Salon's Glenn Greenwald Writes to The Field

By Al Giordano


As my friend Bobby Hayes used to say at each daybreak as we filed into the mess hall at the Rockingham County Jail in New Hampshire, "what a beautiful day to wake up to a nice tall glass of Thorazine!"

All text guaranteed verbatim and unabridged!

From Glenn Greenwald (who I don't believe I've ever met or spoken with before, but who writes for, 7:11 a.m.:


Someone just sent me a link to this claim you made yesterday:

Yes, this is already going on but not illegally! Here's how. All communications between the US and Mexico (and any other US ally) are being vacuumed up already by the Mexican-owned telecom companies and turned over to US agencies, with the full blessing of the Mexican state. The same goes for every other country in the hemisphere save Cuba and maybe Venezuela and/or Bolivia. Nothing illegal about it, because it's done with the imprimatur of those governments that have jurisdiction.

What's your basis for stating that every country in the hemisphere other than the three you mentioned turns over all communications involving a U.S. citizen to the U.S. Government?

Glenn Greenwald

My response, 8:42 a.m.:



My newspaper, Narco News, has reported for more than eight years now on the subjects of the drug war, social movements, money laundering, and other sensitive topics in the American hemisphere. In 2001, the New York Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling, after the National Bank of Mexico (now Citibank) sued us for what it termed defamation (libel) in eight of those reports. From the December, 5, 2001 court decision:

"Narco News, its website, and the writers who post information, are entitled to all the First Amendment protections accorded a newspaper-magazine or journalist... Furthermore, the nature of the articles printed on the website and Mr. Giordano's statements at Columbia University constitute matters of public concern because the information disseminated relates to the drug trade and its affect on people living in this hemisphere..."

That ruling, by the way, protects you and your work, too.

In this work, we have cultivated many sources and whistleblowers inside US and foreign intelligence and police agencies. The reports of journalist Bill Conroy and I, among others, frequently consult with those sources, including in Homeland Security, ICE, DEA, FBI, and others, and including their counterparts in Mexico and other lands. If you've dealt much with security and intelligence agents, you'd be familiar with their smug disregard for the US Constitution and their enthusiasm for finding loopholes and ways around it when it comes to wiretapping and surveillance. They're part of their own very special subculture that plays by its own rules.

In 1998, the Mexican daily El Universal reported on the existence of a telephone surveillance headquarters in Mexico City operated by the DEA with the permission of the Mexican government that did not solicit nor honor the concept of warranting their work with court orders and such. Since then, obviously, technological advances make all of this much easier for them to do on a wholesale level. In 2000 I asked some questions of the then-US ambassador to Mexico, in writing, about that and related matters:

Predictably, he chose not to answer. But it's not even a well-kept secret in those circles that whatever technologies are available for surveillance purposes are being used to their maximum potential in Mexico and elsewhere simply because they can. (The concepts of case law and court precedents are entirely different in Mexico and elsewhere; there's no available recourse or protection from this, and no law being broken when a foreign government or company turns over information gained by unwarranted surveillance to US agencies. It's a loophole big enough to drive a Mac truck - or a Macintosh - through it.)

To answer your question more succinctly: Multiple sources in US and foreign police and intelligence agencies say that all communications between the US and Mexico and any other ally are being vacuumed up by foreign telecom companies and turned over to US agencies. They've said it for years, by the way. (Consequentially, I never say anything via email or telephone that I wouldn't mind them hearing. I think that's the bare minimum that a journalist or dissident has to do in this day and age for our own protection.)

And I must tell you that the prosecutorial tone of your email - about a comment I made in the comments section of our newspaper - reminds of that of pioneers of the very surveillance and witch-hunt activities that got their start with HUAC and "true believer" crusaders like Roy Cohn (the kind of activity that one might wish to presume that opponents of the FISA legislation would find reprehensible). But I don't mind at all. If you want to bring me and my comments into your crusade regarding FISA, go right ahead. I love a good and public argument.


Al Giordano

From Glenn Greenwald, 8:55 a.m.:

Can you point to anything published -- rather than claims you now make about what secret sources tell you -- to support your claim?  Your claim wasn't restricted to Mexico, but to all countries in the hemisphere -- which includes Canada, Brazil, Argentina, and many others -- which are turning over communications with U.S. citizens to the U.S. Government.


That is an extraordinary claim to make -- in your desperate effort to defend Barack Obama in all that He does -- and I simply asked for your basis for the claim.  Given how you responded, it doesn't surprise me that you would find a very simple, politely stated request of that kind to be offensive.

Glenn Greenwald

My response, 9:04 a.m.:



You may think that accusatory equals "polite." Maybe you also think that throwing around new accusations of a somehow "desperate effort to defend Barack Obama in all that he does" is also "polite?" You're evidently on a witch-hunt, Glenn. I haven't even posted a single blog entry or story about the FISA debate. It's not my priority or interest. I do, from time to time, respond to reader questions or comments on it. I'm pleased that even a small comment of mine is considered somehow threatening to your orthodoxy to the extreme that makes you want to hunt it down and attack the messenger.

Let's stop the fake courtesy, Glenn, and do your own heavy lifting on the matters that concern you, and I'll do mine.


Al Giordano


From Glenn Greenwald, 9:15 a.m.:

In other words, you have no basis for your claim that all governments in the hemisphere other than a few turn over to the U.S. government all communications involving U.S. citizens.  You just made it up.


Looks like my Roy Cohn comparison was right on the money. The guy is on a crusade. Never mind that it's in the name of "civil liberties," that cause for which I've fought daily over the past thirty years and continue to fight. He's acting like a McCarthy committee staff counsel.

A reporter (that's me) wrote something in a comments section that he saw as inconvenient to his crusade. One would think that civil libertarians would be smarter about the reality that we live in a world of total surveillance already. But for the sake of the crusade, the crusader apparently has to make it seem like there is still such a thing as freedom guaranteed by law and that a piece of legislation will single-handedly end it.

I don't even mind his or other people's crusading on it. In fact, I don't like the FISA legislation, but I'm smart enough not to blame it on the new liberal "daddy figure" that a certain sector of infantile progressives project upon any Democratic nominee for president of the United States, this year being no exception. That hasn't been a topic (until now, thanks to Glenn's ham-handed approach to throwing his perceived weight around with another journalist) on this blog. At some point soon, Congress will vote one way or another, and life will continue, as will the struggle for freedom in a world where governments no longer guarantee it.

But because I won't sign up for duty in his crusade, he now feels he has to try to malign my work with accusations that I make shit up. Hey Glenn: being an accusatory asshole doesn't make you a better journalist. It's turning you - and some other coreligionists of your crusade - into the very kind of apparatchik that brought us the FISA bill to begin with.

(Not that this conversion process is anything new on the left or the right.)

Update: This thread is getting some commentary over on a recommended DKos diary's comments section.

Update II: Readers continue writing me with evidence that even the mainstream media has reported the same facts regarding US-sponsored telecom surveillance in Mexico. From the Los Angeles Times, May 25, 2007 (not that I need commercial media organizations to ratify anything for me, but it's interesting that my "made up" facts have also been reported by major news outlets, too):

Mexican authorities for years have been able to wiretap most telephone conversations and tap into e-mail, but the new $3-million Communications Intercept System being installed by Mexico’s Federal Investigative Agency will expand their reach.

The system will allow authorities to track cellphone users as they travel, according to contract specifications. It includes extensive storage capacity and will allow authorities to identify callers by voice. The system, scheduled to begin operation this month, was paid for by the U.S. State Department and sold by Verint Systems Inc., a politically well-connected firm based in Melville, N.Y., that specializes in electronic surveillance...

They suggest that Washington could have access to information derived from the surveillance. Officials of both governments declined to comment on that possibility.

It is a government of Mexico operation funded by the U.S.,” said Susan Pittman, of the State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs. Queries should be directed to the Mexican government, she said.

Calderon’s office declined to comment.

It's mind-blowing that purported experts on the subject matter could be so willfully ignorant of facts on their beat that have been in the public domain for a long time now already.

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About Al Giordano


Publisher, Narco News.

Reporting on the United States at The Field.

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