WSJ columnist L. Gordon Crovitz is dead wrong about NSA spying


#1

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#2

…but the terrorists…


#3

“Wall Street Journal Columnist Repeatedly Gets His Facts Wrong About [place subject here]”

The purpose of the Wall Street Journal is twofold: first, to provide a series of easy to read fluff columns flattering and comforting the parasite class. The second is to provide reasonably useful and accurate news and analysis to the people who manage the parasite class’s money.


#4

The EFF’s representation is also misleading. For example, they talk about “the more than 17,000 numbers that the NSA was querying everyday, [of which] the agency only had “reasonable articulable suspicion” for approximately 1,800 of them.” This claim was surprising to me, because my understanding had been that there were only about ~17,000 targeted phone numbers in total (and only about 10% of them supported by RAS, which is problematic in itself, especially since it appears that only 4 of these have resulted in actionable leads). Now 17,000 might be a fairly high number, but it’s very different than the EFF’s 17,000 per day claim, which suggests an absurdly high amount of daily surveillance on a vast number of subjects. And it turns out that if you follow the links, the original EFF source indicates that there are only 17,000 numbers whose metadata is being queried, in total:

The court had told the NSA they were only allowed to query numbers that had "reasonable articulable suspicion (RAS)"Âť of being involved in terrorism. Apparently, out of the more than 17,000 numbers on this list in 2009, the NSA only had RAS for 1,800 of them.

Let’s do some math on this. Apparently there were some 672 million active phone numbers in the US in 2009. The reason NSA surveillance is so troubling is that they are collecting metadata on everyone, so lets assume they are all in the database. Of those 672 million, the database can be queried on only 17,000 of them, which represents 0.0025%. Assuming that the NSA is now properly applying the RAS standard after the FISC decision, there should now be a 0.00025% chance of having your metadata examined by a living person; your chances of having your metadata read are just 1 in 400,000, not 1 in 4 million.


#5

Please, do not feed the troll.


#6

Ratel isn’t a troll. It was sarcastic commentary.


#7

It was every day. They didn’t say 17,000 new numbers every day, they said this:

According to intelligence officials, this FISA court opinion focuses on the NSA’s use of an "alert list" which is a list of "phone numbers of interest" that they queried every day as new data came into their phone records database.

The EFF are very careful with details.

On topic: My guess is that Crovitz is a paid shill for the TLAs or the government is paying journalists to write stories that pour water on their devastatingly damaging NSA revelations.


#8

Moi???


#9

I know they are technically correct, but I believe the presentation in the current piece is still gives a misleading impression; they may be careful with being technically correct but they are sloppy in terms of the impression they give. I think that if they were seriously interested in showing exactly how inaccurate the WSJ piece was they would have done the math that I did, instead of giving the impression that there may be many, many more than 17,000 numbers that are having their metadata examined.


#10

Their words clearly express the idea. You could’ve just replied with “ah, my mistake”. It’s not bad to be wrong but it is bad to stubbornly insist you’re right when you’re clearly wrong. The only reason the “impression they give” was wrong is because you truncated the quote in your comment to not include the part of the paragraph that unequivocally disproves what you’re saying.

There’s no need to do maths when you have actual numbers that have been confirmed by a court. I don’t see how your maths does anything but inject confusion into a subject which already has concrete numbers.


#11

What are you talking about? The quote you included in your first response appears nowhere in the EFF piece Boing Boing links to. It appears in the secondary piece that I referenced, but I’ve already said that you only get the correct impression if you follow that link: there was thus no need for me to include the part you’re claiming I excluded in bad faith, because the part I quoted already establishes there were only 17,000 numbers in total that were being queried. I never said the piece BB links to is incorrect—I just said it’s misleading—and I don’t think I made a mistake when I said it was misleading (though if people want to comment saying they understood the document BB quotes as meaning that only 17,000 numbers were ever queried, then I’ll freely admit the text isn’t misleading).

How is providing mathematical analysis confusing? The EFF called out the WSJ for providing a figure, and then provided a non-commensurable number in response. How does that help people? I have converted that into a percentage figure that can be directly compared with what the WSJ said. Does it matter that the 17,000 figure has been confirmed by a court? If I claim that I’ll only spend $0.05% of my income on something and a court finds I’ll actually spend $20 on it, does that really clarify anything? Or do you need to perform some analysis?


#12

“Throughout his article, he gets it grossly, extravagantly wrong.” The word “wrong” somehow implies that it’s not deliberate. “WSJ columnist lies through his teeth at his masters’ bidding” would probably be a better description.


#13

Nice mea culpa… You’re looking better with every iteration.

Did you stop to think that clicking the text you copied might actually lead to more detailed information on the subject? The internet: it comes with links now! Furthermore it’s not confusing: 17,000 numbers queried every day is totally different from 17,000 new numbers queried every day.

No analysis is required when there are figures. Cold, hard figures. The other thing is that you can take the figures Crovitz quotes with a grain of salt as the part of the quote that proceeds it: “would never even be seen by any human being unless a terrorist connection were first established,” has been shown to be factually wrong. Why would you trust figures that come packaged with an obviously incorrect claim?

Anyway man, I’m happy to smoke the peace pipe with you over this… it just drives me nuts when people try to sleuth an answer to a questions that’s already answered.


#14

Yeah, I obviously clicked on the link, since that’s where I quoted the correct information from. Do you think people should have to click through links in order to get non-misleading information? I assume you’re supportive of licenses, terms and conditions, fine print, and EULAs that you can only see by clicking through to secondary pages. Don’t like those? Well, welcome to the internet! Hey, maybe someone should tell the WSJ that, so they can write misleading articles and hide the facts behind links—I’m sure you could also get behind that.

So if the EFF said that 17,000 people are pulled over in traffic stops every day, would you assume that it’s the same 17,000 people being pulled over every day? After all, they didn’t say it’s 17,000 new people being pulled over every day. Or if they said that the FBI wiretaps 17,000 people every day, you would assume it has been the exact same people every single day? Would you assume that, in the history of FBI wiretaps, only 17,000 people have ever been targeted?

And do you realize that there’s a lot of grey area between “17,000 numbers queried every day” and “17,000 new numbers queried every day”? Like, maybe there’s considerable overlap in day-to-day surveillance/monitoring/querying, but also a significant number of queries that are terminated and new queries initiated? I mean, given the context of surveillance, I think this is the natural interpretation of how things work, in which case the reader would not expect to ever see “17,000 new numbers queried every day.”

So the WSJ’s 0.000054% claim is a cold, hard figure now? How does this cold, hard figure compare to the FISC’s cold, hard figure of 17,000? Seriously; they’re apparently both cold, hard figures, so just how wrong is the WSJ? What is the correct figure that he should have used? Just what percentage of call records are being examined by analysts?


#15

Somewhat ironically, this often means that the WSJ is a better source of news than most mainstream publications; they’re not trying so hard to hide evidence of class conflict.


#16

Soooooo if you clicked the link then how didn’t you see the part which clarifies the thing that is supposedly misleading? In the interest of brevity it’s impossible to write all details into an article; particularly when you’ve written about it before and you’ve linked to that article from the one which contains an incomplete quote. Not really sure what you’re trying to say there with your EULA commentary, apart from it being a lame attempt at annoying me. I’ve been here a long time and your overtures are adorable.

You’re arguing semantics to prove that something is confusing, when you’re the only person who seems to be having any trouble understanding it. It’s perfectly clear and it’s merely you injecting confusion and conjecture into the subject.

One figure (it’s 0.000025% btw) is from a 2006 document that contain other statements that are now known to be factually wrong. The other figure is a FISA court opinion that is from two months ago and comes after the Snowden revelations. Why does it matter how far the WSJ figure is off considering the guy’s basing it on information that’s nearing a decade old and that information is directly contradicted by a fucking federal court?

This has been great, let’s do it again sometime.


#17

Maybe you need to read my first comment again: I clearly said that you can find the correct, non-misleading, information by clicking through to the second EFF piece. It also would not have taken any additional space to write the BB-linked piece in a non-misleading way.

I don’t think that what I’m saying about EULAs and terms & conditions is that difficult: websites often have conditions that do not appear on the first page of anything, but can be found by following links. If you’re saying that readers should be aware of all information that is contained on any linked page, it’s pretty clear that you should find EULAs and T&C pages unobjectionable.

Congratulations on being here a long time. [quote=“teapot, post:16, topic:15548”]
You’re arguing semantics to prove that something is confusing, when you’re the only person who seems to be having any trouble understanding it. It’s perfectly clear and it’s merely you injecting confusion and conjecture into the subject.
[/quote]
By the same token, I could say that you’re the only one claiming that the BB-linked piece was perfectly clear and non-misleading.

If it doesn’t matter how far the WSJ figure is off, then why does the EFF article quote it, why does it pretend to rebut it, and why does it care at all? And heck, does the 17,000 figure even show that the 0.000025% figure is wrong, let alone directly contradict it? And remember, you’re not allowed to do any math on these cold, hard figures, because that would just be introducing unnecessary confusion and conjecture.

Also, the FISC opinion containing the 17,000 figure is from 2009, and not “from two months ago,” which means only three years separates the 17,000 and 0.000025% figures. Not that I think this is particularly relevant, but you seemed to think the difference between two-month old data and something “nearing a decade old” was important.


#18

If you’re saying that readers should be aware of all information that is contained on any linked page

I’m saying you shouldn’t be surprised that not every detail of everything that’s ever happened is in one document. They wrote EXACTLY what the situation was in a previous article and then saw fit to not have to rehash the entire thing in a subsequent post. This happens all the time in news reports.

you should find EULAs and T&C pages unobjectionable

I do, they’re perfectly fine and serve a logical legal and practical web design need. I hate when I have to wade through T&Cs on the front page when I know that any site is sure as hell gonna have one anyway.

By the same token, I could say that you’re the only one claiming that the BB-linked piece was perfectly clear and non-misleading.

No you couldn’t. My commentary is in reply to you and the fact that you’re the ONLY one who’s raised any of this likely means that you’re the only person who is confused. Well, you and Crovitz. Boing Boing points us to interesting things, there’s no expectation that every detail of every post be articulated.

If it doesn’t matter how far the WSJ figure is off, then why does the EFF article quote it, why does it pretend to rebut it, and why does it care at all?

They are rebutting his suggestion that only legitimate terrorism targets are being spied upon and nothing to do with his figures. The EFF doesn’t pretend to rebut that: THEY REBUT IT BY SHOWING THAT EVEN A FEDERAL COURT BELIEVES THE NSA TO BE OVERSTEPPING THEIR OWN RULES TENFOLD. How much clearer can I make it?

You are right on when the court opinion is from (yay! that’s something). They were released in September. There is a massive difference between data from 2006 that have been proven to be incorrect and data from 2009 which is, to the limits of our knowledge, still accurate.

I’m finished here man… You’re boring the others with your painful insistence.


#19

They didn’t simply fail to include a detail: they wrote in a misleading way when it would have been just as easy to write in a non-misleading way. Why not just say there was a list of 17,000 numbers that could be queried, and only 1,800 of the numbers are supported by RAS? [quote=“teapot, post:18, topic:15548”]
No you couldn’t. My commentary is in reply to you and the fact that you’re the ONLY one who’s raised any of this likely means that you’re the only person who is confused.
[/quote]
Right. Because everyone comments when something is unclear. And it’s certainly not possible that anyone else was completely misled by the article.

Or, since you’re the only one (so far) who has complained about my comments so far, by your definition you must also be the only one who I am boring.

Why did they include the WSJ’s figures, then?

Note that I acknowledged that 90% of the NSA queries weren’t supported by RAS. I was simply saying that it is misleading to suggest that the NSA surveillance involves querying 17,000 phone numbers per day without noting that they are the exact same phone numbers being checked every day. If you now want to say that your point is simply that 90% of the queries weren’t supported by RAS, congratulations: my first comment explicitly says exactly this.


#20

Oh nevermind. :stuck_out_tongue: