Before Snowden: Corporate Media Weak in Connecting Dots on NSA Surveillance

by Vins
Published: Last Updated on

Previous to Booz Allen Hamilton contractor Edward Snowden’s leak of classified records to The Guardian, major U.S. newspapers did mediocre reporting on the National Security Agency’s (NSA) domestic surveillance program STELLARWIND (Stellar Wind) that collected “bulk metadata.”  Initiated under the Bush Administration and identified as the “President’s Surveillance Program,” STELLARWIND ended in 2011, as Glenn Greenwald and Spencer Ackerman reported in June 2013.

A search of U.S. newspapers through Lexis-Nexis Academic and Proquest Newsstand retrieved one corporate news story in 2013, from The New York Times, linking STELLARWIND to surveillance, even though The Guardian’s Paul Harris had interviewed former NSA intelligence official Bill Binney on this topic in 2012, almost a full year before the Snowden disclosures. The Times article appeared several days after The Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald and Ewen MacAskill reported on Verizon’s cooperation with the NSA’s PRISM data mining program that allowed the NSA “direct access to the systems of Google, Facebook, Apple and other US internet giants.”

Major U.S. newspapers also failed to frame STELLARWIND in terms of prior NSA surveillance such as the Terrorist Information Awareness (TIA) data mining program, even though a congressional hearing had been held in 2004. Though Shane Harris published The Watchers: The Rise of America’s Surveillance State in 2010, only Eric Lichtblau covered Harris’ reporting. This lack of deep reporting is a breach of investigative journalism that negatively influences public knowledge of government agencies’ continuing civil liberties violations, especially in smaller, regional newspapers that depend on reprinting news from U.S. national newspapers.


Glenn Greenwald and Spencer Ackerman, “NSA Collected US Email Records in Bulk for More than Two Years Under Obama,” The Guardian, June 27, 2013, obama.

“NSA inspector general report on email and internet data collection under Stellar Wind – full document,” The Guardian, June 27, 2013,

Glenn Greenwald and Ewen MacAskill, “NSA Prism Program Taps in to User Data of Apple, Google and Others,” The Guardian, June 6, 2013,

Paul Harris, “US Data Whistleblower: ‘It’s a Violation of Everybody’s Constitutional Rights’”, The Guardian, September 12, 2012,

Secondary Sources:

Electronic Surveillance Under Bush and Obama,” The New York Times, June 7, 2013,

House Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on Commercial and Administrative Law, Privacy and Civil Liberties in the Hands of the Government Post-September 11, 2001: Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission and the U.S. Department of Defense Technology and Privacy Advisory Committee: Joint Hearing before the Subcommittee on Commercial and Administrative Law, and the Subcommittee on the Constitution of the Committee on the Judiciary, House of Representatives, 108-2nd, August 20, 2004, Washington: GPO, 2005,

Eric Lichtblau, “The People We Pay to Look Over Our Shoulders, The New York Times, February 22, 2010,

Student Researcher: Lori Schwarz (San Jose State University)

Faculty Evaluator: Susan Maret (San Jose State University)