Observer pulls story about NSA deal based on Wayne Madsen ‘conspiracy theory’

The Daily Beast | The Telegraph | The Nation | Salon

The U.K.’s Observer raised eyebrows Sunday for publishing a story alleging the United States had been working with European Union countries and Britain to collect personal communications data, based solely on the allegations of “conspiracy theorist” Wayne Madsen.

The paper later pulled the story from its website, but not until after it ran in print — and The Daily Beast’s Michael Moynihan said the paper’s Jamie Doward hadn’t even interviewed Madsen. (Update: After this piece was published, Madsen said that — contrary to Moynihan’s report — he did in fact talk with the Observer reporter.)

Published under the headline “Revealed: secret European deals to hand over private data to America,” the story claimed that Madsen, “a former US navy lieutenant who first worked for the NSA in 1985 and over the next 12 years held several sensitive positions within the agency, names Denmark, the Netherlands, France, Germany, Spain and Italy as having secret deals with the US.” Moynihan noted some problems with the report:

But even ignoring Madsen’s background, Doward’s story is a marvel of awful journalism. While the Observer headline screamed that it had “revealed” a troubling partnership between the United States and Europe in data sharing, Doward offhandedly mentions that Madsen was basing his claims on “declassified documents”—which, oddly, weren’t posted with the story and are available on the NSA’s website. And overlooked by those piling on The Observer was the rather significant fact that the paper appears not to have spoken to Madsen, instead mining quotes from an interview he gave to a blog called  PrivacySurgeon.org. (Indeed, some of Doward’s language is very similar to the source material, but why kick a man when he’s down?)

Damian Thompson of Observer rival The Telegraph took great delight in pointing out the online row that resulted from the misstep. He started by pointing to an article in The Nation that examined Madsen’s current obsession with proving President Barack Obama is gay and goes from there.

Madsen’s Wikipedia page suggests… well, that someone at the Guardian/Observer didn’t Google “Wayne Madsen” before publishing. (Later, after the outcry, you can bet there was an orgy of Googling in the newsroom.) It refers to Madsen’s interest in “the TRUTH” about 9/11, Obama’s birthplace, and Israel (whose tentacles he detects everywhere).

All of which raises an intriguing question. Did the Guardian wing of the Guardian/Observer empire take a similarly rigorous approach when it broke the Edward Snowden story, now looking distinctly odd?

Moynihan noted that despite the Observer removing the story, it has taken on a life of its own, as online stories often do.

Desperate to get in on the NSA scoop game, Salon cannibalized the Madsen story, receiving a coveted Drudge Report link for its troubles. One can only assume that influenced Salon’s decision not to pull the story, instead issuing a vague “update” saying that TheObserver had pulled the story “pending an investigation.” The author of Salon’s piece, Prachi Gupta, didn’t respond to an email inquiry. From there, the Madsen story spidered out to Die Welt, the Sacramento Bee, Corriere Della Sera, and countless others.

Update: Wayne Madsen has told us that he did

We have made it easy to comment on posts, however we require civility and encourage full names to that end (first initial, last name is OK). Please read our guidelines here before commenting.

  • NorskeDiv

    Did you guys look at the declassified documents? Madsen’s claims go far beyond anything stated in the referenced documents. Madsen claims the illegal sharing of private data, while the NSA documents only list data sharing we already knew about. As such the Observer article is incorrect.

    At the very least, the observer story is lying about Madsen’s qualifications, since he never worked for the NSA for twelve years, so there’s one wrong assertion!

    BTW, Simon Davies, the Geneva convention says nothing about presidential planes having the right to fly wherever they in others soveign airspace. It only establishes safe conduct for diplomats in countries where they are invited, Obama has no sovereign right to fly airforce 1 across North Korea just to save some fuel. Planes, presidential or not have been making detours for poltical reasons for a long time now.

  • Andrew Kreig

    I tried a few hours ago to leave a follow up comment. I don’t see it. Let me try a different tack:

    Josh Gillen, author of this travesty of a media criticism blog, responded here in oblique and nearby incomprehensible fashion with a brief statement. Let me translate it: “Mistakes were made, but not by me.”

    In contrast, here is a hard-hitting commentary by an actual excerpt, Craig Murray, a UK ambassador and university rector.

    “All Law is Gone: Naked Power Remains,” Craig Murray, July 3, 2013. http://www.craigmurray.org.uk/archives/2013/07/all-law-is-gone-naked-power-remains/

    The forcing down of the Bolivian President’s jet was a clear breach of the Vienna Convention by Spain and Portugal, which closed their airspace to this Head of State while on a diplomatic mission. It has never been thought necessary to write down in a Treaty that Heads of State enjoy diplomatic immunity while engaged in diplomacy, as their representatives only enjoy diplomatic immunity as cyphers for their Head of State. But it is a hitherto unchallenged precept of customary international law, indeed arguably the oldest provision of international law. To the US and its allies, international law is no longer of any consequence. I can see no evidence that anyone in an official position has even noted the illegality of repeated Israeli air and missile strikes against Syria.

    Snowden, Manning and Assange all exposed illegality on a massive scale, and no action whatsoever has been taken against any of the criminals they exposed. Instead they are being hounded out of all meaningful life and ability to function in society. I have repeatedly posted, and have been saying in public speeches for ten years, that under the UK/US intelligence sharing agreements the NSA spies on UK citizens and GCHQ spies on US citizens and they swap the information. As they use a shared technological infrastructure, the division is simply a fiction to get round the law in each country restricting those agencies from spying on their own citizens.

    I have also frequently remarked how extraordinary it is that the media keep this “secret,” which they have all known for years.

    The Guardian published the truth on 29 June: “At least six European Union countries in addition to Britain have been colluding with the US over the mass harvesting of personal communications data, according to a former contractor to America’s National Security Agency, who said the public should not be “kept in the dark”. This article has been taken down pending an investigation.”

    Wayne Madsen, a former US navy lieutenant who first worked for the NSA in 1985….said the countries had “formal second and third party status” under signal intelligence (sigint) agreements that compels them to hand over data, including mobile phone and internet information to the NSA if requested…. As you can see from the newssniffer site linked above, for many hours there was just a notice stating that the article was “taken down pending investigation”, and then it was replaced on the same URL by the Guardian with a different story which does not mention the whistleblower Wayne Madsen or the intelligence sharing agreements!!

    I can give, and I would give on oath, an eye witness guarantee that from my direct personal experience of twenty years as a British diplomat the deleted information from Wayne Madsen was true.

    Read more here: http://www.craigmurray.org.uk/archives/2013/07/all-law-is-gone-naked-power-remains /

  • Joshua Gillin

    While saying it was based on Madsen’s theories may not be accurate in hindsight, the Observer story was not available online when this post was written on July 1. The post was aggregated from the available information at the time, which was the Telegraph and Daily Beast responses. Taking into account their political and competitive biases should be a given.

  • spo101

    You fools just don’t get it. The silver spoon trust fund babies with their conspiracy/propaganda Ho’s have the people distracted running around like a bunch of lemmings while they steal everything of value in the UK and USA. Join the Class War now! cyberbitchslap2.blogspot.com

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=706026377 Joe Lauria

    So the Observer story was based on NSA documents not “based on a Wayne Madsen conspiracy theory” as the headline above wrongly says.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=706026377 Joe Lauria

    Madsen says he indeed had an email interview with Observer reporter Jamie Doward, provided him proof of his employment at the NSA and the declassified NSA documents. In an interesting twist, reporters normally plead with anonymous sources to go on the record. Here the opposite happened. A named source was made anonymous when the Guardian reused the material from the pulled Observer story in a new piece that was sourced only to the documents and made no mention of Madsen.

  • harryeagar

    Can we shoot the messenger this time?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=706026377 Joe Lauria

    The Daily Beast piece accuses the Observer reporter of “awful journalism,” calling his story “nonsense” while at the same time saying it is based on declassified documents “available on the NSA’s website.” So which one is it? Regardless of who gave the documents to the Observer the story is true, not merely “plausible,” as Moynihan says. In fact the Guardian, not the Observer, later included the exact material in another story, citing the documents, not Madsen. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jun/30/nsa-spying-europe-claims-us-eu-trade?INTCMP=SRCH

    The Daily Beast story was unfortunately typical personality-focused reporting, ignoring the substance of the story, which exposes Moynihan as extremely sloppy and contradictory. He also borders on ageism in his opening remark about dried up journalists “old enough” to remember the Clinton–not the Eisenhower–administration. Any reporter born in 1975 would remember the Clinton administration making them “dried up” today at the ripe age of 38! I guess experience doesn’t count for much in journalism these days.

  • Simon Davies

    Missing a few important facts here.

    First, not one single assertion in the Observer story was incorrect. I checked everything out before running the original piece on http://www.privacysurgeon.org and the Observer double checked. Much of the material was already in the public domain, though obscure. Madsen himself said this too. He was not claiming to reveal anything particularly new – just highlight what had been forgotten.

    Why was the story pulled? Probably due dilligence. When the facts were verified the thrust of the piece ws incorporated into http://www.guardian.co.uk/worl… which by Sunday had superceded the original piece.

    We knew about at least some of Madsen’s more “out-there” views, but the facts in this case stood on their own merit and – with appropriate caveats inserted – we published.

    Some of us remembered that journalism is about the truth, not about specious judgment based on personality and politics.