â€œDear NSA/CSS family,â€ begins a Sept. 13, 2013, letter to employees and â€œextended familyâ€ of the nationâ€™s largest spy agency from NSA director Lt. Gen. Keith Alexander, the boss of the family (CSS stands for Central Security Service, an NSA subagency).
In the missive, published Thursday by Kevin Gosztola of Firedoglake.com, Alexander and his lieutenant, John C. Inglis, fret that: â€œOur agency has frequently been portrayed in the news as more of a rogue element than a national treasure.â€
If each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way, the source of domestic strife for the â€œNSA familyâ€ is particularly unusual. Rollicked by former family member Edward Snowden's exposure of secret domestic surveillance programs, NSA is suffering Watergate-era â€œflashbacks,â€ and morale â€œhas plummeted,â€ the LA Times reports.
But these troubles are self-inflicted â€" and a letter packed with distortions isnâ€™t likely to help.
The â€œDear Familyâ€ letter repeats what the agency told Congress this summer that NSA has kept â€œthe nation and its allies safe from 54 different terrorist plots … just part of the great work that your family members are doing every day.â€
But as Gosztola points out, pressed on that claim by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., back in August, Inglis retreated, conceding that the secret programs were instrumental in only one case, a 2009 New York subway bombing plot.
Even there, the program in question (PRISM, an email and web-traffic monitoring tool) was unnecessary, since the FBI already had ample justification for a warrant.
When it comes to the call-records dragnet, the Washington Post reports, â€œThe case that the NSA points to as its primary example of the program's usefulnessâ€ wasn't an interdicted terror plot—it involved a Somalia-born San Diego cabbie who sent $8,500 to a terrorist group in his home country. The NSA hoovered up every American's calling records and all we got was one lousy cabdriver.
â€œWe self-report [our] mistakes,â€ the letter boasts. But as Marcy Wheeler notes, â€œthe most shocking disclosure fromâ€ an internal NSA audit leaked by Snowden, â€œthat an analyst tried to pull up Egyptâ€™s calls but got D.C.â€™s insteadâ€"had never been disclosedâ€ to the FISA court.
Gen. Alexander may think itâ€™s media bias thatâ€™s made Americans fear an NSA gone â€œrogue.â€ But Director of National Intelligence James Clapper admits â€œour history is regretfully replete with abuse.â€
Clapper said, â€œThere is some substantial basis for people to be suspicious,â€ in an interview for Mark Ambinderâ€™s 2013 book Deep Stateâ€"the â€œrecord of the community isnâ€™t all that good.â€ Not long after that, Clapper illustrated his own point by lying to Congress about whether NSA collects data on millions of Americans.
As the Senateâ€™s â€œChurch Committeeâ€ hearings revealed in the 1970s, among other abuses, the CIA and the National Security Agency illegally instituted programs for the interception of international communications to and from American citizens, primarily first class mail and cable traffic.
In the surveillance stateâ€™s Cold War-era infancy, federal spies had to gather data the old-fashioned way: via physical informants, hidden microphones, black-bag burglaries, and steaming open envelopes.
With modern processing power, now it can be done from a desktop â€" or, perhaps, from the â€œcaptainâ€™s chairâ€ in the facility Gen. Alexander built, with the help of â€œa Hollywood set designer to mimic the bridge of the starship Enterprise.â€
â€œOver the coming weeks and months, more stories will appear,â€ the letter warns. What we're learning about the â€œfamily businessâ€ isn't comforting—and there's more yet to come.
This article originally appeared at the Washington Examiner.