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As critics describe ’60 Minutes’ piece as ‘propaganda’, ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern says that General Keith Alexander does not have a good record of truth-telling

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JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.

On a 60 Minutes episode that aired December 15, the NSA gave the CBS show unprecedented access to the agency’s headquarters. The correspondent for the piece, John Miller, was a staff member in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and a former spokesman for the FBI.

In the opening, Miller claims that 60 Minutes wanted to provide NSA the space to make their case. NSA Director General Keith Alexander invited the 60 Minutes team into the headquarters. And critics have labeled the piece as being mere propaganda that didn’t get into some tough issues.

Here with us in-studio to get into some of those tough issues is Ray McGovern. Ray is a former CIA analyst, and he was employed under seven U.S. presidents for over 27 years, presenting the morning intelligence briefings at the White House under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. . Bush.

Thanks again for joining us, Ray.


DESVARIEUX: So, Ray, what we’re going to do in this segment: we’re going to listen to some clips, and then we’ll have you comment on them. So the first clip that I want to set up a little bit: we have General Alexander discussing whether the NSA is spying on Americans. Let’s take a listen.


JOHN MILLER, REPORTER, 60 MINUTES: –understand, then, there might be a little confusion among Americans who read in the newspaper that the NSA has vacuumed up the records of the telephone calls of every man, woman, and child in the United States for a period of years. That sounds like spying on Americans.

KEITH B. ALEXANDER, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL SECURITY AGENCY: Right. And that’s wrong. That’s absolutely wrong. There’s no–.

MILLER: You don’t hear the call?

ALEXANDER: You don’t hear the call.

MILLER: You don’t see the name?

ALEXANDER: You don’t see the names.

MILLER: You just see this number called that number.

ALEXANDER: This number, the to-from number, the duration of the call, and the date-time group. That’s all you get. And all we can do is tell the FBI that number is talking to somebody who is very bad; you ought to go look at it.


DESVARIEUX: “That’s absolutely wrong.” That’s what general Alexander said. What’s wrong with the general Alexander’s statements? What do the facts say?

MCGOVERN: Well, his own people at NSA have confirmed that 2,176 times NSA violated the strictures against collecting against U.S. nationals. And the FISA judges have reamed them out–all in secret, of course–for doing precisely the same. So the question would be: well, why do you do it, then? You know, why do you collect on Americans?

Now, what they do sometimes is do a dance around terms like collect. You know, General Clapper says, no, collect means to me something very specific that it probably doesn’t mean to you. Give me a break. Collect is collect. You know?

And so they’re doing this in direct [violation] of the Fourth Amendment. And finally a judge has said, you know, all you Americans have standing now because of what Edward Snowden has done. You have standing. You know you’re being snooped upon. And it’s come to a head, and it looks like maybe the judiciary will start acting like the third branch of government and not defer to these co-opted FISA judges.

DESVARIEUX: Alright. And, General Alexander, he sort of tried to defend this in saying that, oh, whenever we did do that, we didn’t do it intentionally.

MCGOVERN: Right. Yeah. Well, there were programs devised by NSA technology experts where not even unintentional misses like this would happen. So, you know, you have to look at Alexander’s record for truth, which is not real good, you know. If I had a chance to ask him, I would say, well, why did you lie to your supervisor on the House Intelligence Committee, Congressman Rush Holt, on December 6, denying that any of this was happening, any of this stuff now that you admit to? See, he was the unfortunate victim of somebody in the White House not telling him that The New York Times had told the president they were going to release the story. The story was released on 16 December. Alexander had lied to Rush Holt on 6 December. Rush Holt was in [incompr.] That’s a felony. You don’t lie to Congress. But what was the first time we can see that it is established that Alexander doesn’t think that he has to be candid, or even honest, with Congress?

MCGOVERN: Alright. Let’s move on and talk about more comments that General Alexander made in that 60 Minutes piece. He also talked about how he’s open to solutions. Let’s take a listen to what he had to say.


ALEXANDER: Look, if we could come up with a way of making this better, we would. So I would put that on the table for the American people. Help us come up with a way of stopping the terrorists that is less intrusive. And we ought to use that right away.


DESVARIEUX: So, Ray, what’s your answer to that? What’s your solution?

MCGOVERN: Well, the answer is very simple. General Alexander doesn’t have the power to violate the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. You know? He admits it’s intrusive. The judge has now said it’s unconstitutional. Where does he get off saying, well, if you come up with a better way, then I’ll do that? You can’t do unconstitutional things, even if people like Dianne Feinstein are willing to let illegal laws –.

You know, there’s a hiatus between when a law is passed that is not in consonance with the Constitution and when it’s proved to be unconstitutional. We been in that area now for a couple of years. Now the last phase has begun, where judges are able to say, look, the Fourth Amendment’s still on the books here. You know. Unreasonable searches and seizures are not allowed. You have to have a warrant. It has to be based on probable cause, and it has to particularly define the areas to be searched or the people or things to be seized. Hello, isn’t that simple enough?

And so it’s coming to a head. I’m just delighted it is. And so is Ed Snowden, because he’s vindicated. He sitting, I’m sure, wherever he is in Russia and saying, wow, you know, this exceeds my fondest expectations. Finally this Constitution that I had on my desk in Hawaii, finally it’s meaning something to the judges that are supposed to defend it.

DESVARIEUX: Alright. And, you know, what struck me when I was watching the 60 Minutes piece is how they really focused on how this metadata, collecting this metadata, was–it doesn’t seem very intrusive at all. You know, we’re just looking at a bunch of numbers on the screen and things of that nature. But we know that that’s not true. How do we know that’s not true?

MCGOVERN: Well, they use it to catch the bad guys. You know, I’m always wondering who the bad guys are. So it’s useful. It tells a lot about a person.

And what about the content of the conversations? Well, it could be true that they don’t listen to all of them, that they don’t look at all of them. But they’re all stored. Huh? That great big football–couple football fields’ size thing out there in Utah, I guess it is. That’s putting a lot of stuff. You know how much you can get on a little thumb drive? They’re putting all that stuff against the day as Dick Cheney says, well, you never know when you might need that stuff. Huh?

DESVARIEUX: Yeah. Okay. Let’s talk about more of the 60 Minutes piece and how they really tried to discredit Edward Snowden and attacked his character, really. A top NSA official said that he stole the questions and answers to an entrance exam, as well as describing him as being strange. What do you think is behind this sort of character assassination?

MCGOVERN: Well, it’s the obvious. They always try to character-assassinate anyone like this. They did it to Dan Ellsberg and to many others.

But, you know, one word’s used is eccentric. Okay? Well, he is eccentric–ek kentron, from the Greek out of the center. Okay? Now, he’s eccentric because he’s one in a million who will say, hey, this Constitution is sacred. I’m not only observing crimes against this Constitution, but I’m part of it. I have a higher duty. I need to make this available.

Now, that’s eccentric, but it shouldn’t be regarded as an oddity. Okay? We do take this oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. He’s done it. Feinstein, Mike Rogers have not.

DESVARIEUX: Alright. Just to wrap up, Ray, I wanted to talk a little bit about how 60 Minutes is taking on a lot of heat. Twitter was ablaze. People were saying that essentially this is propaganda. Just to put it mildly, they called their journalism very flawed.

Just in their defense a bit, I’ll say that I watched the 60 Minutes Overtime, which is essentially their web-based only programming, and you really saw how censored the 60 Minutes production team was. And they didn’t reveal that part in the broadcasted piece, but on the web piece they did. Let’s just take a quick look at this clip showing John Miller asking General Alexander a question.


MILLER: Did the NSA actually find a foreign power that had identified this capability and discussed using it offensively?

ALEXANDER: I need time out on that.


DESVARIEUX: So we saw there they couldn’t even ask a very basic question. What are some questions that you would have wanted to ask General Alexander?

MCGOVERN: I guess I would ask how he feels about his predecessors–Michael Hayden, who lied. You know, when Hayden disavowed any of this as being unconstitutional, he moved up into a place where he was lionized as the go-to guy on NSA. He was deputy director of national intelligence. And they asked him, well, what about probable cause? And he said, oh, no, probable cause isn’t in the Fourth Amendment. Now, he didn’t say this to his neighbor. He said this before the National Press Club. Okay? Did anybody catch him on that? Probable cause is in the Fourth Amendment.

Now, when Hayden was revealed to have cooperated with Dick Cheney and the rest of them in this intrusive, illegal, unconstitutional activity, two former NSA directors–Bill Odom, General U.S. Army; Bobby Inman, Admiral, U.S. Navy–Odom said he should be court-martialed. This is a violation of the First Amendment over there and the first commandment at NSA, which is: thou shalt not eavesdrop on Americans without a court warrant. Okay? And then Inman, who wrote most of the FISA law in 1978, said, no, what Hayden did was clearly illegal.

So I would say to Alexander: you’re following in a great tradition here. How do you feel about following people who did clearly illegal things and clearly should have been court-martialed, and now Hayden, of course, is the CNN’s go-to guy to explain all this to everybody else. You know. How do you feel about that, Alexander? And how do you feel about having deceived the American people into thinking that these vacuum-cleaner approaches thwarted 54 terrorist events, when you can only pretend to one, and that was somebody sending $8,000 to Al-Shabaab in Somalia. Give me a break.

Alexander should be fired, Clapper should be fired. And the real question is: what’s with this president of ours? You know, even if he was clued in on all this, he has the option of pretending, he has the option of saying, plausible denial–they never told me all this stuff. But instead, he’s still defending it as of yesterday.

So when the courts come down and say, this was really unconstitutional, well, let’s see what this constitutional lawyer has to say about that. Let’s see if this president will do what he should. Or is he afraid of the intelligence community?

I think he is. And that speaks volumes about who’s running this country.

DESVARIEUX: Alright. Ray McGovern, retired CIA analyst. Thank you so much for joining us.

MCGOVERN: You’re most welcome.

DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


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Ray McGovern is a retired CIA officer and was employed under seven US presidents for over 27 years, presenting the morning intelligence briefings at the White House under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.