Panel member discusses report to White House on NSA data collection

By Ellen Shearer

WASHINGTON – University of Chicago First Amendment scholar Geoffrey Stone was not expecting unanimity among the group of five experts called together by President Barack Obama to review the National Security Agency’s collection of vast amounts of phone records and other digital information of millions of Americans.

Stone said the fact that the group could present recommendations fully supported by all members gave extra weight to their report. The review group recommended that that phone companies or a private third party maintain the data needed by the NSA rather than the NSA itself and that access be allowed only by a court order.

In a video interview with Medill National Security Zone, Stone detailed key points from the recommendations.


  • Alexander Deitchman and and Paul Knudtson discuss “Veterans as Strategic Assets.” Watch here.
  • Paul Rosenzweig helps reporters better understand cyber crime how much money and intellectual property are we losing and what it means, as well as how governments can coordinate to fight it. Watch here.

Story behind the story

Launch crew member

An ICBM launch crew member at a launch control simulator used for training at F.E. Warren AFB.
(PHOTO: Robert Burns).

Read how AP’s national security writer discovered problems in the nation’s nuclear defense system and wound up with a ‘months-long cascade of revelations’ that renewed public and legislative interest — and action.

“If you see a revolver with a silencer in the movies, laugh – it’s a mistake.”

A primer on firearms

Generally, reporting on firearms is pretty poor – not because of hidden agendas, but because most journalists are not familiar with firearms. That lack of knowledge can lead to reporting errors that are not caught by equally unknowing editors.

In our latest NSZ 101 how-to guide, gun hobbyist and journalist Kerry Luft delivers a basic primer on firearms, with some caveats about usage and warnings about some common mistakes.

The guide explains the difference between shotguns, rifles, revolvers and pistols as well as the myriad types of ammunition. It also includes as examples of stories in which journalists’ knowledge of firearms made for insightful, compelling reading.

Read the full primer.

Meet our National Security Specialization students

Our National Security Specialization is now in its second academic year at Medill. We have 15 masters’ students participating in the Winter 2014 quarter — our largest group ever. Five students have graduated and are now “National Security Journalism Specialists.”

A unique offering among journalism schools nationwide, the specialization gives students the opportunity to develop the skills, knowledge and hands-on reporting expertise needed to excel in covering some of the most crucial stories of our times – those affecting the national security of our country.

Potential stories range from increased use of drones to patrol U.S. borders and communities around the country and cybersecurity attacks on domestic infrastructure like oil pipelines to the refocusing of the military to the Asia Pacific region and the problems facing today’s veterans. Meet the specialists.

A few great how-to’s: Finding and crunching VA disability claims data; reporting tips from a military insider; primer on digital security

Records overflow

In one of our newest “NSZ 101″ how-to guides, we help get you started in your pursuit of good local, state, regional and national stories that are to be had in data about the enormous backlog of disability claims filed with the Veterans Benefits Administration.

If you’ve got basic Excel skills, get started here. And even if you don’t, you’ll find information and data that you can use from our expert, Shane Shifflett, a former member of the team a the Center for Investigative Reporting that has done top-notch work investigating the backlog.

Two more guides of note:

  • Nolan Peterson , a former special operations pilot and a combat veteran with multiple degrees in political science, French and journalism, offers his insights, suggestions and recommendations from an insider perspective on how to most effectively and successfully cover the military. → Read the story.

  • Meantime,  Frank Smyth, executive director of Global Journalist Security, discusses the ever-evolving security threats the journalists face each day. ”For any journalist dealing with any sensitive information and sources, digital safety is becoming an increasingly integral part of the practice of good journalism,” he says.

    His introductory guide can direct journalists on where to get more information and how to start bringing themselves up to speed. The field of digital safety remains daunting. Learning the concepts and skills needed to protect information and sources demands a personal commitment of what journalists value most: their energy and time.

    In another guide, Smith explores how to stay secure in hostile environments.