- the UK intelligence agency GCHQ used technology to "secretly monitor visitors to a WikiLeaks site" - a claim that is cynically inaccurate and a crass piece of propaganda,
- that the United States urged foreign partners to pursue Julian Assange under criminal indictments - a claim without context, and
- the NSA "considered designating WikiLeaks as “a ‘malicious foreign actor’" - without telling the audience what constituted a malicious foreign actor or the fact that according to their own leaked document, it never happened.
First, is the UK's intelligence community using technology to "secretly monitor visitors to a WikiLeaks site?" In short, no. Any reasonable interpretation of the phrase "secretly monitor visitors" to a given site would imply that the personal identities of the individuals visiting the site were being collected, monitored, and stored. None of that is true. What the document leaked by Snowden shows is a version of the use of metadata: the British intelligence agency GCHQ used monitored the IP addresses visiting a certain wikileaks site. There is no indication anywhere in the document that GCHQ knew or was collecting the identities of everyone using those IP addresses.
IP addresses, like phone numbers, are not properties of the person using them at any given moment. IP addresses, unique identifiers for each device connected to the World Wide Web, are assigned by a third party (an Internet Service Provider), is therefore disclosed to a third party, and that record is kept by a third party. There is no expectation of privacy in the IP address itself, as long as it doesn't involve revealing the identity of the person using the IP address. In fact, Greenwald's own article reveals that the British intelligence service was only able to identify the country of origin of the visitors by using a publicly available database!
As part of the ANTICRISIS GIRL system, the documents show, GCHQ used publicly available analytics software called Piwik to extract information from its surveillance stream, not only monitoring visits to targeted websites like WikiLeaks, but tracking the country of origin of each visitor.WHAT? There's a publicly available software that finds which IP address originates in which country? There's only one way that's possible: nearly all information about IP addresses and their origination points is... wait for it... public! OMG everybody freak out! Red sirens, please!
An intelligence service collecting a list of IP addresses visiting a website is not the same as it "monitoring [those] visitors." GCHQ was monitoring the site - a publicly available, indeed a publicly begging site - not its visitors. The visitors themselves were not monitored, heck, they weren't even identified.
Second, there is the accusation in a rather insidious tone that the United States committed some grave breach of democratic norm if not a criminal act by asking its partners to pursue Julian Assange - now clearly a fugitive from law hiding out in an embassy - criminally. Assange is currently criminally charged by Sweden with rape and molestation - which are evidently considered very serious by the ideologue Left, unless it is levied against one of their Internet boyfriends.
What is rather interesting in this part of the charges laid against the US government is that Greenwald and his cohort fail to publish the full document on which this accusation is based. They publish certain screenshots from an NSA document, including one showing that the United States had in fact urged certain allies to pursue criminal charges against Assange. But while their screenshot ties Bradley (now Chelsea) Manning to Julian Assange in 2010, it shows no more, leaving the question wide open as to what motives Greenwald has to hide the rest of the document. Is it possible that what Greenwald is hiding is a portion of the document that reveals real damage done by Wikileaks? Or perhaps a portion that ties Assange to Manning in more ways than simple publication? We don't know. We don't know because Glenn Greenwald is choosing to hide a part of the NSA document that may be inconvenient to his vendetta against America.
Even more curiously, the portion that Greenwald does publish mentions the countries the United States urged to file charges against Assange explicitly: Australia, UK, Germany and Iceland. But the country that filed charges against him is actually Sweden.
If a crime has been committed, what difference does it make at whose urging the prosecution comes? If a rapist is prosecuted only after they publish sensitive documents, is he any less of a rapist? If a murderer is prosecuted after writing a book, is she any less of a murderer?
But I digress. From simply holding back parts of one document he's basing his report on, Greenwald jumps to outright lying about the next. About that document, his article claims:
A third document, from July 2011, contains a summary of an internal discussion in which officials from two NSA offices – including the agency’s general counsel and an arm of its Threat Operations Center – considered designating WikiLeaks as “a ‘malicious foreign actor’ for the purpose of targeting.”The document itself, however, nowhere lays out that anyone at the NSA actually "considered designating WikiLeaks as a 'malicious foreign actor'." What the document does do is lay out certain legal hypotheticals in Q&A format. The document largely is a discussion about ensuring that US persons are protected from foreign surveillance to a very, very high degree - a fact that Greenwald hides as well as possible in his piece. With respect to WikiLeaks, the document (somewhat ironically, a wiki entry) uses it as an example of, not a particular target in, of what a malicious foreign actor could be. Here is the relevant portion:
Q: Can we treat a foreign server who stores, or potentially disseminates leaked or stolen US data on it's [sic] server as a 'malicious foreign actor' for the purpose of targeting with no defeats? Examples: WikiLeaks, thepiratebay.org, etc.A 'defeat' is a block against surveillance. For example, if the target of surveillance is an American citizen, it's an automatic 'defeat' - i.e. it couldn't be done. If it's an American server, the same. The question is not about designating WikiLeaks a 'malicious foreign actor' but whether a given property of a foreign server - in this case, the property that it stores or disseminates leaked or stolen US data - could result in it being designated as a malicious actor. If they could, they would not need to filter out communications between the server and US persons or properties while conducting surveillance.
RESPONSE: Let us get back to you.
It is not only a mandate for the intelligence community to find out sources of leaks, it is an absolutely necessary mandate. The publication of anything and everything is protected by the First Amendment, but the First Amendment does not protect the act of leaking classified data, nor does it protect the source from being investigated. In fact, criminal trials have revealed that a journalist's promise to protect the source is backed up only by that journalist's willingness to defy the law and go to jail.
Oh and by the way, even this highly privacy-protected level of surveillance on WikiLeaks wasn't approved. In fact, the document shows WikiLeaks being protected from surveillance, not quite the impression Greenwald wants to create.
No one would complain if sensitive documents were leaked to the New York Times and the leaker was prosecuted thanks to surveillance cameras in public places spotting the leaker going in and out of the Times building right before publication - in with a heap of documents and out without them. That is in fact surveillance far more pernicious than is being talked about here - as opposed to a surveillance camera that catches a leaker, a repeat IP contact - by Greenwald's own inadvertent admission public information - to a foreign server does not even show the face of the culprit.
The idea that publishers are immune from the law simply because they publish things, or that while they have the right to publish sensitive documents, the government has no right to investigate or pursue leaks is as bizarre as it is preposterous. Allow me to note the general theme flowing through Greenwald's hit-piece: a vilification of legitimate intelligence operations and a canonization of rogue anti-government, anarchist forces under the guise of publishers. An aura is cast throughout Greenwald's article that Assange and Wikileaks should be untouchable to the law, simply because they are in the publishing business - the content of the publication be damned. Conversely, the article's attitude towards intelligence agencies and governments is that any attempt to stop publication or release of highly sensitive classified intelligence is the Devil's spawn.
In sum, Greenwald's hit-piece against the NSA is less about surveillance and more about a paranoid, anti-government, anarchist, anti-American fantasy. The thing that remains to be seen, as always, is whether Greenwald eats his own dogfood - that is, if he really is dull enough to buy into the paranoia he's spreading or if it's merely a cash cow for him.