This article was originally published on my Wordpress blog on January 16th, 2014, as an assigment for my Winter Term Media Studies class with the byline: "Alex Anderlik is a senior in the Class of 2014 at Phillips Academy but hails from Missoula, Montana. When he's not wasting time on the Internet, he's trying to figure out how to waste more time on the Internet. You can reach him at google.com/+AlexAnderlik."
An article published on January 14 in The New York Times called “N.S.A. Devises Radio Pathway Into Computers” reveals that almost 100,000 computers have been secretly infiltrated by the National Security Agency, which has inserted software and even radio transmitters onto computers so that they can be accessed even when not connected to the Internet.
“The radio frequency technology has helped solve one of the biggest problems facing American intelligence for years: getting into computers that adversaries, and some American partners, have tried to make impervious to spying or cyberattack.” – N.S.A. Devises Radio Pathway Into Computers
The article frames the technology in terms of its usefulness to the N.S.A. and the righteousness of its utilization to infiltrate and undermine the alleged enemies of the United States. It consistently relies on the statements of the N.S.A. and other “American officials” for analysis of the spying and its merits; only two sources outside the United States government are named in the article, each given less than a single graf to present an unofficial viewpoint or idea.
One of those two people is James Andrew Lewis from the Center for Strategic and International Studies, which has been thanked multiple times by the White House for its help in reviewing U.S. cybersecurity policy. The think tank’s website claims that it “has been dedicated to finding ways to sustain American prominence and prosperity as a force for good in the world.” Lewis only describes the ways in which this technology has given the United States more access to computer networks in times past, and does not present any third-party interpretation of the merits of the program.
The other quote comes from Peter W. Singer representing the Brookings Institution, and happens to be the only time the article dwells even briefly on the perspective of a non-American interest. Singer claims that the Chinese government refused President Obama’s suggestion that spying in the name of national security and stealing information for economic purposes are two separate issues, the former being considered justified by the United States.
The rest of the article, however, fails to directly question the legitimacy of the N.S.A.’s spying methods, its justifications, or the statements of government officials. Despite the fact that the article strongly asserts that these surveillance measures affect only non-American governments, corporations, and citizens, it never considers any foreign perspectives. The countries mentioned in the article, such as Iran and China, are only referred to as valid targets of the N.S.A.
“No Domestic Use Seen: There is no evidence that the N.S.A. has implanted its software or used its radio frequency technology inside the United States. While refusing to comment on the scope of the Quantum program, the N.S.A. said its actions were not comparable to China’s.” – N.S.A. Devises Radio Pathway Into Computers
According to the article, the N.S.A. claimed that the surveillance measures couldn’t be compared to those of the Chinese government’s. Yet, the article never explains what China’s spying programs actually are except to say that the United States has accused groups in the Chinese Army of “launching regular digital probes and attacks on American industrial and military targets, usually to steal secrets or intellectual property.”
The next graf is a quote from a statement by N.S.A. spokeswoman Vanee Vines, who claimed that the N.S.A. focuses on working “against – and only against” what it refers to as “valid foreign intelligence targets.” This statement clearly defines the people the N.S.A. spies on as the enemy of the organization; because the perspective of the N.S.A. is the only viewpoint offered in the article, the targets of this surveillance program (including Mexico’s law enforcement and drug cartels, the Chinese military, the Russian military, and “sometime partners against terrorism” such as Saudi Arabia and Pakistan) are essentially villainized or, at the very least, dehumanized. The article neither elaborates on the N.S.A.’s definition of “valid foreign intelligence targets” nor questions the validity of the agency’s judgement in that context.
In my opinion, this article suffers heavily from the flaw of bias – not because it uses significantly opinionated language, but because it fails to consider a broad range of perspectives and never challenges the accuracy of government statements, N.S.A. spokespeople, or American think tanks. The targets of this particular surveillance program are never given a voice in this article, so they cannot be portrayed as victims; because the N.S.A.’s vilification of other countries as a justification for invading foreign computers is completely unchallenged, it would be easily confused with a fairly-balanced world perspective. I think it’s pretty safe to say this article is anything but.