One staggering impact of National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden’s revelations has been reflected in the exponential increase in media coverage of the NSA.
Using the NEXIS database of news articles from LexisNexis, I conducted a search and discovered that coverage of the agency had increased over 1000% since Snowden’s disclosures began to be published by journalists.
I searched for mentions of “NSA” between June 2, 2012, and June 1, 2013. I then searched for mentions of “NSA” from June 2, 2013, and June 1, 2014.
In tabulating the result I came up with I only considered newswires and press releases, newspapers, web-based news publications, magazines/journals, news and news transcripts.
The result I calculated from June 2, 2012, to June 1, 2013, was 675 mentions. In contrast, the number of mentions from June 2, 2013, to June 1, 2014, was 7143 mentions.
Even when considering that this may be a few hundred off (plus or minus), the increase shows the United States media was not investigating this agency. It was entirely free of public scrutiny prior to Snowden.
It is not as if there were not individuals with knowledge of NSA operations who were sounding the alarm. NSA whistleblower Bill Binney was warning in September 2012 that “a massive effort” was taking place “under the Obama administration to collect virtually all electronic data in the country, from Facebook posts to Google searches to emails.” Binney even said on “Democracy Now!” in April of that year that he estimated “the NSA has assembled 20 trillion “transactions” — phone calls, emails and other forms of data — from Americans.
Binney had no documents to prove this vast system designed for dragnet surveillance of Americans and citizens all over the world actually existed. The United States media ignored his claims, even though he had “worked for 32 years at the NSA.”
The media was well aware that President George W. Bush had engaged in warrantless wiretapping because after New York Times reporter James Risen threatened to publish details in his book, Times editors finally went ahead and published a major story in 2005. However, like many in the country, they accepted that the issue had been dealt with appropriately when Congress passed the FISA Amendments Act in 2008. (This was the legislation that granted retroactive immunity to all those involved in warrantless wiretapping, which is a felony.)
There was a lawsuit against NSA surveillance that was taken to the Supreme Court, but the Supreme Court refused to grant standing to plaintiffs because those bringing the case—human rights attorneys, journalists and human rights and media organizations—could not prove they were under secret surveillance.
A scant amount of media coverage was given to this lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union against the FISA Amendments Act, which “legalized” warrantless surveillance. The allegations were ignored as unproven speculation. (The public now knows the Justice Department got the Supreme Court to dismiss the lawsuit by lying.)
Snowden prompted media organizations in America to finally begin investigating the vast surveillance capabilities of the NSA and how they were abusing their legal authorities. He pushed them to finally start contemplating the impact on society if a such a mass surveillance apparatus is permitted to exist. And while many, many pundits have only wanted to talk about the personality of Snowden and why they believe he is not a whistleblower, Snowden has managed to convince even the most prominent establishment journalists like Brian Williams that they must give proper attention to what he has revealed and at least pretend to debate issues of privacy and surveillance.
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