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First POST: Interception

BY Micah L. Sifry | Monday, February 10 2014

Interception

  • The Intercept, Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras and Jeremy Scahill's new digital magazine, is up with its first stories today:

    • A Scahill-Greenwald jointly bylined report on how the NSA uses its ability to zero in on cell phone SIM cards in real-time to help the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) target lethal drone strikes--and how their failure to use human intelligence on the ground to confirm metadata about presumed terrorist targets is "an unreliable tactic that results in the deaths of innocent or unidentified people." The story relies heavily on a new anonymous whistleblower from inside the drone targeting program, along with testimony from Brandon Bryant, a former "stick monkey" turned antiwar activist, and supporting documents from the Snowden Files.
    • Spectacular new photos of the NSA's Fort Meade headquarters, as well as the National Reconnaissance Office and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, taken by artist Trevor Paglen, who specializes in seeing the secret state. He writes, "If we look in the right places at the right times, we can begin to glimpse America’s vast intelligence infrastructure." He is placing the photos in the public domain without restriction.
    • A mission statement: short-term, " to provide a platform and an editorial structure in which to aggressively report on the disclosures provided to us by our source, NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden" and long-term: "to provide aggressive and independent adversarial journalism across a wide range of issues, from secrecy, criminal and civil justice abuses and civil liberties violations to media conduct, societal inequality and all forms of financial and political corruption."
    • A secure document drop for whistleblowers.
  • One open question about The Intercept: Will other mainstream outlets like The Guardian and the New York Times pick up and amplify its reports? Or will they bite the hand that fed them?

  • Yesterday's front-page New York Times story by David Sanger and Eric Schmitt reporting that US intelligence officials have determined that Edward Snowden used "web crawler" software that automated his downloading of highly classified files did not earn much respect from some top software engineers. Marc Andreesen, for example, tweeted making fun of the "scare quotes" used around words like "web crawler" and "scraper" and "wiki" in the Times story. Kurt Smith, a data scientist at Twitter, mocked up a picture of a snow scraper to illustrate the story.

  • Snowden's comment on the story, made through his ACLU lawyer, was equally snarky: “It’s ironic that officials are giving classified information to journalists in an effort to discredit me for giving classified information to journalists. The difference is that I did so to inform the public about the government’s actions, and they’re doing so to misinform the public about mine.”

  • Eli Lake parses this latest news and writes in The Daily Beast that American officials may well be exaggerating the extent of Snowden's spying and its threat to national security.

  • Matt Richtel and Nicholas Confessore profile Aaron Ginn of Republican techie-scouting start-up Lincoln Labs and Andrew Barkett, CTO of the RNC and Data Trust, looking at their efforts to find young right-leaning coders to help the GOP catch up to the Democrats. Amusing irony note: apparently knowing someone's zipcode, profession, and voting history isn't enough for Ginn and Barkett to know if a coder at a hackathon is likely to be Republican-leaning (the article describes them gingerly raising political topics with attendees in order to find potential recruits), while the work they are being sought for is all about the virtues of political targeting data.

  • An analysis of open data covering the bus stops used by tech companies private San Francisco shuttles combined with recent business licenses and the city's property assessment rolls, done by independent data journalist Chris Walker, shows that the arrival of the private buses sped up the gentrification of those neighborhoods.

  • Wikipedia is taking steps to insure that it doesn't get left behind as more Internet users shift to mobile.

  • The Freelancers Union, which has more than 145,000 members in New York City alone, gets profiled in the New York Times.

  • FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler insists that "We will preserve and protect the open Internet."

  • AskThem.io, a new interactive platform for asking questions of public officials and other figures, launches today with the prominent participation of politicians from New York, Austin, Philadelphia and San Jose.

News Briefs

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NDI Launches Open Source DemTools for International Development

Yesterday the National Democratic Institute launched a suite of web-based applications created for their partner organizations, mostly pro-democracy groups and political parties around the world. These “DemTools,” which are ready-to-use but can also be customized, will give organizations in developing countries some of the capabilities that political activists and parties in the United States have had for years. Moreover, since the National Democratic Institute (NDI) is making the promise to host partner organization's applications in the cloud essentially forever, they hope these applications will help usher in a period of more sustainable tech.

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