NSA Gets Honest About Its Lack of Honesty

The surveillance agency's mission statement is updated to reflect reality: It doesn't answer to you.


NSA Logo

The Intercept's Jean March Manach has noticed a subtle change in the National Security Agency's mission statement: The snoops there are no longer promising to be honest, and they're dialing back the transparency talk.

On January 12, Manach explains,

the NSA removed the mission statement page—which can still be viewed through the Internet Archive—and replaced it with a new version. Now, the parts about honesty and the pledge to be truthful have been deleted. The agency's new top value is "commitment to service," which it says means "excellence in the pursuit of our critical mission."

Those are not the only striking alterations. In its old core values, the NSA explained that it would strive to be deserving of the "great trust" placed in it by national leaders and American citizens. It said that it would "honor the public's need for openness." But those phrases are now gone; all references to "trust," "honor," and "openness" have disappeared.

There's an absurd paradox here that approaches a Zen koan: By eliminating these references to honesty, trust, and openness, the NSA is now actually more honest and open about what it actually does—secretly spy on people, including American citizens, and resist any effort to let us know how extensive the surveillance is.

Manach further frets that the NSA's mission statement has been changed to say it will be transparent to "those who authorize and oversee NSA's work on behalf of the American people" instead of to the people themselves.

Part of the NSA's role will always be intentionally shrouded in secrecy as it keeps tabs on suspected terrorists and foreign agents. How far that secrecy should extend is up for debate, but the new mission statement makes it clear that the general public is not expected to be part of that debate.

Don't forget that this agency once promised to reveal roughly how many Americans have had their communications collected through the NSA's secret surveillance. It has since backtracked and refuse to provide even a number.

But then, it's also an open debate as to how "open" the NSA will actually be to "those who authorize and oversee NSA's work." One reason Edward Snowden decided to come forward and blow the whistle on secret NSA surveillance of Americans is because former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper lied about it in Senate testimony while under oath. Time is running out to hold Clapper criminally responsible for his perjury.

In the meantime, far too much of the debate over the feds' secret surveillance tactics is focused exclusively on how those tactics affect President Donald Trump and his former campaign staff, as opposed to how they affect everyone. A change of mission statement means nothing, because nobody actually knows or cares that mission statements even exist. It's the actual behavior that matters, and unfortunately Congress has shown very little interest in forcing the NSA—or FBI—to be more honest and open about its surveillance. Except when it involves Trump.

NEXT: The Internet Makes Life Better and Safer for Sex Workers. Obviously.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Yes, it would be terrible if someone might be held accountable and it benefitted the wrong people. After all what good is stopping an evil if it rewards somebody who lacks decorum and has incorrect opinions?

    1. I quitt myoffice-job and currently i'm obtaining paid ?89 hourly. My Uncle Sean just got a year 2016 MitsubishiLancer just by some part-time working online with a laptop. original site
      it is completely free to register..

      SEE More,,, http://www.startonlinejob.com

  2. State secrets are incompatible with legitimate government chosen by a well-informed electorate. America seems to have made its choice.

    1. America's government has chosen. Its citizens? Who knows, or cares?

  3. If the Orange one was really committed to draining the swamp, he would have already taken steps to take out the NSA.

    1. You are right but look how much Trump has done already with nearly every bureaucrat, politician, and lefty out there fighting every move he makes.

      The easiest way to gut the NSA is to cut their funding by 50%+ but that requires RINOs in Congress to cut budgets.

      1. Here is he thing... the NSA does a whole lot of good no one sees. It is probably one of the most cost effective, useful tools the USA has. They care about your personal correspondence or dick picks exactly zero, they have enough other problems. If they become over zealous in their quest to collect on targets, then they need to be reminded of the laws and chuck people in jail. Their reasons for wanting to Hoover up everything and wait for reasons to be able to legally analyze it are understandable, and also illegal, but let's not pretend that they are a domestic spy agency like the KGB or Stasi. They are not, they legally cannot be either even if they so desired, and we do a reasonably good job of following laws and litigating things in court to trust our laws for the most part.

        There is no reason to throw the baby with the bath water.

        If you guys are worried about your info then encrypt everything. Even smart types cannot hack into fairly old, simple encryption with brute force. In any event Google cares more about your personal info and habits than NSA does. Unless you are a terrorist then they care a lot.

        1. Their reasons for wanting to Hoover up everything and wait for reasons to be able to legally analyze it are understandable, and also illegal, but let's not pretend that they are a domestic spy agency like the KGB or Stasi.

          So you see, even while the NSA is breaking the law and forwarding your information to domestic law enforcement they aren't the KGB or Stasi because...well...they do both whereas the NSA outsources the part where you're arrested and thrown in jail.


          1. Even when they were housing all that metadata it was mostly so they could go back later when they have probable cause and examine a certain target. It is certainly indisputable that terrorists or other targets do not exist in the USA or who use US communications lines. Perhaps the FISA courts are not exactly the most 100% reliable stopgap, but at least there is one and there should be a paper trail for anything that happens. Still, to examine data on American persons (citizens, resident aliens, corporations) the government must have a warrant and this has always been the case.

            Do abuses happen? Absolutely 100% this is indisputable. Which is why it is important abusers get locked up and where I do think our system fails. There are different rules for how senior you are in the government food chain which makes some people virtually invulnerable to scrutiny. This will probably always be a problem as long as the executive branch owns the people that should prosecute them for a crime and our legislative branch is too bitch and too partisan to unite against abusers on the other team.

            1. Even when they were housing all that metadata it was mostly so they could go back later when they have probable cause and examine a certain target.

              'Even when'? THEY STILL ARE. Not only are they still collecting it but they've certainly not deleted what they had already collected. WTF?

              'And examine a certain target' - yes, like anyone any law enforcement agency in the country asked them to take a quiet look at and please forward anything you have - no, we won't be sending a warrant or notifying the target so he could challenge said warrant if it existed.

        2. The NSA does *no* good that anyone sees or doesn't see. None. At all.

  4. "Time is running out to hold Clapper criminally responsible for his perjury."


    1. My thoughts exactly.

  5. NSA's mission goal: [REDACTED]

  6. Yeah who really cares what their mission statement is as its just phony shit anyway.

    The most important thing is that government (NSA in particular) is violating the constitution by spying on Americans without a warrant based upon probable cause. All the bureaucrats that do this are traitors to the constitution.

    Unfortunately there is no punishment for violating the constitution but firing squad would seem appropriate.

    1. I can say this with certainty: You have no idea what you're talking about.

  7. The NSA needs to be abolished, full stop.

    The reason why people keep bringing up Trump, or at least one of the reasons, is because if it was used against a candidate for President of the United States it is certain that it is being used against us and that prosecutions are occurring because of it. Honestly, even without the Trump angle we already know this to be true.

    The fact of the matter is that the United States is currently, not sometime in the future, a banana republic police state. We're all just having a discussion about how obvious we want that to be to the proles.

    1. Abolish the NSA or don't. Their work will continue. You don't have issue with some random alphabet soup agency as much as you have an issue with illegal/unconstitutional activity. You're conflating the two here.

      1. At least if the government didn't have an agency that explicitly conducts unconstitutional domestic spying they would need to find a more creative way to fund it.

        1. The thing is... that is not what they do. Most of the support they provide is directly to the military and to high up government officials on foreign issues like terrorism or whatever any random military thing is going on. This is why they fall under the authority of the Department of Defense, another entity that has virtually zero ability to engage in any domestic activity since the civil rights movements and they abuses they committed spying on civil rights leaders.

          You either believe in our laws or you don't. I believe bad actors exist, but most are good. I also believe our system self corrects when abuses happen. That does not excuse the abuses, but it does indicate the efficacy of our system.

          1. So when is Hillary going to trial? Clapper being brought up on perjury soon or did I miss that? At least with Snowden ONE person was threatened with jail... it just happened to be the one who pointed out all the law breaking.

            Bush lied. Obama lied. Neither have ever been brought before a judge for even fraud much less anything else (like Obama killing am American citizen with not so much as even a trial in absentia!).

            When Lois Lerner admitted to breaking the law at the IRS... When was that trial again?

            The closest we got was Nixon resigned and Bill Clinton lost his law license... AFTER LYING UNDER OATH.

            You espoused what we all hoped for. And as noble as it sounds... it's just a myth many can't accept as false. They can't accept the truth that they were wrong and that they were gullible and that they were duped.

            As for believing in our laws? Irrelevant. I used to... And bad actors didn't go to jail. I don't anymore... And bad actors still don't go to jail. Reality has zero to do with what we believe or what great philosophical justification for some system or other we accept. Reality is you follow laws and avoid punishment. You break a law, you are punished. But if your an elite in today's aristocracy of politicos... You can pretty do anything you want.

          2. You either believe in our laws or you don't.

            And, notably, the NSA does not. You'll forgive me I don't forgive the NSA for breaching some of the most fundamental protections that exist in our nation.

          3. That is so entirely naive in spite of all the news over the last few years that it is impossible to reply to you seriously.

  8. NSA stands for Not Saying Anything.
    Fuck all of the Deep State with a spork.

  9. Now, the parts about honesty and the pledge to be truthful have been deleted. The agency's new top value is "commitment to service," which it says means "excellence in the pursuit of our critical mission."

    That's because the OPA has been infiltrated and suborned by agent's of the Sleeper In The Pyramid and no longer feel the need to hide.

  10. Hey Tony, where are you at? You say you love freedom more than any of us here because you really know what it is, but you are entirely absent. Starting to think you only believe environmentalism is freedom.

  11. I realize I'm too late to the party for anyone to read this, but one thing the NSA spying on Trump situation points out is the power of the deep state to control politicians that might otherwise rein them in.
    Realistically, I'm not that worried that they're spying on me because I'm boring and valueless to them. However, controlling their overseers through blackmail and other illegal forms of pressure is almost certainly happening everyday.

  12. Yes, I got here late to the party, too. Really nobody has any idea what's happening? You may be boring and inconsequential in your own eyes, but they have many uses for spying on Americans right now. A lot of people are complaining about it, what the NSA is doing, participating in. It's just that these people's sanity is questioned.

  13. Very informative article. Makes clear what you are allowed to say openly and what you 'd better avoid...

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.