Earlier this week, Firedoglake reported on an internal NSA document circulated on November 22 that provides talking points for employees to defend the NSA to their friends and family. The two-page document includes five main points and a bulleted list of evidence to support each point.
- NSA’s mission is of great value to the Nation.
- NSA performs its mission the right way—lawful, compliant and in a way that protects civil liberties and privacy.
- NSA performs its mission exceptionally well. We strive to be the best that we can be, because that’s what America requires as part of its defense in a dangerous world.
- The people who work for NSA are loyal Americans with expert skills who make sacrifices to help protect the freedoms we all cherish
- NSA is committed to increased transparency, public dialog and faithful implementation of any changes required by our overseers.
(Underlines are in the original document.)
Ironically, given that much of the public's outrage stems from the NSA's secrecy and deception, the talking points are full of false and distorted information. For example, one comment under the first talking point states that the NSA's programs have stopped 54 terrorist plots since 9/11. ProPublica points out that there is no evidence to support this claim as it remains unclear whether those were actual terrorist plots and if NSA surveillance played any significant role in thwarting them.
The document goes on to erroneously claim that the NSA conducts its work lawfully and with a commitment to transparency. In reality, FISA Court documents indicate that the NSA violated the court's orders and knowingly conducted “unauthorized electronic surveillance." Moreover, the NSA has hardly been a beacon of transparency. The agency only recently started releasing some redacted FISA court opinions and President Obama's NSA review panel is controlled by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, who blatantly lied to Congress about the NSA's activities.
It is unsurprising that the NSA relies on false and misleading information in its holiday talking points guide. The real significance of this document and its hollow attempts to rationalize unconstitutional programs is that the NSA is on the defensive. The Snowden revelations and subsequent organizing against civil liberties violations have shifted the public discourse around privacy, surveillance, and counterterrorism. The NSA can no longer depend on the public's ignorance and de facto acquiescence. So while the NSA continues to perpetuate lies, the agency also knows that it's dealing with an informed and galvanized public. This document is proof that the cracks are widening in the armor the surveillance state. If you do happen to find yourself on the receiving end of these talking points, check out this guide to busting common excuses for NSA surveillance.