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.”