Thursday, October 23, 2014

Jesse Brown on Globe and Mail, CBC, and the Snowden documents

Independent journalist Jesse Brown, host of the CANADALAND podcast, has a fascinating report on decisions by the Globe and Mail and the CBC to publish (or not publish) CSEC-related documents from the Snowden archive over the past year ("EXCLUSIVE: CBC "stonewalled" Snowden story, says Greenwald," CANADALAND, 23 October 2014):
CANADALAND has learned that last year the CBC acquired NSA documents describing a major CSEC surveillance program, but the public broadcaster has been sitting on this news for over nine months, with no immediate plans to publish. In an interview with CANADALAND, Glenn Greenwald has revealed the "shocking reluctance" of veteran CBC reporter Terry Milewski to inform the public about CSEC spying, an indifference eventually revealed to be actual ideological opposition on the part of a reporter to exposing government surveillance programs.

Further, CANADALAND has learned that the Globe and Mail initially spiked documentation of an earlier Snowden revelation, reneging on a promise to Greenwald that if he were to provide them with Snowden leaks, the Globe would include this original documentation in their reporting. Greenwald learned that the initial decision to withhold the Snowden files came directly from former Globe and Mail editor-in-chief John Stackhouse, whom Greenwald suggests may have been buckling to government pressure.
In an update to his report, Brown explains that, according to Stackhouse,
the slides were withheld because when CSEC was asked for comment by Freeze and Nolen, they contacted [Stackhouse's] office with a "serious warning" that Canadian lives would be put at risk if the Globe published the deck. "We took it seriously," he recalls, deciding that the public has no immediate interest in seeing the slides that outweighed the possibility of Canadian targets being compromised. "We gave CSEC time to brief us on why publication would be so dangerous." But CSEC stalled on the briefing. When it finally occured, the Globe concluded that CSEC has oversstated the threat and that there was no danger involved in publishing the full files. Then, Stackhouse remembers "editorial complications in our newsroom and other files" further delaying publication. "I wish the gap in time had been less than it was" he says now.
It's nice to see an explanation of why we haven't seen any new CSEC-related revelations in recent months despite Greenwald's continuing insistence that there is more to come.

It will be interesting to see if more does in fact come.

Brown doesn't address this point, but I also think that the CBC would have improved its coverage of the Snowden documents if it had consulted a few more people with expertise on Canadian SIGINT before it finalized the stories that did go to air.

But that's just me.

Update 8:30 pm: In response to a question at his talk in Montreal this evening, Greenwald was largely dismissive of the CANADALAND report, calling it "gossipy". But at the same time he confirmed all its major details. His major concern seemed to be to make it clear that he considers his current relationship with both the CBC and the Globe and Mail to be highly satisfactory.

Update 25 October 2014: Interviewed by Brown at this event, Greenwald confirmed that further CSEC revelations had been delayed by a disagreement with CBC reporter Terry Milewski (who is now apparently no longer on the file). But he insisted that there would eventually be new CSEC stories.


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