Civil Liberties

If NSA Workers Feel Unloved, Why Don't They Quit?


Crying spy

Despite a stirring defense of all things creepy made by General Keith Alexander to the beleaguered staff at the National Security Agency in June, the nation's spooks, spies and snoops are feeling unusually exposed and unappreciated these days. The fact the the more the public finds about about what they're doing, the angrier the public gets just brings them down. That's apparently led to a bit of a gloomy mood around the old NSA water cooler. Not that we're listening in. Though somebody probably is.

Reports Ken Dilanian for McClatchyDC:

Thanks to former NSA systems analyst Edward Snowden's flood of leaks to the media, and the Obama administration's uneven response to them, morale at the spy agency responsible for intercepting communications of terrorists and foreign adversaries has plummeted, former officials say. Even sympathetic lawmakers are calling for new curbs on the NSA's powers.

"This is a secret intelligence agency that's now in the news every day," said Michael Hayden, who headed the NSA from 1999 to 2005 and later led the CIA. "Each day, the workforce wakes up and reads the daily indictment."

This despite General Alexander giving a semi-public pep talk in which he hailed the "extraordinary people at NSA, the real heroes, working alongside our partners within the Intelligence Community." These days, the only people who seem to believe that are Alexander, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI), who live in their own private bubble of outrage that Americans just won't get with the program.

But Americans won't get with the program. Polls find dismay at NSA surveillance across the political spectrum, with vast majorities of Democrats and Republicans alike taking offense at being treated to a real-life rendition of Enemy of the State (a Hollywood project that made paranoid fantasy look too restrained).

This, no doubt, has much to do not just with the scope of revelations, but the masterful way in which Edward Snowden, Glenn Greenwald and other journalists have dripped out reports about NSA surveillance, letting politicians and officials issue dismissals of the last round of stories and assurances of safeguards that are promptly proven to be bullshit by the next round. The White House has been described as a "piñata," bashed by each new round of stories about privacy invasions and forever playing catch-up. NSA staffers clearly feel the same way.

Continues Dilanian:

Arguably the most damaging disclosure so far came Wednesday when the Office of the Director of National Intelligence declassified and released three documents, including an 86-page ruling from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which was created as one of the reforms of the 1970s. …

Those disclosures came days after an internal report leaked by Snowden revealed that the NSA had logged more than 2,700 violations of privacy rules in a one-year period. The report said all were inadvertent mistakes caused by technical glitches and operator errors.

Obama administration officials downplayed the mistakes and said Bates' admonishment showed how well the oversight system works. But their explanations did little to quell growing public unease.

There is, it should be noted, a simple and easy way for NSA employees to escape this life of dread and regain a chance at a happy and appreciated life.