The Washington Post has come under fire from the U.S. intelligence community for a recent story showing how the NSA gets and stores our personal information. One of the story's authors, Barton Gellman, has responded with another article that addresses the complaints one by one.
One of the story's chief critics, former NSA general counsel Stewart Baker, had argued that most of the "incidental" information gathered by the NSA was inevitable. Gellman thought differently.
The scale of that collection and the intimate secrets it reveals may not surprise intelligence savants, who understand the collateral effects of surveillance and take the intrusiveness for granted. It is, however, surprising — and, based on reader reactions, disturbing — to a lot of people who relied on public assurances that the NSA focuses tightly on foreign targets and cannot read U.S. emails without a warrant.
Another critic, surveillance journalist Marc Ambinder, argued that the NSA "tries to eliminate as much [as possible] of the targets’ emails and chats to people inside the United States automatically." Gellman disagreed.
There are systems in place that attempt to “defeat,” or filter out, conversations that are solely domestic or solely among Americans. But the NSA is under no legal obligation, and in practice it does not attempt, to filter out U.S. citizens or residents who communicate with a foreign target.
Ultimately, the Post argues that its revelations were both understated and security-minded as possible. It claims to have taken the utmost care in protecting both national security and the personal lives of the civilians that the NSA has been tracking.
The new article also tries to clear up misunderstandings in the original article. Many close-readers thought that the NSA was spying on the president's personal emails. Actually, the information involving the president was retrieved through general conversation.
Many people have asked, since the story was published, whether we found conversations intercepted from other elected officials, judges, journalists or nongovernmental organizations. We did not. The files include minimized references to one senator, one member of Congress, three judges, three U.S. “broadcasters” and several NGOs. In all those cases, the subjects were mentioned by other people in conversations about public events.
Check out the full story if you want a closer look at both the Post's critics and the publication's response.