NSA Recruiters Peppered With Tough Questions by University of Wisconsin Students

NSA recruitment flyerMadiha R. Tahir/NSAThe NSA may have an easier time finding new Edward Snowdens than dutiful communications-sniffers if a recruiting session gone ... not wrong, but interesting, at the University of Wisconsin is anything to go by. The session was recorded on an iPhone by one attendee and the transcript and recording published by Madiha R. Tahir, a journalist who is spending the summer "studying a language" at the university. In a blog post on the recruiting session, which quickly turned into a Q&A featuring a series of pointed questions targeted at the NSA recruiters, Tahir's description of the give and take reveals a great deal of not just skepticism, but open hostility, toward the spy agency among the attendees.

Writes Tahir:

I had intended to go simply to hear how the NSA is recruiting at a moment when it’s facing severe challenges, what with the Edward Snowden and all. Dismayingly, however, a local high school teacher had thought it was good to bring 5 of his students to the session. They were smartly dressed, some of them even wearing ties as if there might be a job interview, young faces in a classroom of graduate students. They sat across from me at the roundtable. It was really their presence that goaded me–and I think a couple of other students–into an interaction with the recruiters.

The session with recruiters, described by Tahir as "a redhead who looked more like a middle-aged mother (listed as “NSA_F” below) and a portly, balding man (“NSA_M”)" quickly gets heated.

Part of the transcribed conversation is below:

Me: You said earlier that the two tasks that you do: one is tracking down the communications of your adversaries and the other is protecting the communications of officials. So, do you consider Germany and the countries the US has been spying on to be adversaries or are you, right now, not speaking the truth?

Me: I mean do you consider European countries, etc, adversaries or are you, right now, not telling us the truth and lying when you say that actually you simply track – you keep focusing on that, but clearly the NSA is doing a lot more than that, as we know, so I’m just asking for a clarification.

NSA_F: I’m focusing on what our foreign intelligence requires of [garbled] so, I mean you know, You can define adversary as enemy and clearly, Germany is not our enemy but would we have foreign
national interest from an intelligence perspective on what’s going on across the globe. Yeah, we do. That’s our requirements that come to us as an intelligence community organization from the policymakers, from the military, from whoever –our global so–

Me: So adversary –adversaries you actually mean anybody and everybody. There’s nobody then by your definition that is not an adversary. Is that correct?

NSA_F: That is not correct.

Me: Who is not an adversary?

NSA_F: Well, ok. I can answer your questions but the reality is—

Me: No, I’m just trying to get a clarification because you told us what the two nodes of your work are but it’s not clear to me what that encompasses and you’re being fairly unclear at the moment. Apparently it’s somebody who’s not just an enemy. It’s something broader than that. And yet, it doesn’t seem to encompass everyone.

NSA_M: So for us, umm, our business is apolitical. Ok. We do not generate the intelligence requirements. They are levied on us so, if there is a requirement for foreign intelligence concerning this issue or this region or whatever then that is. If you wanna use the word adversary, you ca– we might use the word ‘target.’ That is what we are going after. That is the intelligence target that we are going after because we were given that requirement. Whether that’s adversary in a global war on terrorism sense or adversary in terms of national security interests or whatever – that’s for policymakers, I guess to make that determination. We respond to the requirements we are given, if that helps. And there’s a separation. As language analysts, we work on the SIG INT side of the house. We don’t really work on the information assurance (?) side of the house. That’s the guy setting up, protecting our communications.

Me: I’m just surprised that for language analysts, you’re incredibly imprecise with your language. And it just doesn’t seem to be clear. So, adversary is basically what any of your so-called “customers” as you call them –which is also a strange term to use for a government agency– decide if anybody wants, any part of the government wants something about some country, suddenly they are now internally considered or termed an ‘adversary.’ That’s what you seem to be saying.

[Pause]

NSA_M: I’m saying you can think about it using that term.

Tahir points out something that has bothered me since the beginning of the series of revelations about the scope of domestic surveillance: the reliance on the word "legal" as a justification for every intrusion into the nooks and crannies of our lives. Tahir says, "What is legal is not just." I would add that "legal" just means that politicians have gone through channels to give themselves permission to do what they want to do.

See Tahir's full post here and listen to the recording below.

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  • Auric Demonocles||

    "a redhead who looked more like a middle-aged mother (listed as “NSA_F” below

    Consider me recruited.

  • wareagle||

    NSA guy: who did you vote for?

    Student: Obama, of course.

    NSA: then fuck you, that's why.

    Second Student: But I voted for someone else.

    NSA: same answer still applies. Any more questions?

  • Spiny Norman||

    I initially misread the title as "NSA Recruiters Pepper-Sprayed," which would have been a lot funnier.

  • Outlaw||

    "And you're audited! And you're audited! And you're getting an audit! And you get one too! Everyone's getting an audit!"

  • John C. Randolph||

    "If I join the NSA, exactly what laws will I be authorized to violate?"

    "Does the NSA obey any part of the constitution at all?"

    "Since your agency's activities are illegal, isn't it the duty of anyone who's taken an oath to "preserve, protect, and defend the constitution from all enemies, foreign and domestic" to arrest you?"

    -jcr

  • ||

    "How do you sleep at night?"

  • Outlaw||

    Once they laid their eyes on your terrible countenance, they would never sleep again.

  • Swiss Servator - past LTC(ret)||

    What if they make their sanity roll?

  • Brett L||

    Minimum 21 on a D20.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    I use my Wisdom modifier as Sanity Resistance and easily score a 25.

    Then the rest of my party fails their sanity rolls and cannibalizes me.

  • itsnotmeitsyou||

    Not even a natural 20 would be a "success" on that sanity roll. There is no saving throw.

  • Raston Bot||

    Is that a beholder reference?

  • itsnotmeitsyou||

    Psh, Beholders have to make saving throws vs Warty. Not that it does them any good, though.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    If a creature has an Intelligence score of 1 or higher, Warty automatically inflicts an insanity effect on them when they glimpse his true form.

  • itsnotmeitsyou||

    Living things with no intelligence merely wither and turn to dust in the presence of his true form.

  • ||

    NERDS! now, are they wood nerds, or cool Drow....

  • Brett L||

    "Nobody is the bad guy in their own story."

    Well, except for Epi.

  • Drake||

    "How much did you get for your soul?"

  • ||

    Student: "Please, Agent Ceiling Cat, cite the provision in the Constitution of the United States that authorizes the federal government to conduct domestic surveillance."

    Agent Ceiling Cat: "Now, let's be clear, the reality is a lot more complex and..."

    Student: "You're a recruiter for an illegitimate organization that's one of the many iron hammers of an increasingly tyrannical, oppressive government, and you're basically trying to sell the virtues of a police state to us. Give us a single reason anybody in this room would disgrace and dishonor ourselves, our neighbors, and our country by ever associating with paranoid, power-hungry fuckheads like you and your retard bosses."

    That would have made a funner recruiting session.

  • Raston Bot||

    Student A: I don’t understand what’s wrong with having some accountability.

    NSA_F: We have complete accountability and there is absolutely nothing that we can or have done without approval of the 3 branches of the government. The programs that we’re enacting–

    Student B: Did you read the NY Times? Did you read about the illegal wiretapping? Why are you lying?

    NSA_M: Did you read the Senate judiciary report that said there have only been 15 (?) instances, and they were all documented and done correctly by the FISA courts–

    Student B: I’d love to read the opinion of the FISA court that says that this program one of the NSA’s programs was violating the 4th amendment right of massive amounts of Americans, but it’s a big ‘ol secret and only people like you who will not talk with their wives when they get home about what they do all day are able to…[garbled]…protecting us from the ‘terrorist threat’, but let’s let everyone here hear more information about karaoke.

  • wareagle||

    Tahir points out something that has bothered me since the beginning of the series of revelations about the scope of domestic surveillance: the reliance on the word "legal" as a justification for every intrusion into the nooks and crannies of our lives.

    leftards use that justification, too, and given a fairly strong suspicion that these suddenly curious students pulled the lever for the incumbent twice, I'm finding it difficult to suddenly see them as warriors for liberty.

  • Raston Bot||

    Regular voting's a big enough pain in the ass. These are partying students in cold ass Wisconsin who now have to figure out how to absentee vote? I doubt they pulled the lever for anyone.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    Everything that is legal is moral. The law IS morality.

    Now be a good citizen help return those negro slaves to captivity.

  • Ornithorhynchus||

    I figure most current students were only old enough to vote for Obama the second time.

  • ChrisO||

    If you wanna use the word adversary, you ca– we might use the word ‘target.’ That is what we are going after. That is the intelligence target that we are going after because we were given that requirement.

    So, in other words, they'll do whatever the White House tells them to, no questions asked. They're just following orders.

  • Tim||

    "Ok. We do not generate the intelligence requirements. They are levied on us so..."

    They are only following orders.

  • plusafdotcom||

    They're spying on people all around the world, not killing them in Gulags or concentration camps...

  • paranoid android||

    I want to make the obligatory Nazi analogy, but I'm really just too disgusted.

  • plusafdotcom||

    And as an NSA employee, have you stopped beating your spouse?
    Around the 9:00 mark, it's pretty clear that there is no possible "acceptable answer" in her mind.

    Very "unbiased" and "objective".... Not!

  • plusafdotcom||

    10:06 or so... Shit, if you don't like what the NSA is doing, FIRE THEIR FUCKING CUSTOMERS... who are their customers? DOD? White House? Congress? Jeez..

  • plusafdotcom||

    "Ok. We do not generate the intelligence requirements. They are levied on us so..."

    They are only following orders.

    They're spying on people all around the world, not killing them in Gulags or concentration camps...

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