NSA Official: Reform the First Amendment, Not the NSA

Credit: US GovtCredit: US GovtWhat's it like inside the National Security Agency (NSA) headquarters? One journalist recently got access to the shadowy and controversy-laden agency for a day. He discovered a range of issues within the NSA's walls, from their own hurdles to the ominous desires of some officials.

As part of an effort to improve its public relations, the NSA allowed Foreign Policy contributing editor and international politics professor Daniel Drezner to tour the Fort Meade, Maryland compound. Drezner at times paints an almost sympathetic account of some of the agency's graceless behavior and statements, explaining that the NSA seems unaware that the immediate post-9/11 willingness to compromise personal freedom for national security has worn away. As if the briefing room were the stage for some kind of tragicomedy, Drezner highlights “faded banners” that hang on the walls, proclaiming the NSA's ostensible mission to “protect privacy rights.”

He also explains the problems the NSA has encountered since its former contractor Edward Snowden revealed how massive their meta-data collection program is:

For one thing, they were upfront in acknowledging the damage that Snowden had wreaked on agency morale and recruitment. Applications to work at the NSA are down by more than one third, and retention rates have also declined... Traditionally, when analysts joined the NSA, they joined for life. This is changing, and not for the better from the NSA's perspective.

Apparently, the post-Snowden era also comes with more rigorous internal checks. The NSA used to subject its employees to lie detector tests once every five years. Now, they plan to issue several tests per year.

In some aspects, the agency is far from sympathetic and outright alarming. "I have some reforms for the First Amendment,” an unnamed official told Drezner, confiding his wish that the Obama administration would reprimand journalists who he believes have wrongly portrayed the agency.

Whether or not the official spoke in jest when he suggested the NSA more robustly trample on citizens' rights, Drezner says he does not know. “Either way,” he asserts, “it's not funny.”

Mike Masnick of TechDirt offers his opinion on the cringe-worthy statement about repressing free speech. “Given everything that's going on,” pointing broadly toward the seemingly endless stream of controversy that the agency has found itself paddling up this year, he believes “that seems like something you should not joke about if you're an NSA person.”

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  • ||

    that seems like something you should not joke about if you're an NSA person

    I'd bet you a million dollars they weren't joking.

  • Mainer2||

    Anyone watch NCIS ? They have a new character, a cute, but quirky blonde that Gibbs brought over from the NSA. My wife thinks I'm crazy, but a sympathetic portrayal of an NSA operative just can't be a coincidence. Or should I get fitted for my tinfoil hat ?

  • tarran||

    Dude. The TV industry inserted anti-drug themes into their shows in exchange for govt money. Why wouldn't they similarly sell out to the national security apparatchiks?

  • itsnotmeitsyou||

    You're not crazy. I drove my wife nuts during that episode where they introduced her. It was nothing but a fluff piece for the NSA. "Look how cool it is to work here. We're really just like a hip startup with our open workspaces and young attractive workforce"

    It was literally rage inducing. It's a CBS show, so it's not at all surprising. It was worse than the product placement in Bones.

  • Mainer2||

    Thank you for confirming my perception.

    So do they actually get paid ? Or is the quid pro quo more subtle ? What does someone from the government say to a network exec to nudge them in the right direction.

  • itsnotmeitsyou||

    I have no idea if the execs get paid. It wouldn't surprise me. It also wouldn't surprise me to find out that they actively engaged the NSA and offered them unlimited blowjobs. It still wouldn't surprise me to find out that the NSA showed them a few tactical pictures and "asked" to be fluffed.

    The one thing that would surprise me is if they actually needed any nudging other than some money.

  • entropy||

    That show is still on the air and making new episodes?

    It ain't terrible but damn what season are they on, 43?

  • itsnotmeitsyou||

    yup, It's still a very highly rated show, too. It consistently is in the top 10.

  • Mainer2||

    The show itself is standard isssue cop drama. Must be lots of women of a certain age still lusting after that dreamy Mark Harmon.

  • Invisible Finger||

    You have to be naive to stomach NCIS in the first place.

  • GILMORE||

    Zenon - if that IS your real name - ... someone SugarFreed the FP link to Drezner's piece.

    Don't worry, its probably FP's fault. Their new website is a disaster covered in a nightmare with a horrifying design-sauce spread on top.

  • GILMORE||

    No, seriously =

    http://www.foreignpolicy.com/

    Go here and try and tell me how the hell you find anything in that godawful mess. Its even more appalling in IE9. Its just a self-parody of crappy web design.

    This is the thing here?

    http://www.foreignpolicy.com/a.....at_the_NSA

  • Rich||

    Word. I thought the thing had killed my browser at first.

  • GILMORE||

    They invented like 12 *new* ways to fuck up a website. *State-of-the-art* SHIT.

    I tell you = only a bunch of post-graduate academics can REALLY botch something up that horribly.

  • Loki||

    only a bunch of post-graduate academics can REALLY botch something up that horribly

    Or government IT contractors

  • wwhorton||

    Or the Washington Post Company, who bought it a few years ago, shelved Moises Naim, and converted it from a pretty decent policy journal into the Time Magazine of international relations, complete with 20-page ad inserts.

  • GILMORE||

    Best explanation I've heard so far.

    I started reading it about 8 years ago and there was a noticeable decline around the time Obama was elected.

  • ||

    His real name is Xenu but he changed it because he was afraid of what the Scientologists might do. Plus all those people he dumped into the volcanoes in Hawaii might want to sue him.

  • GILMORE||

    I thought the joke was that his (ITS?) middle name is Tetrafloride

  • ||

    That's just another one of his aliases. He is an intergalactic warlord and criminal, after all. He needs multiple identities.

  • GILMORE||

    Or that ITS next post will be,

    YOUR PLANET WILL BE DESTROYED IN 16 OF YOUR EARTH HOURS. ZENON HAS SPOKEN

  • ||

    Thanks for catching that. The link has been changed

    ... my alias remains.

  • some guy||

    I'll bet it's pronounced like the brand name "Mennen" and not like the noble gas "Xenon". Am I right?

  • GILMORE||

    THERE IS NO COMPARABLE SOUND IN EARTH-SPEAK BUT THE MATING CALL OF YOUR "Rhinocerous" PROVIDES A SUITABLE REPLACEMENT

  • ||

    This is correct.

  • GILMORE||

  • Sevo||

    ..."Now, they plan to issue several [lie detector] tests per year."...

    Hey, why not hire a witch-doctor? Cheaper and every bit as reliable!
    We pay for crap like this?

  • Knarf Yenrab (prev. An0nB0t)||

    We pay so that armed men don't kick down our doors or otherwise do the things they do to tax evaders.

    Where the protection money goes after it's left our pockets is all on them.

  • Homple||

    ^^Knarf deserves the Nobel Prize in economics for this condensed and penetrating analysis of taxation.

  • Knarf Yenrab (prev. An0nB0t)||

    Not a great idea, as I would just reiterate Hayek's condensed and penetrating acceptance speech, which would embarrass everyone but me and all of the other beyond-giving-a-shit libertarians past the age of 30.

  • Enough About Palin||

    It wouldn't surprise me were I to learn that all unnamed NSA officials fuck sheep.

  • Rich||

    Since Snowden has "literally everything", you may soon find that confirmed.

  • Paul.||

    For one thing, they were upfront in acknowledging the damage that Snowden had wreaked on agency morale and recruitment.

    Good.

    Applications to work at the NSA are down by more than one third, and retention rates have also declined... Traditionally, when analysts joined the NSA, they joined for life. This is changing, and not for the better from the NSA's perspective.

    Good.

  • Marc F Cheney||

    That reminds me: Snowden is the greatest patriot of his generation. Possibly the two or three before that, too.

    I hope the next generation offers someone--nay, some thousands--of his caliber.

  • Cliché Bandit||

    I have many a friend who are good smart people who claim he should burn in hellfire for his treason.

    I am unable to fix it.

  • Invisible Finger||

    Those friends sound good and smart like Paul Krugman is good and smart.

  • Loki||

    I wonder how many of them would feel that way if he had done this while a Rethuglikkkan was in the white house?

    I am unable to fix it.

    You can't fix stupid.

  • wwhorton||

    Don't feel bad, my aunt is one of those people. She's worked for the federal government for so long that she's passed right through bitter disillusionment and come out the other side.

  • Invisible Finger||

    There isn't any internal trust anymore. And I'm pretty sure Snowden saw such self-destructive paranoia the entire time he worked there. All he did was give it a little kick-start like a Slinky.

    Hopefully there's budding Snowdens in the FBI, DEA, BATF, etc.

  • Rich||

    when analysts joined the NSA, they joined for life.

    This has more than one interpretation.

  • Rufus J. Fisk||

    That NSA building may one day be a target for McVeigh type men. This time no one will be outraged.

  • Raven Nation||

    I'm sure there will be a steady stream of statists (left, right, & in the media) who would condemn a bombing of the NSA building as an attack on innocent civil servants by hate-filled conservative/libertarian types.

  • Drake||

    I'm going to guess that the guts of that building is so deep and so armored that a truck bomb wouldn't interrupt their important work.

  • tarran||

    A small Apollo asteroid on a steep trajectory should do the trick nicely.

  • General Butt Naked||

    They could hurl moon rocks at it.

  • Gray Ghost||

    That NSA building may one day be a target for McVeigh type men.

    Good luck, they'll need it. Have you seen how big and well protected Fort Meade is? If they were able to get a truck bomb within a mile of the headquarters building, I'd be surprised.

  • Bill Dalasio||

    Really, all of this is symptomatic of a dysfunctional culture. They're collecting huge amounts of information that is wildly subject to abuse. That they would look at concerns about this from the perspective of victimhood doesn't bode well for their organization. That they look at Snowden or the media as the problem, rather than the potential for abuse, suggests that they're setting themselves up for just more problems in the future. Of course when the very top of the intelligence establishment is an admitted perjurer, that might also be an indication of potential problems.

  • John||

    Yes all of that and more. And further, they are seeing themselves as victims and having an emotional reaction to this because they have no rational defense for what they are doing.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    WAR ON SIGINT!

  • Rich||

    they have no rational defense for what they are doing.

    Sure they do, John: "It's in our Mission Statement *and* our Corporate Vision!"

  • Bill Dalasio||

    But an NSA with a strong culture could easily enough treat this as a challenge and opportunity. Most of the public wants the government spying on the bad guys. An NSA with a strong culture could position itself as doing that and look for ways to address privacy concerns. It could push a narrative (a not-entirely-incorrect one) about not wasting resources on looking at good, loyal, patriotic Americans.

  • Homple||

    No bureaucracy will ever have a culture strong enough to curb its natural predilection for out-of-control growth of its reach and power.

    Imagine a school of sharks with a culture strong enough to become vegetarians and you will imagine a bureaucracy that could behave as Mr. Dalasio wishes.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    "I have some reforms for the First Amendment,” an unnamed official told Drezner, confiding his wish that the Obama administration would reprimand journalists who he believes have wrongly portrayed the agency.

    Whether or not the official spoke in jest when he suggested the NSA more robustly trample on citizens' rights, Drezner says he does not know. “Either way,” he asserts, “it's not funny.”

    Haha, just so "unnamed official" understands I am not joshing when I say I want to see him hanging by his heels from a lamppost.

  • Drake||

    Funny how they lose public and political support every time somebody from that agency says anything.

    Without most Americans paying attention, we have created our own NKVD - who expect their actions to be popular with us.

  • Andrew S.||

    Sometimes I miss the days when the masks were still worn. I was less angry then. I mean, I knew what was behind the masks, but it just felt less infuriating.

  • Almanian!||

    Yeah - this. I thought it would better when the mask slipped. But I'm just even angier.

    Sad face :(

  • Invisible Finger||

    Anger is good when directed appropriately.

  • AdamJ||

    Me too. So infuriating. Maybe we thought after everyone knew, they would be so outraged that it would have to stop. Like there could be no batman after everyone knew he was just Bruce Wayne with a bunch of toys.
    Problem is, he still has all the toys.

  • Loki||

    Part of the problem is that I always assumed that once the mask did slip, more people would be as pissed as me. Instead, it barely gets a shrug out of most people.

    "Meh, so what if the government's spying on all of us? Terrists, yo, and besides... Ooh! Shiny object!"

  • John||

    It should be pointed out that the NSA was created to manage signal intelligence of foreign militarys and governments. It was never a law enforcement agency or even a counter intelligence agency. In short, it never should have been given a role in the war on terror other than maybe using its assets in the service of the agencies who did do that sort of thing.

  • Almanian!||

    "All tools in the government tool box will be used to whatever means we deem necessary to protect Our Interests™, citizen!"

  • wwhorton||

    But, but, STOVEPIPING OF INTELLIGENCE! LAWS GOT IN THE WAY!! PATRIOT ACT!!!

  • Tim||

    "Apparently, the post-Snowden era also comes with more rigorous internal checks. The NSA used to subject its employees to lie detector tests once every five years. Now, they plan to issue several tests per year."

    Sounds like a great place to work. Cubicle, can't discuss work with family or maybe even co workers, lie detectors, asshole generals with fascist management styles, constant threat of criminal investigations.

  • tarran||

    Reminds me of the software developers working for the US Government in Snow Crash.

  • General Butt Naked||

    Applications to work at the NSA are down by more than one third, and retention rates have also declined...

    This just shows the importance of social support and legitimacy to any government. There's a reason that us small(or no)-government types are always pleading the importance of custom, shunning and ostracization over government coercion: They work. And we haven't even gotten to that point with the NSA yet. Just the slight icky-ness associated with its activities has caused them to become short handed.

    It's why when there is any kind of war with a local insurgency there is always the "hearts and minds" bullshit going on. Guerrilla tactics 101 is to win over the people, and not because they are really interested in everybody agreeing with them politically. Not even because they want granny out there with an ak-47, but they want her and her family to steer the young men they know into the arms of the guerrillas.

    Not only that, but to get an entire community on their side is a powerful thing. Imagine if you help the invaders and your mother's business is refused at the local shops; perhaps the only places to buy staples in the are? That is an infinitely powerful thing.

  • Loki||

    "I have some reforms for the First Amendment,” an unnamed official told Drezner, confiding his wish that the Obama administration would reprimand journalists who he believes have wrongly portrayed the agency.

    Don't they already do that? Or is it just journalists that publish leaked info? I'm sure there are plenty of people within the Obama administration who would love to expand the which hunt to include journos who speak ill of the wise and beneficient government.

  • BoscoH||

    Over/under on current NSA high-ranking officials in jail on 18-Dec-2015: 15. Place your bets now.

  • Invisible Finger||

    Under

  • Pope Jimbo||

    I'll take 0, and the under.

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