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Dec 04 2013

NSA’s fake talking points for the holidays

Apparently fearful that NSA employees might face critical comments and displeasure over the work they do from the families and friends when they got together over the Thanksgiving holidays, some higher ups at the NSA thoughtfully provided them with a set of talking points on how to defend working for an organization that has received such a black eye.

Kevin Gosztola has obtained the memo and does a thorough analysis of the claims and finds (surprise!) that it is full of falsehoods, including those that have already been widely debunked. Here’s his analysis of the first talking point.

“NSA programs protect Americans and our Allies,” the document reads. “As an example, they have helped to understand and disrupt 54 terrorist events since 9/11: 25 in Europe, 11 in Asia and 5 in Africa. Thirteen of those had a homeland nexus.”

Deputy Director John Inglis admitted in August during a Senate hearing, when pressed by Sen. Patrick Leahy, that US bulk records phone spying had been “critical” in stopping just one terrorist plot. He clarified that the spying on phone records had only “made a contribution” to discovering the 13 plots.

Sens. Ron Wyden, Mark Udall & Martin Heinrich, who filed a brief in support of an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) lawsuit challenging the collection of phone records of all Americans, explained the Executive Branch has defended the program by conflating it with “other foreign intelligence authorities.” The senators highlighted the fact that the collection under Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act had played “little or no role in most of these disruptions.”

“Indeed of the original fifty-four that the government pointed to, officials have only been able to describe two that involved materially useful information obtained through the bulk call-records program,” the senators added. “Even the two supposed success stories involved information that [the senators] believe—after repeated requests to the government for evidence to the contrary—could readily have been obtained without a database of all Americans’ call records.”

At this point, any intelligence agency leader, member of Congress or government official who highlights 54 “thwarted” plots is advancing propaganda to save the NSA from being forced into giving up this power to collect the phone records of all Americans.

I like the phrase ‘homeland nexus’. By that they mean to give the impression of the US but in reality this was revealed to include Canada and Mexico, in order to inflate the domestic threat numbers, and was part of the entire zombie lie about thwarting 54 plots.

When the NSA is so desperate that they cannot even make up new lies to justify its actions, you know they are in trouble, not only from the public but even from its own employees, many of whom are uncomfortable with what they are being tasked to do. As Gosztola concludes:

Sending these kinds of documents home with employees to share with family is emblematic of the insular culture of people who have committed their lives to Top Secret America and have placed themselves above criticism by any person, whether they be in the halls of power, a media organization or a civil society group in this country. And, while the talking points are for employees’ family members, they could also be for employees too.

Snowden told New York Times reporter James Risen, “There’s a lot of dissent—palpable with some, even,” inside the NSA. The NSA uses “fear and a false image of patriotism,” like “obedience to authority,” to keep employees from challenging anything happening internally.

The talking points—as well as another set of agency talking points journalist Jason Leopold obtained in October—represent the best efforts of intelligence community leaders to convince employees to keep deluding themselves with thoughts that what the agency does is all justified, legal and does not unnecessarily jeopardize any US person’s civil liberties.

It is from the ranks of these disaffected people that we can hope for future whistleblowers to emerge.

Christmas is coming. The NSA needs to come up with a better set of talking points for those family gatherings.

19 comments

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  1. 1
    Marcus Ranum

    In order to help you with your opinion, we’ve taken the time to write your opinion down for you, so that you know what it is.

  2. 2
    Chiroptera

    C’mon! These people work for the NSA! When your family asks you questions, just say, “I’m not allowed to talk about it.”

  3. 3
    doublereed

    Remember, NSA tries to cater to a lot of high-quality hackers and the like. Many of them subscribe to varieties of hacker ethic which is generally pretty libertarian. I would suspect that the lower NSA workers are far less comfortable with what they do in comparison to a place like the FBI.

  4. 4
    Marcus Ranum

    The NSA needs to come up with a better set of talking points for those family gatherings.

    Edward Snowden stole christmas! He was going to steal it last year but the NSA’s amazing intelligence-gathering capabilities prevented him from doing so. And the king really is wearing a secret suit of [CLASSIFIED: NOFORN] fabric that’s designed to show off his great big hair balls.

    OK it needs a little polishing but if anyone from the fox news branch of the pentagon is listening, my rates are affordable!!!!

  5. 5
    Marcus Ranum

    Yeah! They can always say “At least we’re not bombing babies in Pakistan like the CIA do!!” that’ll clear the moral high ground for them!

  6. 6
    Brandon

    Coincidentally, I have a good friend’s husband that works in the intelligence community and I’ve been having trouble wrapping my mind around how to not be rude about it all, given that I have the utmost contempt for what his industry is doing and the exorbitant amounts of money they’re spending to do it. That they’re literally instructed to just outright lie sort of highlights the pointlessness of doing anything other than just not discussing work at all.

  7. 7
    trucreep

    No need to be rude, especially if he is a typical employee of the IC. Save your contempt for the higher-ups ;]

  8. 8
    Brandon

    I’m disinclined to be rude at all, but it’s hard to take, “I was only following orders” as a valid excuse for thoroughly unconstitutional actions and squandering of wealth.

  9. 9
    doublereed

    The Intelligence Community is pretty massive. It’s really more of a higher-up thing, than your typical employee.

  10. 10
    Brandon

    I’m not sure how much I buy that people doing bad things and making lots of money doing it aren’t responsible for their own actions.

  11. 11
    Brandon

    Also, to be clear, it’s that very massiveness that I think is such a big problem. If the intelligence community wasn’t so gigantic, perhaps it’d be forced to focus on actual threats instead of blatantly illegal snooping.

  12. 12
    doublereed

    Typical employees are not necessarily doing bad, illegal, or unconstitutional things. I’m not exactly sure why you think they necessarily are.

    Secrecy is also pretty strictly enforced, with complacency resulting in you losing your job. It’s not up to the typical employee to determine if something should be Secret. There’s separation of duties for a lot of things. I’m not sure why you think every employee at the Department of State (which is a member of the IC) is some of Nazi Guard.

  13. 13
    doublereed

    Google “Members of the IC”, please. I don’t think you know who you are talking about.

    Most of the IC has very little to do with this, and frankly has their own things to worry about.

  14. 14
    Brandon

    The Washington Post reported in 2010 that there were 1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private companies in 10,000 locations in the United States that are working on counterterrorism, homeland security, and intelligence, and that the intelligence community as a whole includes 854,000 people holding top-secret clearances.[2] According to a 2008 study by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, private contractors make up 29% of the workforce in the U.S. intelligence community and cost the equivalent of 49% of their personnel budgets.[3]

    Oh my goodness. Is that supposed to make me feel better about the IC? I knew the IC was gigantic and wasteful, but that’s about an order of magnitude more gigantic and wasteful than I realized. Wow, I really do not like this industry.

  15. 15
    doublereed

    Look up the actual organizations. That includes people from the FBI, DoS, Army, Navy, Coast Guard, DoE. You’re not getting it. There’s a lot more ‘intelligence’ than just what the NSA or FBI does, and a lot of that isn’t illegal or unconstitutional.

    Some of it is trying to deal with drug smugglers and human trafficking. Some of it is trying to secure our critical infrastructure. Some of it is just being ambassadors. You’re acting incredibly silly and naive.

  16. 16
    Brandon

    That’s what I hear from nearly everyone that promotes the $80 billion plus industry that we seemed to do just fine with at a fraction of the size not all that long ago. That anyone that suggests we’re spending too much or that they’ve vastly outstripped reasonable bounds of authority is just naive and doesn’t understand how vital they all are to national interests, tossed in with some vague handwaving at “national security”. Meanwhile, scientific programs continue to atrophy, ostensibly because the government’s short on money. I have abject contempt for the handwaving and insistence that there’s no need to them to justify any sort of cost-benefit analysis applied to their work.

  17. 17
    doublereed

    What handwaving? You’re dodging the topic entirely!

    You’re the one that’s acting like every employee at the Department of Energy is a Nazi Guard complicit in crimes against humanity and can find out your personal information. You’re the one that came in here talking about how you couldn’t even have a non-rude conversation with a friend of yours because you’re so blind and naive. Don’t talk to me about “insistence” and being reasonable.

    I’m all for cost-benefit analysis and getting rid of bloating sectors of the government (well, not while we’re in recession). Fine, I never said anything about that. But don’t pretend that the coder who’s trying to make sure that SHA-3 is secure against the 51st Mersenne Prime is some evil conspirator.

  18. 18
    Reginald Selkirk

    This is off-topic, but I know it would interest you and you don’t appear to have a “contact” button:
    The Company Doe case

    In the fall of 2011, a company calling itself “Company Doe” sued the CPSC to keep a report about one of its products out of the database, and it also sought to litigate its case under seal and without revealing its name.

    Just yesterday (Oct 22) , the court released a decision granting Company Doe’s motion to seal crucial portions of the case and proceed under a pseudonym. The decision also granted judgment to Company Doe on the basis of nine months’ worth of proceedings conducted entirely in secret. Crucial portions of the decision discussing the facts are blacked out in the version released to the public, so it’s impossible to comprehend or assess the district court’s application of law to fact…

  19. 19
    Marcus Ranum

    Eventually, members of the US intelligence community are going to have to make the same arguments that members of the Waffen SS made: “We weren’t involved in those crimes against humanity” “we didn’t know” “we were the non-slaughter part of the SS”(say that to a Russian, I dare you!) etc. And history will probably not judge them particularly well, for exactly the same reasons.

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