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Meet the Young Journalist Who Ruined a Couple of NSA Spooks' Day

What started out as a routine recruiting session went terribly wrong when students put recruiters on the spot.

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JH: I enjoyed that part, too. Here's another student:

Student: I have a question about the lifestyle you seem to be selling. It sounds more like a colonial expedition. You know, "the globe is our playground" were the words that you used, the phrasing that you used. You seem to be saying that you can do your work, you can analyze said documents for your so-called customers, but then you can go and get drunk and dress up and have fun without thinking of the repercussions that the information you're analyzing has on the rest of the world.

I also want to know, what are the qualifications that one needs to become a whistleblower? Because that sounds like a much more interesting job.

JH: This is hilarious. Madiha, are they physically squirming at this point? Are they like shifting from foot to foot?

MT: They're sort of just standing there a little bit slack and kind of staring off into the distance looking for… trying to figure out answers to these questions, and you can hear the pauses as they try to scramble for the responses.

JH: Yes, you can. What did she mean when she was asking them about getting drunk? That was kind of enigmatic.

MT: Yes. That's the other thing. You hear this student mention that. This was in reference to an earlier statement by the female recruiter during which she told us that NSA people, after they do what she called heavy work, they go down to the bar, dress up in costume, do karaoke and get drunk....

She was trying to sell this as an attractive kind of lifestyle. Her reasoning for telling us this was that people who socialize together work better together. The other was that you're not able to really tell your family about the kind of work that you do—what it is that you do at the office all day—so that's why you hang out with your colleagues, because they actually have a sense of your office life.

JH: Okay, so then it's obvious that they're getting really awkward and he says, "Hey, this job isn't for everybody." Let's give that a quick listen:

Recruiter2: And this job isn't for everybody, you know, and that's part of the reason for coming out here is that academia is a great career for people …

Madiha: Is this job for liars? Is that what you're saying? Because clearly you're not able to give us forthright answers. I mean, given the way that the NSA has behaved, given the fact that we have been lied to as Americans, given the fact that fact sheets have been pulled down because they clearly had untruths in them, given the fact that [Director of National Intelligence James] Clapper and [NSA Director Keith] Alexander lied to Congress, is that a qualification for being in the NSA? Do you have to be a good liar?

Recruiter1: I don't consider myself to be a liar in any fashion, and the reality is, I mean, this was billed as, if you were potentially interested in an NSA career, come to our session. If you're not, if this is your personal belief and your understanding of what has been presented, then there's nothing that says you need to come and apply and work for us. We're not here … our role as NSA employees is not to represent NSA—the things that are in the press right now about NSA—to the public. That's not our role at all. That's not my area of expertise. I have not read everything….

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