NSA Launches Charm Offensive

That's why they call it Big Brother -- so people will feel comfortable.

The National Security Agency (NSA) is shown on May 31, 2006 in Fort Meade, Maryland, a suburb of Washington, DC.

For the first time since 1975, the NSA invited in a bunch of academics to flatter them brief them about the secret programs and this interview with one of the participants gives us some idea of what their charm offensive is supposed to accomplish. I'll let you read the whole thing but these answers from the NSA struck me as being so vacuous as to demand some kind of response:



Q: Have Snowden’s actions endangered national security or international relations?

A: The standard lines about “irreparable harm” are not convincing to many people because they are so vague, we’ve heard them so often, and the government classifies boatloads of information that shouldn’t be secret. 

But NSA officials got a little more specific. They said Snowden has hurt national security in three ways: The first is that he revealed government surveillance capabilities. Second, he’s revealed politically embarrassing things that are harming relations with our allies – and they believe there is more to come. (Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff postponed a state visit to Washington, for example, following the release of evidence that the U.S. spied on Brazilian politicians and business leaders.) They said Snowden has a pattern of releasing embarrassing information around big international meetings, such as the G20 summit. The third damaging impact is that Snowden has hurt the NSA’s ability to produce intelligence.

If he revealed embarrassing information about the US Government spying on its allies and it harmed relations with them, isn't theproblem that the government is doing this, not that it's been revealed? I guess they honestly believe that America should be spying on her allies and that Americans think that's a good thing. I don't think that's been determined. If the government is doing things that will break trust with their friends maybe it should think twice about doing it rather than getting bent out of shape when its been discovered. I'm sorry they're embarrassed. Perhaps they should consider not doing embarrassing things. 

(Oh, and saying that Snowden has "hurt NSA's ability to produce intelligence" doesn't qualify as "more specific.")

I don't mean to be critical. It's an interesting interview:

Q: What were your biggest takeaways from this meeting?

A: I would say one of the things that I did walk away from the meeting hearing – and I think that perhaps this is the big policy question – is that the NSA orientation is to collect now, ask questions later. So the question is: Is that the right operating philosophy; are we comfortable as a democratic society with that collect-now-ask-later approach?

I would hope not. But the implication is that we are all totally on board with the NSA's (secret) spying mission and are simply arguing over the methods. That's not true. There is a ton of dissent out there over the idea that the NSA should have these capabilities at all and certainly whether it should be spying on our allies, particularly when it comes to doing it for commercial purposes (as it seems to have been done in Brazil and China at least.) After all, in today's global economy that is not something that necessarily benefits average Americans or any other average person on this planet. 

Moreover, allowing any secret government agency this kind of power and virtually unlimited resources, regardless of the alleged oversight (which in practice operates 99% of the time as a rubber stamp)is begging for trouble. There may be trade-offs involved in checking this power, but it's far more likely that the greater threat to our freedom will come from within rather than without, particularly when you have a gargantuan bureaucracy which always seeks to maintain itself. It's just the way these things work. This thing clearly needs to be reined in generally, not just have its methods re-evaluated. 

This is just more of the "we need to be more open about how awesome we are so that people will be "comfortable" with our massive secret spying operation." But that's why they call it Big Brother --- so people will feel comfortable.

Digby is the proprietor of Hullabaloo.