August 14, 2012 · 0 Comments
By Chris Spannos:
Tuesday August 14, New York Times journalist Scott Shane reported that news of TrapWire — a counterterrorism software which collects images from surveillance cameras and cross references it with other data to preemptively identify terrorist attacks — has “set off a flurry of concern and speculation around the world.” But a comparison of Shane’s article to other media coverage reveal that he fails to report the story by downplaying important questions about TrapWire and by dismissing WikiLeaks.
The Times titled Shane’s article “WikiLeaks Stirs Global Fears on Antiterrorist Software.” However other major media headlined their stories with titles indicating less bias against WikiLeaks and more focus on the story. The Guardian title told readers “Trapwire surveillance system exposed in document leak.” NBC’s headline asked “Is TrapWire surveillance really spying on Americans?” And an RT headline claimed “TrapWire investigation links transit systems and Anonymizer in global surveillance network.”
Media whose specialty is to report on Information Technology (IT) also presented headlines suggesting more inquisitive coverage than the Times. PC Magazine’s title notified readers that “Wikileaks Dump Tips US ‘TrapWire’ Surveillance Efforts.” ZDNet’s article, “Ludlam: do we use TrapWire to spy on Aussies?,” gave indication of how Australian Greens Senator Scott Ludlam will ask the Senate “to force the Australian Government to come clean on what it knows about the controversial video-surveillance system TrapWire and its use locally.” And TechNewsWorld headlines informed us that “TrapWire Spooks Dangled Their Wares in Front of Google, Salesforce.”
Shane’s opening sentence is irresponsible by leading readers to believe that WikiLeaks may have stolen the e-mails revealing TrapWire, “A new release of stolen corporate e-mails by WikiLeaks….” His bias is the latest in a pattern of Times abuse directed at WikiLeaks who publishes leaked information anonymously submitted to them. Shane forces readers to read half way through his article before explaining that “The e-mails were part of a large cache captured late last year and early this year by hackers associated with the loose-knit international collective called Anonymous, which gave the e-mails to WikiLeaks.”
The Guardian’s technology editor Charles Arthur was more responsible writing that “Papers released by WikiLeaks show…” RT explained that “WikiLeaks published their latest addition to [the] trove of the so-called Global Intelligence Files — emails uncovered from Texas-based Strategic Forecasting (Stratfor) by Anonymous late last year…”
Shane immediately dismisses TrapWire by referencing a Daily Mail article that uses a Bourne Identity image and movie reference as his article’s leading source. He reports that “TrapWire is discussed in dozens of e-mails from Stratfor Global Intelligence,” but he never quotes or links to WikiLeaks’ source material that is readily available on-line.
Instead, Shane seeks quotes from TrapWire Inc. who “would not comment on Monday” and the New York Police Department’s chief spokesman Paul J. Browne. Shane also quotes “TrapWire’s marketing materials” and finally, his fig-leaf of “balance,” Jay Stanley from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Stanley posted a blog after the Times published Shane’s piece. He commented that:
Beyond the details, all the “hype” online over the TrapWire story is a reflection and implicit recognition that such a system is now technologically possible, and we are barreling full speed toward a surveillance society. Whatever the details of TrapWire’s current operation are, we need to grapple with that fact. That’s the biggest takeaway from the TrapWire story.
However most of Shane’s sources are gathered to support his claim that many reports about TrapWire “appear to be wildly exaggerated.” But aside Jay Stanley, there are others from American Civil Liberties Union in Massachusetts (ACLU Mass) who, although agree that there has been some hype about TrapWire, take the story seriously enough to see what the real problems are.
Last Saturday ACLU Mass wrote “we don’t even have to look to pre-crime, globally networked spook software like Trapwire to be concerned about where we stand vis a vis privacy rights and government powers.” (“Trapwire and data mining: What we know,” August 11, 2012, ACLU Mass)
ACLU Mass took the Stratfor e-mails and TrapWire story seriously because “It gives us a troubling taste of how these private security companies view their role as intermediary between the government and the people.”
ACLU Mass did what Shane should have done by citing WikiLeaks’ source material, an e-mail from a Stratfor analyst to Vice President of Intelligence Fred Burton, explaining, “they need something like Trapwire more for threats from activists than from terror threats.”
Shane failed to report on other problems to. The Guardian reported how “Documents from the US department of homeland security show that it paid $832,000 to deploy Trapwire in Washington DC and Seattle.” RT explained that “San Diego-based Cubic Corporation acquired Abraxas in 2010 for only $124 million in cash.” And TechNewsWorld reported that Stratfor had pitched TrapWire to Google.
There may be more to report. But you won’t find it in the Times because Shane’s article is part of a pattern revealing the Times opportunism when reporting leaks that pander to the powerful and ignoring leaks that harm the weak.
The paper held off for more than a year before reporting in December 2005 that President Bush had “secretly authorized the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on Americans and others inside the United States to search for evidence of terrorist activity without the court-approved warrants.”
Now WikiLeaks has revealed that a private corporation is selling software that spies on its citizens for the same type of counterterrorist purposes and the Times response is to denigrate and dismiss it.
Chris Spannos is Editor of NYT eXaminer (NYTX).
[Note of disclosure: WikiLeaks' Editor Julian Assange is also an NYTX Advisory Council Member]
[Update: This story was edited August 14, 7:49 PM EST to note that one of Scott Shane's sources, Jay Stanley, had written a blog explaining what he thought was important about the TrapWire story.]