CBS This Morning on Tuesday allowed a scant 21 seconds to the newest revelations about the National Security Agency. The government organization has been secretly collecting millions of internet address books and instant message accounts from around the world, including Americans. In contrast, ABC and NBC highlighted the story in full reports and news briefs. [MP3 audio here.] None of the three network morning shows made any reference to Barack Obama or speculated on what the President's responsibility might be.
In the briefest of summaries, This Morning anchor Charlie Rose explained, "The agency is pulling the information from address books and buddy lists accounts on instant message accounts worldwide." He reassuringly added, "But a government spokesman says NSA is not interested in personal information about so-called ordinary Americans." However, the same morning show devoted three minutes to the not-so important story of President William Taft's attempts to lose weight.
The Washington Post on Tuesday revealed:
The National Security Agency is harvesting hundreds of millions of contact lists from personal e-mail and instant messaging accounts around the world, many of them belonging to Americans, according to senior intelligence officials and top-secret documents provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
The collection program, which has not been disclosed before, intercepts e-mail address books and "buddy lists" from instant messaging services as they move across global data links. Online services often transmit those contacts when a user logs on, composes a message, or synchronizes a computer or mobile device with information stored on remote servers.
Rather than targeting individual users, the NSA is gathering contact lists in large numbers that amount to a sizable fraction of the world’s e-mail and instant messaging accounts. Analysis of that data enables the agency to search for hidden connections and to map relationships within a much smaller universe of foreign intelligence targets.
In practice, data from Americans is collected in large volumes — in part because they live and work overseas, but also because data crosses international boundaries even when its American owners stay at home. Large technology companies, including Google and Facebook, maintain data centers around the world to balance loads on their servers and work around outages.
Unlike CBS, NBC offered four segments on the breaking news, one full report and three news briefs. Pete Williams informed viewers: "...The NSA gathers address books and contact lists from e-mailers and instant messages as they flow through overseas computer connections." He warned, "...The program does capture the address books of potentially millions of Americans."
On ABC's Good Morning America, Brian Ross offered the details: "According to the Post, during a single day last year, the NSA special source operations branch collected 440,000 addresses from yahoo, 105,000 from Hotmail, 82,000 from Facebook and 33,000 from G-Mail."
In total, the three networks covered the story for four minutes and 16 seconds. GMA offered one minute and 47 seconds. Today featured a combined two minutes and eight seconds. CBS This Morning allowed 21 seconds.
NBC and ABC at least offered full coverage of the controversy. But none of the networks questioned Obama's responsibility. Certainly, this is a departure from how they viewed suggestions that George W. Bush was "snooping" into the lives of "ordinary Americans."
A transcript of the October 15 GMA segment is below:
1 minute and 47 seconds
ABC GRAPHIC: Spy Agency and Your Address Book: NSA Reportedly Collecting Buddy Lists
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Now to those new revelations about the reach of the National Security Agency. New documents leaked by the fugitive Edward Snowden show that the spy agency has swept up hundreds of millions of e-mail and instant messaging contacts, many of them American citizens. ABC's chief investigative correspondent Brian Ross here with the details. Good morning, Brian.
BRIAN ROSS: Well, good morning. George, Snowden reportedly promised the Russians he would stop the embarrassing leaks about the U.S. spy program while he was in safe haven there. But this morning's revelations in the Washington Post are based almost entirely on documents he gave to the Washington Post. The Post reported that the NSA, the National Security Agency, has been secretly collecting and storing what it terms hundreds of millions of contact lists from personal e-mails and instant messaging accounts around the world, many of them belonging to Americans. According to the Post, during a single day last year, the NSA special source operations branch collected 440,000 addresses from yahoo, 105,000 from Hotmail, 82,000 from Facebook and 33,000 from G-Mail.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So, you add it up, It's probably more than 250 million contacts. What do they do with them?
ROSS: Well, they say they're trying to collect all this overseas to target possible terrorists and drug smuggling. But because of the bulk of this, the buddy list and contacts of Americans are also being gathered. All this comes as Snowden is settling in for the long haul in Moscow. He received an award from other American whistle blowers last week and later told the Wall Street Journal, he had no regrets about the actions he'd taken with all these leaks.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And we don't know when he may have given these to the Washington Post. It actually could have been turned over a while ago.
ROSS: It likely was. According to the reporters, Glen Greenwald and others, they have lots of documents. Thousands of documents they intend to make public at some point. Snowden's promises notwithstanding.