Security News

60 Minutes Puff Piece Claims NSA Saved U.S. From Cyberterrorism

60 Minutes Puff Piece Claims NSA Saved U.S. From Cyberterrorism: Well, don’t we feel just a little bit ashamed today. While we’ve been whining about trivia like the frightening scope of the NSA’s domestic spying programs – scooping up all our cell phone records, wiretapping American tech companies – the criminally poor oversight provided by rubber stamp lawmakers, and the flagrant lies of top level spooks like DNI James Clapper, the poor misunderstood folks at Ft. Meade have been quietly saving each and one of us from a Chinese plot to destroy all of our computers. Every last one of them. The computer on which I’m typing was rescued from ruin by NSA chief Gen. Keith Alexander. I tweet and blog under the blanket of the very freedom that he provides.

That was one of the things I learned from last night’s 60 Minutes’ half-hour video love letter to the NSA. While “a twentysomething-year-old high school dropout contractor” named Edward Snowden is making all this trouble, better schooled NSA experts are protecting us from malware.

The thwarted “BIOS plot” was an attempt by China (we’re told) to promulgate a fake BIOS update that would have bricked every machine in the America, destroying the U.S. economy. The claim is so preposterous on its face that even 60 Minutes interviewer John Miller remarks on camera that “it has a kind of a little Dr. Evil quality to it … It sounds almost unbelievable,” before believing the story and moving on without demanding more details.

And that’s the gist of 60 Minutes’ parody last night of the serious television journalism it once embodied. Defending his NSA programs, Alexander did a similar video interview in October, but that one was conducted by a paid Pentagon employee and produced by the Defense Department. It earned 16,000 downvotes on YouTube (versus 300 likes), and was widely ridiculed. For the sequel, NSA clearly wanted to get off the internet and onto old-fashioned broadcast television, where the average viewer is a bit less cynical. But it also wanted an interviewer at least as pliant as its paid employee.

And, boy, did it find one in Miller, a former intelligence official himself, who set the stage with this question to Alexander: “There is a perception out there that the NSA is widely collecting the content of the phone calls of Americans. Is that true?”

“No, that’s not true,” Alexander replies.

At last, a straightforward denial from the NSA about something that absolutely nobody has accused it of doing. Thank you, 60 Minutes! The only thing that would be a better use of your access would be an extended interview with bright-eyed young analysts explaining at length how a spear phishing attack works. Step aside Greenwald and Gellman. I think that Pulitzer just got spoken for.