Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Special Access

Late last night, I published “A Swing and a Miss“, wherein I criticized the 60 Minutes story on the NSA as little more than a puff piece. In their “Overtime” segment, it becomes clear why this is the case:

Producer Ira Rosen: This is an agency that really is under the gun. They have basically allowed this kid, who is now in Moscow with 1.7 million classified documents, to become the hero and they to become the villain.

John Miller: Part of what we wanted to get to in this story is to talk to the guy who runs the place, who is the ‘dark prince’, who controls the largest and most secretive intelligence agency on the globe.

Ira Rosen: Ultimately it was Gen. Alexander who made the call to invite us in. He’s fighting for his programs.

It becomes clear that Gen. Alexander invited 60 Minutes in to boost the public profile of the NSA, not to create television which was necessarily informative or investigative.

Then they talk about the “minders” they were provided:

Ann Silvio: This was pretty unusual, right? You had a group of minders following you, about 20 people, right?

John Milller: Well, sometimes it seemed that way.

Producer Gabrielle Schonder: Some of these were classified officers who were just making sure we weren’t shooting anything we shouldn’t have been. Others were just monitoring interviews in case anyone we spoke to started talking about classified information. They would jump up and interrupt them.

Then there’s a clip of Miller’s interview with the three young analysts, where “Morgan” is interrupted mid-speech by a minder, and Miller tells her to skip the question.

Ann Silvio: There were a few times when Gen. Alexander would [ask for] a time out.

John Miller: Did the NSA actually find any foreign power that had identified this capability and discussed using it offensively?

Gen. Alexander: I need time out on that.

John Miller: He looked over like this to a whole crowd of people in the dark and said “can I answer that?”.

This is followed a short time later by a series of questions Rick Ledgett “can’t answer”.

What all of this makes clear is that the tougher questions — the questions privacy advocates, many Americans, and yours truly want answers to — simply couldn’t be asked or fully answered. Assuming Miller asked these questions (and he indicates that he did), the problem here is that 60 Minutes was allowed only enough access for the NSA’s image to be boosted, and not enough to address the most serious of issues.