much to expose corrupt journalism as to expose government spying." Indeed, from the earliest stages of this reporting, back in Hong Kong, we expected (and hoped) that the reporting we were about to do would expose conflicts in how journalism is understood and practiced as much as it would shine light on the NSA's specific surveillance programs.

    That, I think, has clearly been the case. The debates over the proper relationship between journalists and governments have been as illuminating and significant as the debates over government spying and secrecy. Last night on BBC's Newsnight, I was interviewed for 14 minutes by host Kirsty Wark. It was an adversarial interview, which is how interviews should be. But she chose to focus almost entirely on the process questions surrounding the reporting rather than the substance of the revelations, and in the process made some quite dubious claims that come straight from the mouths of government officials. Nonetheless, her choice of focus ended up highlighting many of the most important conflicts about how journalism is understood, and is worth watching for that reason:

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    • Top-secret documents detail repeated efforts to crack Tor • US-funded tool relied upon by dissidents and activists • Core security of network remains intact but NSA has some success attacking users' computers • Bruce Schneier: the NSA's attacks must be made publicAttacking Tor: the technical details'Peeling back the layers with Egotistical Giraffe' – document'Tor Stinks' presentation – full documentTor: 'The king of high-secure, low-latency anonymity'

    The National Security Agency has made repeated attempts to develop attacks against people using Tor, a popular tool designed to protect online anonymity, despite the fact the software is primarily funded and promoted by the US government itself.

    Top-secret NSA documents, disclosed by whistleblower Edward Snowden, reveal that the agency's current successes against Tor rely on identifying users and then attacking vulnerable software on their computers. One technique developed by the agency targeted the Firefox web browser used with Tor, giving the agency full control over targets' computers, including access to files, all keystrokes and all online activity.

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    Obama's anti-press measures 'are the most aggressive I've seen since the Nixon administration'

    (updated below)

    It's hardly news that the Obama administration is intensely and, in many respects, unprecedentedly hostile toward the news-gathering process. Even the most Obama-friendly journals have warned of what they call "Obama's war on whistleblowers". James Goodale, the former general counsel of the New York Times during its epic fights with the Nixon administration, recently observed that "President Obama wants to criminalize the reporting of national security information" and added: "President Obama will surely pass President Richard Nixon as the worst president ever on issues of national security and press freedom."

    Six government employees, plus two contractors including Edward Snowden, have been subjects of felony criminal prosecutions since 2009 under the 1917 Espionage Act, accused of leaking classified information to the press—compared with a total of three such prosecutions in all previous U.S. administrations. Still more criminal investigations into leaks are under way. Reporters' phone logs and e-mails were secretly subpoenaed and seized by the Justice Department in two of the investigations, and a Fox News reporter was accused in an affidavit for one of those subpoenas of being 'an aider, abettor and/or conspirator' of an indicted leak defendant, exposing him to possible prosecution for doing his job as a journalist. In another leak case, a New York Times reporter has been ordered to testify against a defendant or go to jail."

    'I worry now about calling somebody because the contact can be found out through a check of phone records or e-mails,' said veteran national security journalist R. Jeffrey Smith of the Center for Public Integrity, an influential nonprofit government accountability news organization in Washington. 'It leaves a digital trail that makes it easier for the government to monitor those contacts,' he said."

    The administration's war on leaks and other efforts to control information are the most aggressive I've seen since the Nixon administration, when I was one of the editors involved in The Washington Post's investigation of Watergate. The 30 experienced Washington journalists at a variety of news organizations whom I interviewed for this report could not remember any precedent."

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    'If MI5 warns that this is not in the public interest who am I to disbelieve them?', says the former editor of The Independent

    Like many people, I've spent years writing and speaking about the lethal power-subservient pathologies plaguing establishment journalism in the west. But this morning, I feel a bit like all of that was wasted time and energy, because this new column by career British journalist Chris Blackhurst - an executive with and, until a few months ago, the editor of the UK daily calling itself "The Independent" - contains a headline that says everything that needs to be said about the sickly state of establishment journalism:

    If the security services insist something is contrary to the public interest, and might harm their operations, who am I (despite my grounding from Watergate onwards) to disbelieve them?"

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    With General Alexander calling for NSA reporting to be halted, US and UK credibility as guardians of press freedom is crushed

    The most under-discussed aspect of the NSA story has long been its international scope. That all changed this week as both Germany and France exploded with anger over new revelations about pervasive NSA surveillance on their population and democratically elected leaders.

    As was true for Brazil previously, reports about surveillance aimed at leaders are receiving most of the media attention, but what really originally drove the story there were revelations that the NSA is bulk-spying on millions and millions of innocent citizens in all of those nations. The favorite cry of US government apologists -–everyone spies! – falls impotent in the face of this sort of ubiquitous, suspicionless spying that is the sole province of the US and its four English-speaking surveillance allies (the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand).

    The head of the embattled National Security Agency, Gen Keith Alexander, is accusing journalists of "selling" his agency's documents and is calling for an end to the steady stream of public disclosures of secrets snatched by former contractor Edward Snowden.

    "I think it's wrong that that newspaper reporters have all these documents, the 50,000 – whatever they have and are selling them and giving them out as if these – you know it just doesn't make sense," Alexander said in an interview with the Defense Department's "Armed With Science" blog.

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    Reporting the NSA story hasn't been easy, but it's always been fulfilling. It's what journalism at its crux is about, and we must protect that

    As many of you know, I'm leaving the Guardian in order to work with Pierre Omidyar, Laura Poitras, Jeremy Scahill and soon-to-be-identified others on building a new media organization. As I said when this news was reported a couple of weeks ago, leaving the Guardian was not an easy choice, but this was a dream opportunity that was impossible to decline.

    We do not yet have an exact launch date for the new outlet, but rest assured: I'm not going to disappear for months or anything like that. The new site will be up and running reasonably soon.

    British Prime Minister David Cameron said on Monday his government was likely to act to stop newspapers publishing what he called damaging leaks from former US intelligence operative Edward Snowden unless they began to behave more responsibly.

    "If they (newspapers) don't demonstrate some social responsibility it will be very difficult for government to stand back and not to act," Cameron told parliament, saying Britain's Guardian newspaper had "gone on" to print damaging material after initially agreeing to destroy other sensitive data.

    Our first object should therefore be, to leave open to him all the avenues to truth. The most effectual hitherto found, is the freedom of the press. It is, therefore, the first shut up by those who fear the investigation of their actions.

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    Obama is draping the banner of change over the NSA status quo. Bulk surveillance that caused such outrage will remain in place

    In response to political scandal and public outrage, official Washington repeatedly uses the same well-worn tactic. It is the one that has been hauled out over decades in response to many of America's most significant political scandals. Predictably, it is the same one that shaped President Obama's much-heralded Friday speech to announce his proposals for "reforming" the National Security Agency in the wake of seven months of intense worldwide controversy.

    The crux of this tactic is that US political leaders pretend to validate and even channel public anger by acknowledging that there are "serious questions that have been raised". They vow changes to fix the system and ensure these problems never happen again. And they then set out, with their actions, to do exactly the opposite: to make the system prettier and more politically palatable with empty, cosmetic "reforms" so as to placate public anger while leaving the system fundamentally unchanged, even more immune than before to serious challenge.

    The president should end – not mend – the government's collection and retention of all law-abiding Americans' data. When the government collects and stores every American's phone call data, it is engaging in a textbook example of an 'unreasonable search' that violates the constitution.

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