Tom Gjelten

Tom Gjelten covers a wide variety of global security and economic issues for NPR News. He brings to that assignment many years covering international news from posts in Washington and around the world.

Gjelten's overseas reporting experience includes stints in Mexico City as NPR's Latin America correspondent from 1986 to 1990 and in Berlin as Central Europe correspondent from 1990 to 1994. During those years, he covered the wars in Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Colombia, as well as the Gulf War of 1990-1991 and the wars in Croatia and Bosnia.

With other NPR correspondents, Gjelten described the transitions to democracy and capitalism in Eastern Europe and the breakup of the Soviet Union. His reporting from Sarajevo from 1992 to 1994 was the basis for his book Sarajevo Daily: A City and Its Newspaper Under Siege (HarperCollins), praised by the New York Times as "a chilling portrayal of a city's slow murder." He is also the author of Professionalism in War Reporting: A Correspondent's View (Carnegie Corporation) and a contributor to Crimes of War: What the Public Should Know (W. W. Norton).

Prior to his current assignment, Gjelten covered U.S. diplomacy and military affairs, first from the State Department and then from the Pentagon. He was reporting live from the Pentagon at the moment it was hit on September 11, 2001, and he was NPR's lead Pentagon reporter during the war in Afghanistan and the invasion of Iraq. Gjelten has also reported extensively from Cuba in recent years, visiting the island more than a dozen times. His 2008 book, Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba: The Biography of a Cause (Viking), is a unique history of modern Cuba, told through the life and times of the Bacardi rum family. The New York Times selected it as a "Notable Nonfiction Book," and the Washington Post, Kansas City Star, and San Francisco Chronicle all listed it among their "Best Books of 2008."

Since joining NPR in 1982 as labor and education reporter, Gjelten has won numerous awards for his work. His 1992 series "From Marx to Markets," documenting the transition to market economics in Eastern Europe, won an Overseas Press Club award for "Best Business or Economic Reporting in Radio or TV." His coverage of the wars in the former Yugoslavia earned Gjelten the Overseas Press Club's Lowell Thomas Award, a George Polk Award and a Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award. He was part of the NPR teams that won an Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Silver Baton for Sept. 11 coverage and a George Foster Peabody Award for coverage of the war in Iraq. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

In addition to reporting for NPR, Gjelten is a regular panelist on the PBS program Washington Week and serves on the editorial board of World Affairs Journal. A graduate of the University of Minnesota, he began his professional career as a public school teacher and a freelance writer.

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National Security
11:39 am
Fri January 17, 2014

Obama Highlights Challenges Of Balancing Security, Liberty

Coverage of President Obama's speech about proposed changes for the National Security Agency continues with more of his comments, plus analysis.

National Security
4:15 am
Fri January 17, 2014

Obama To Announce Changes To NSA Surveillance

Originally published on Fri January 17, 2014 11:39 am

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning. President Obama today is set to announce the changes he would like to make in the way the National Security Agency keeps track of Americans and foreigners. He will speak at the Justice Department, six months after former NSA contractor Edward Snowden prompted a fierce debate in this country and abroad by exposing previously secret NSA surveillance programs.

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National Security
3:11 pm
Wed January 15, 2014

Senate Committee Lays Blame For Benghazi With State Department

Originally published on Wed January 15, 2014 5:44 pm

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The Senate Intelligence Committee today delivered its analysis of the 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya. Four Americans were killed in that attack, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens. It's a bipartisan report. Democrats and Republicans on the committee agreed, among other things, that the attack might have been prevented if the State Department had taken better precautions at the Benghazi post.

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National Security
2:56 am
Mon January 13, 2014

Surveillance Controversy: NSA Versus Tech Companies

Originally published on Mon January 13, 2014 10:18 am

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

President Obama is expected to announce Friday how he wants to reform surveillance programs run by the National Security Agency. Those previously secret programs were exposed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. American technology companies are among those pushing hardest for change. Having been caught up in the surveillance controversy, they are braced for battle. NPR's Tom Gjelten dubs that battle the NSA versus the techs.

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National Security
4:04 am
Thu January 2, 2014

Is U.S. Ready Rethink Sept. 11 Security Policies?

Originally published on Thu January 2, 2014 5:52 am

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And I'm David Greene. Good morning. President Obama says he will soon propose changes at the National Security Agency. Former contractor Edward Snowden's disclosure of NSA surveillance programs widespread criticism and prompted a review of the agency's operations by Congress, the courts, and the White House. NPR's Tom Gjelten looks at whether the country is now at a turning point, ready to rethink the security policies in place since 9/11.

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National Security
2:21 pm
Fri December 27, 2013

U.S. Judge Says NSA Phone Data Program Is Legal, Valuable

Originally published on Fri December 27, 2013 5:15 pm

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel. A stunning court disagreement today over the National Security Agency's mass collection of telephone records. Just one week after a D.C. federal judge found it unconstitutional, New York federal Judge William Pauley determined concluded the opposite. The program, he says, is lawful. The conflicting opinions came in response to two challenges to the NSA's phone data collection.

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National Security
2:43 pm
Tue December 17, 2013

Snowden's Document Leaks Shocked The NSA, And More May Be On The Way

Originally published on Tue December 17, 2013 10:31 pm

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

That lawsuit over NSA surveillance would likely never have happened if former NSA contractor Edward Snowden hadn't leaked classified documents that showed what the agency was doing. Snowden also revealed that the U.S. government was monitoring the communications of foreign leaders, among other secret activities. Intelligence officials say they're still coping with the ramifications of all these unauthorized disclosures.

NPR's Tom Gjelten has been covering the Snowden leaks since they became known in June, and he joins me now.

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Middle East
4:56 pm
Fri December 13, 2013

U.S. Reassesses Relationship With Rebel Groups In Syria

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

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Middle East
3:03 am
Wed December 4, 2013

Iran's Nuclear Deal Faces Big Test

Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency are scheduled to visit Iran's heavy-water reactor in the city of Arak on Sunday as part of an international deal on the country's nuclear program.
Hamid Forutan EPA/Landov

Originally published on Wed December 4, 2013 12:39 pm

The nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers will face its first test this weekend. Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency are due to make a long-delayed visit to a nuclear site in Iran where plutonium could be produced.

A nuclear reactor and associated production plant in Arak are a special concern because plutonium can be used in a nuclear bomb. Under last month's accord, Iran promised to allow inspections of its nuclear facilities.

Officials on both sides say they are committed to the nuclear deal, but keeping it on track will be a challenge.

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World
2:32 pm
Mon November 25, 2013

Long Road Ahead For Permanent Iran Nuclear Deal To Be Reached

Originally published on Mon November 25, 2013 4:05 pm

The Obama administration says one of the most important gains in the Iran nuclear deal is that it will buy time for negotiations on a more permanent agreement. If no such agreement is reached, sanctions that have been suspended could be re-imposed. But analysts say the obstacles to a final agreement are still huge, and it may not be easy to regain the leverage that sanctions have achieved so far.

All Tech Considered
2:32 am
Wed November 20, 2013

Profit, Not Just Principle, Has Tech Firms Concerned With NSA

Google and five other companies sent a letter last month to members of the Senate Judiciary Committee supporting legislation to reform NSA surveillance programs.
Marcio Jose Sanchez AP

Originally published on Thu December 12, 2013 10:51 am

Along with the privacy advocates and the national security establishment, there is another set of players with strong views on NSA surveillance programs: U.S. tech companies.

Google and five other companies weighed in on the surveillance debate last month, sending a letter to members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, supporting legislation to reform National Security Agency surveillance programs.

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All Tech Considered
12:54 am
Tue November 19, 2013

Technology Outpacing Policymakers, Needs Of NSA

Gen. Keith Alexander is director of the National Security Agency, whose duty, his office has said, "requires us to attempt to collect terrorist communications wherever they traverse global infrastructure."
Evan Vucci AP

Originally published on Tue November 19, 2013 4:15 am

The controversy over the National Security Agency's surveillance programs has exposed a problem in the oversight of those programs: The development of the relevant technology has outpaced the laws and policies that govern its use.

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The Two-Way
2:25 pm
Fri November 15, 2013

U.S. Tech Firms May Be Feeling Bite From NSA Spying Reports

Recent disclosures about NSA surveillance have affected U.S. relations with allies and tainted America's image around the world. Now the fallout seems to be creeping into the U.S. tech sector.

Cisco Systems, which manufactures network equipment, posted disappointing first-quarter numbers this week and warned that revenues for the current quarter could drop as much as 10 percent from a year ago — partly as a consequence of the NSA revelations.

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The Two-Way
4:08 pm
Wed November 13, 2013

Intelligence Officials Aim To Pre-Empt More Surveillance Leaks

U.S. Army Gen. Keith Alexander, director of the National Security Agency and commander of U.S. Cyber Command, speaks during a conference at the Ronald Reagan Building, in October.
Mark Wilson Getty Images

Originally published on Wed November 13, 2013 4:12 pm

NSA officials are bracing for more surveillance disclosures from the documents taken by former contractor Edward Snowden — and they want to get out in front of the story.

In a recent speech, NSA Director Keith Alexander said Snowden may have taken as many as 200,000 NSA documents with him when he left his post in Hawaii. If so, the vast majority of them have yet to be released.

Intelligence officials tell NPR they believe Snowden's secrets fall into four categories:

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National Security
3:07 pm
Wed November 13, 2013

Who Gets The Blame For NSA Spying? NSA Says Not Us

Originally published on Wed November 13, 2013 6:01 pm

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Over at the NSA, officials say they welcome the president's policy review on surveillance. But they and other intelligence leaders bristle at the idea that they've overstepped their bounds in gathering information, both here and abroad. For months, the NSA has been on the defensive as a result of the Snowden disclosures.

NPR's Tom Gjelten says the agency is now trying to get out in front of the story.

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NPR Story
4:01 pm
Wed October 23, 2013

Partisan Squabbles Raise Questions Over U.S. Global Influence

The U.S. Capitol is shown at sunset on Oct. 15, the 15th day of a government shutdown that some analysts say damaged the U.S. reputation worldwide.
Win McNamee Getty Images

Originally published on Wed October 23, 2013 5:39 pm

The U.S. performance on the global stage has looked a little rocky in the past few weeks.

The Obama administration had to let Russia take a lead in managing the security challenge in Syria. The United States was also embarrassed when allies like Germany, France and Brazil reacted angrily to the news that the National Security Agency had monitored their leaders' communications.

Finally, the government shutdown and the congressional fight over the debt ceiling prompted critical comments about U.S. political dysfunction.

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Parallels
4:12 am
Sun October 20, 2013

You Have Questions About The NSA; We Have Answers

A sign outside the National Security Agency campus in Fort Meade, Md.
Patrick Semansky AP

Originally published on Sun October 20, 2013 2:48 pm

Four months have passed since former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden began spilling secrets about the NSA's surveillance programs, but many Americans still don't know what to think about the disclosures.

For good reason. The surveillance programs are highly technical, involving the bulk interception of huge volumes of communication data as they traverse multiple links and networks. The laws governing what the NSA can do are complex and open to conflicting interpretations.

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Parallels
12:56 am
Wed October 16, 2013

Are We Moving To A World With More Online Surveillance?

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff was angered by reports that the National Security Agency was spying on her. She has called for giving individual countries greater control over the Internet.
Getty Images

Originally published on Wed October 16, 2013 9:04 am

Many governments around the world have expressed outrage over the National Security Agency's use of the Internet as a spying platform. But the possible response may have an unforeseen consequence: It may actually lead to more online surveillance, according to Internet experts.

Some governments, led most recently by Brazil, have reacted to recent disclosures about NSA surveillance by proposing a redesign of Internet architecture. The goal would be to give governments more control over how the Internet operates within their own borders.

Read more
Africa
5:57 am
Sat September 28, 2013

Al-Shabab Shifts Focus From Territory To Terrorism

Originally published on Sat September 28, 2013 2:05 pm

Al-Shabab has been around for years as a militia group fighting for territory in Somalia.

When al-Shabab militants, dressed in casual clothes, turned up in a ritzy shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya, last weekend and gunned down men, women and children, the group shifted from an insurgent movement to a terrorist organization.

"A week ago, al-Shabab wasn't in the news," says Bruce Hoffman, a a terrorism expert at Georgetown University and the Rand Corporation. "Arguably, outside of Somalia, no one really cared about them."

Read more
National Security
2:34 pm
Fri September 20, 2013

The Effects Of The Snowden Leaks Aren't What He Intended

Edward Snowden's leaks about the NSA's secret surveillance program have pushed the agency to expedite planned reforms ahead of schedule, according to NSA officials.
Maxim Shemetov Reuters/Landov

Originally published on Fri September 20, 2013 3:24 pm

An official assessment of the damage caused by news leaks about government surveillance programs suggests that terrorist groups are changing their communication methods in response to the disclosures, according to officials at the National Security Agency.

Read more
National Security
1:19 am
Wed September 18, 2013

Officials: Edward Snowden's Leaks Were Masked By Job Duties

Government officials tell NPR that Edward Snowden's job responsibilities allowed him to copy sensitive files unnoticed.
Maxim Shemetov Reuters /Landov

Originally published on Wed September 18, 2013 8:58 am

More than three months after Edward Snowden revealed details of NSA secret surveillance activities, intelligence officials are still assessing the fallout from the former contractor's disclosures. But they already know how the leaks happened.

"We have an extremely good idea of exactly what data he got access to and how exactly he got access to it," says the NSA's chief technology officer, Lonny Anderson.

In interviews with NPR, two government officials shared that part of the Snowden story in one of the most detailed discussions of the episode to date.

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Technology
2:55 pm
Fri August 30, 2013

Firms Brace For Possible Retaliatory Cyberattacks From Syria

With the possibility of a strike on Syrian targets, U.S. firms are trying to protect themselves from cyberattacks that may follow.
iStockphoto.com

Originally published on Fri August 30, 2013 7:18 pm

The prospect of a military strike against Syria in the next few days has private U.S. firms bracing for retaliation — in cyberspace.

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National Security
2:51 pm
Thu August 29, 2013

Leaked Documents Reveal Budget Breakdown Between CIA, NSA

Originally published on Thu August 29, 2013 4:01 pm

Details of the top secret budget of U.S. intelligence agencies have been made public — revealing not only that the nation spends more than $50 billion a year on intelligence but also some detail about how that money is spent. The Washington Post published excerpts of a 2013 budget justification obtained from the former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden. In the past, the total amount spent on intelligence has been declassified by the U.S. government. The document reveals not only which agency spends the money but also what missions are top priority.

Middle East
2:59 am
Wed August 28, 2013

Proposed Strikes Against Syria May Have Too Narrow A Purpose

Originally published on Wed August 28, 2013 10:33 am

Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. Good morning. I'm David Greene.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

A possible strike on Syria could move closer to reality today.

GREENE: British Prime Minister David Cameron announced that the U.K. will put a resolution before the U.N. Security Council, quote, "authorizing necessary measures to protect civilians caught up in the civil war there."

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Middle East
3:01 pm
Fri August 23, 2013

Did Publicizing The Terror Alert In Yemen Help?

Originally published on Fri August 23, 2013 7:12 pm

The partial reopening of the U.S. Embassy in Yemen, which was the focus of a recent terror alert, suggests that the immediate threat of a terrorist attack has passed. Officials cannot be certain whether the alert disrupted planning for a possible attack, whether the threat was a bluff or whether the intelligence that led to the alert was flawed. The issuance of warnings is a specialty within the intelligence community, but the recent episode underscores how much uncertainty surrounds the field.

National Security
2:49 am
Thu August 22, 2013

FISA Court: NSA Surveillance Program Was Unconstitutional

Originally published on Thu August 22, 2013 10:43 am

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And I'm David Greene. Good morning.

Read more
National Security
3:03 pm
Fri August 16, 2013

NSA Accused Of Repeatedly Violating Privacy Rules

Originally published on Fri August 16, 2013 4:22 pm

Documents released to the Washington Post by former National Security Agency analyst Edward Snowden show the agency overstepped privacy rules.

All Tech Considered
12:57 am
Thu August 15, 2013

The Next Disaster Scenario Power Companies Are Preparing For

Part of the Robert Moses Niagara Power Plant in Lewiston, N.Y., is seen from the air on Aug. 14, 2003, during a massive power outage that stretched from New York to Detroit and into Canada.
David Duprey AP

Originally published on Thu August 15, 2013 6:49 am

In the 10 years since sagging power lines in Ohio sparked a blackout across much of the Northeastern United States and Canada, utility engineers say they have implemented measures to prevent another such event in the country's electric grid.

But there is one disaster scenario for which the power companies are still unprepared: a massive attack on the computer networks that underlie the U.S. electric grid.

Read more
News
3:43 am
Sun July 28, 2013

Which Citizens Are Under More Surveillance, U.S. Or European?

Protesters demonstrate against alleged NSA surveillance in Germany during a rally in Hannover, Germany, on Saturday.
Peter Steffen AP

Originally published on Sun July 28, 2013 10:31 am

The disclosure of of previously secret NSA surveillance programs has been met by outrage in Europe. The European Parliament even threatened to delay trade talks with the United States.

Read more
National Security
3:42 am
Fri July 19, 2013

U.S. Worries NSA Leaker's Files Could Be Hacked

Originally published on Fri July 19, 2013 4:00 am

The Russian lawyer for NSA leaker Edward Snowden predicts his client will soon get temporary asylum in Russia. Snowden and his allies say his laptops contain files that could be highly damaging to NSA operations. Security experts say it would be challenging but by no means impossible for Russian (or Chinese) cyber technicians to gain access to the files Snowden has with him, in spite of his promises to safeguard them.

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