NSA Seeks To Reassure Family & Friends Of NSA Employees & Contractors By Sending A Letter With More Lies

from the turning-inward dept

Think all these stories about the NSA's surveillance overreach and abuses are getting to the folks there? Kevin Gosztola at Firedoglake has the details on a letter the NSA has given to all of its employees and contractors, which it tells them they can print out to share with "loved ones" to reassure them that their NSA-working spouse/parent/child/best friend isn't, technically, evil. Or at least I think that's the idea. The letter suggests no self-reflection. It suggests no recognition of why people are concerned about both the breadth of the surveillance, as well as the thousands of reported abuses. It's very much a circling of the wagons approach, insisting that the coverage has been unfair and biased. Gosztola has a thorough debunking of pretty much the entire letter at the link above (go read it), but I wanted to highlight a couple sections:

In concert with our mission, NSA/CSS employees are trained from the first day on the job, and regularly thereafter, to respect the privacy and civil liberties of US citizens. We go to great lengths to achieve our goal of no mistakes. However, we are human and, because the environment of law and technology within which we operate is so complex and dynamic, mistakes sometimes do occur. That's where the unique aspect of our culture comes into play. We self-report those mistakes, analyze them, and take action to correct the root causes.
First off, being trained to respect privacy and civil liberties and actually doing so are separate things. And the NSA doesn't have a good track record there at all. Gosztola highlights many historical examples of blatant abuse by the NSA. But I'd highlight a different point. Yes, they self-report mistakes, but they are assuming (almost certainly incorrectly) that they are catching and reporting every mistake. Considering, as has been stated repeatedly, that it's taken them months to figure out what Snowden himself did, then it's pretty clear that the NSA is not catching, self-reporting and analyzing every mistake -- and it's highly likely that many more are occurring without anyone noticing.

Furthermore, the fact that their system requires "self-reporting" to guarantee compliance shows the lack of real oversight here. Yes, it's great when they do self-report those mistakes. But that doesn't excuse the abuses, and there are a lot of abuses. Furthermore, the fact that the NSA then bent over backwards to keep the reports of those abuses (and the overreaches) classified to keep it all out of public scrutiny speaks volumes.

But, more importantly, there's no denying that this letter flat out lies about the NSA's activities:
The other big story being missed by many in the media is how effective NSA/CSS is in accomplishing its mission. In open hearings this year, we spoke to Congress about how NSA/CSS actions contributed to keeping the Nation and its allies safe from 54 different terrorist plots.
That's not true. Not only is it not true, it was admitted to be not true by John Inglis, Deputy Director of the NSA and the guy who co-signed this letter with Keith Alexander. As we had just recently discussed that "54" number is highly misleading. First off, it is not, as the letter states, 54 plots. Rather, it was "potential terrorist events" and they include providing "material support to terrorists." In other words, some of those 54 include things like someone trying to send some money to groups designated as a terrorist group. While it's great that this was stopped, it's quite misleading to claim that's a terrorist "plot." Furthermore, when push came to shove, Inglis admitted under oath that the NSA's efforts "made a contribution" to the efforts against those plots but was only "critical" in one actual plot -- the Zazi NYC subway case. And, as others have pointed out, the details suggest that the NSA's involvement there wasn't that important and traditional police work did the real heavy lifting.

But, it appears, the NSA has committed itself to repeating the myth of stopping 54 "plots" even though their own statements show that's not true.

And really, that's what this all comes back to. The NSA can't seem to stop misrepresenting the truth. And that's even when sending a letter to their loved ones. Yes, the intelligence community is one in which misdirection, half-truths and outright lies are how you do your job -- but that's antithetical to the concept of oversight. And that's where the problem lies. Sure, the NSA believes it's "unique" in that it self-confesses certain abuses -- the ones it catches -- but it works very hard to misrepresent its own activities to pretty much everyone. It misrepresents to Congressional oversight committees, to the FISA Court, to the general public and now to their loved ones as well.





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    out_of_the_blue, Sep 20th, 2013 @ 11:53am

    Distraction. Call for NSA executives to be jailed.

    You've just fallen for one of the purposes of the letter, forgot the crimes and are marveling at the cover-up.

     

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      John Fenderson (profile), Sep 20th, 2013 @ 12:26pm

      Re: Distraction. Call for NSA executives to be jailed.

      Nobody has forgotten anything.

       

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      Rikuo (profile), Sep 20th, 2013 @ 12:38pm

      Re: Distraction. Call for NSA executives to be jailed.

      ...How exactly is anyone here forgetting the crimes of the NSA?

       

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        Rapnel (profile), Sep 20th, 2013 @ 1:01pm

        Re: Re: Distraction. Call for NSA executives to be jailed.

        No worries. Most everyone knows that the NSA is Google's lackey.

        Next episode: Can the bat man hide from Google's prying eye? Will Robin be sentenced to hang for linking? Tune in next week to find out. Same bat time, same bat channel.

        Next up on Double Ewe Oh Oh Tee Be : Silly Humans - Elephant Diaries : Who Gets Squished Next

        Tune in. And now a word from our sponsor, Article 1, whose advertisements are brought to you by Google.

        Incoming text message: Your cable bill is overdue and a penalty has been applied. Your telecom bill will be increased by 100.00 daily in perpetuity and your copy privileges have been revoked. Hit ok to cancel.

         

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    Anomalous Coward, Sep 20th, 2013 @ 12:08pm

    Subject!

    I wonder if the coming technological singularity will free us from such an oppressive organization, or rather hasten our enslavement... I tend to believe that the economy is stronger (more powerful) than any government entity (shadow or otherwise), so there is still hope. Once we are all literally networked together on a technobiological level, things could get very interesting. I would love to catch a glimpse of the other side of that event horizon.

    /off topic

     

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      PopeRatzo (profile), Sep 20th, 2013 @ 3:42pm

      Re: Subject!

      I wonder if the coming technological singularity
      No one reading this blog, or their children or grandchildren, will live to see anything like what you mean by "the coming technological singularity".

      Even though you have kids in Africa using iPads, the really transformative technologies are for the financially elite only. With the increasing concentration of wealth worldwide in the hands of fewer and fewer, the "singularity" recedes farther and farther into the horizon.

      Better to worry about how you're going to eat and pay your rent than what's going to happen in "The Singularity".

       

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        nasch (profile), Sep 20th, 2013 @ 3:50pm

        Re: Re: Subject!

        Even though you have kids in Africa using iPads, the really transformative technologies are for the financially elite only.

        What do you mean by transformative technologies (I'd guess people in Africa would consider cell phones pretty transformative), and what do you mean by financially elite?

         

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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 20th, 2013 @ 12:17pm

    Careful parsing required, as with any NSA statement

    But, more importantly, there's no denying that this letter flat out lies about the NSA's activities:

    The other big story being missed by many in the media is how effective NSA/CSS is in accomplishing its mission. In open hearings this year, we spoke to Congress about how NSA/CSS actions contributed to keeping the Nation and its allies safe from 54 different terrorist plots.


    That's not true.
    If you parse this carefully, it's perfectly true. There is relatively little media attention on the ineffectiveness of the surveillance for its stated purpose of stopping terrorism. Most of the attention is focused on the excessive invasiveness of the programs with respect to innocent people.

    NSA did speak to Congress about how great these programs are. That speech was a blatant lie, as Mike points out, but the letter is technically truthful in reporting that the NSA said it.

     

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      Eldakka (profile), Sep 22nd, 2013 @ 6:00pm

      Re: Careful parsing required, as with any NSA statement

      I agree, I had the same thought myself when i was reading this.

      it is in fact TRUE that "In open hearings this year, we spoke to Congress.. ". Yes, they did speak to congress, and in that speech they did make the claim. However this quote does not make reference to or statement of support or truth on "54 different terrorist plots".

      Therefore calling the quoted statement a lie cannot be supported.

      If they had of said something more like "NSA/CSS actions contributed to keeping the Nation and its allies safe from 54 different terrorist plots as was reported to Congress..." then maybe it could be called a lie.

       

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    Anonymous Anonymous Coward, Sep 20th, 2013 @ 12:18pm

    Self-Reporting...Right

    This got me to thinking about what happens when one of the NSA analysts notices a name/number/email/street address of a co-worker/friend/family member? Is this considered one of the blunders? Is this self reported? Do they actually do enough to know that some of the information relates to one of their own?

    There seems to me to be some doubt!

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 20th, 2013 @ 12:23pm

    why not just pull this bunch of twats into court and jail them, like they would do to anyone they felt like, then disband the whole freakin issue! no one feels safe at all and to keep coming out with more and more lies is just convincing the people of what crap they spout!

     

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    Skeptical, Sep 20th, 2013 @ 12:25pm

    The real problem

    "In concert with our mission, NSA/CSS employees are trained from the first day on the job, and regularly thereafter, to respect the privacy and civil liberties of US citizens. We go to great lengths to achieve our goal of no mistakes. However, we are human and, because the environment of law and technology within which we operate is so complex and dynamic, mistakes sometimes do occur."

    The fact the NSA makes mistakes is a problem, but the bigger problem is that it can make mistakes. The problem is they have too much data to process effectively, and that much of the data they have they shouldn't have (and shouldn't be able to obtain) in the first place.

     

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      John Fenderson (profile), Sep 20th, 2013 @ 12:28pm

      Re: The real problem

      And the biggest problem is that they lie about making mistakes.

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Sep 20th, 2013 @ 1:04pm

        Re: Re: The real problem

        It is classic military arrogance. People with stars are often extremely good at locking in on a single target and ignoring the collateral damage to reach it.
        Unfortunately generals lack those more civil minded leadership skills. Having experience with military discipline and politics are not necessarily a good combination by itself.

        As the result it seems the generals are playing wordgames where they keep changing the wording untill something passes muster. It is not true that they can make mistakes, they are, however, able to gain experience...

         

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    Zinc, Sep 20th, 2013 @ 12:33pm

    Car 54 where are you?

    Just think of how many plots they could find if they weren't wasting so much time managing and scanning the data of innocent Americans. And innocent foreigners too, no doubt. The distraction saves them the hard work of getting out of their office chair and doing real field work though...

     

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      DOlz (profile), Sep 21st, 2013 @ 5:06am

      Re: Car 54 where are you?

      I figured they settled on 54 as the number of plots for the same reason it was chosen in "The Manchurian Candidate". At breakfast one morning Senator John Yerkes Iselin (James Gregory) is complaining to his wife, Mrs. Eleanor Shaw Iselin (Angela Lansbury) that he can't keep track of how many communist have supositly have infiltrated the government. After an exasperated sigh she looks across the breakfast table and see a bottle of Hienz ketsup and tells him its 54.

       

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    RyanNerd (profile), Sep 20th, 2013 @ 12:41pm

    So is there a fee to join the NSA friends and family plan?

    So if I get one of these letters or is there a way of joining this NSA friends and family plan and will that mean that my phone meta-data will not be collected by the NSA?
    How about my credit card information?
    My emails?
    How many times I used the toilet at my work per day? Will all this information be excluded?

     

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    Me, Sep 20th, 2013 @ 12:45pm

    Heads need to roll. These criminals are blatantly lying about their trampling of the Constitution and their violation of our civil rights.

    NSA employees who aren't whistleblowing on what they know are as bad as they rest.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 20th, 2013 @ 12:50pm

    That letter I believe is a way to discourage others from doing the "right thing" and denounce abuse that they see it, by trying to explain those "mistakes" away and lowering the perception of harm that they trully could have on the lifes of others.

    This may be a panic mode trying to avoid/minimize risk of another Snowden event.

    At this point I don't think they are trying to be truthful, they just don't want another inside person to start leaking their secrets again.

     

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    Anonymous Anonymous Coward, Sep 20th, 2013 @ 12:51pm

    But Meta-Data

    But...But...But...you have no idea what value the meta-data of toilet usage can be. Did you go number 1 or 2? Did you use the same urinal/stall as last time? Do you use the same urinal/stall consistently? Is it an odd or even number? What is the min/max/avg/mean of your stays for numbers 1 AND 2? Are there sudden spikes in frequency (nervous terrorists might get more nervous just before a [REDACTED])? Do you wash your hands?

    We be talk'n terrorism here...

     

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    John Fenderson (profile), Sep 20th, 2013 @ 1:47pm

    Plots foiled

    The other thing about the NSA's count of successes is that, no matter what the true count actually is, it is completely irrelevant.

    Violating our rights, lying, and lawbreaking aren't magically OK because terrorist plots were foiled.

    They're never OK, and this behavior poses a greater threat to us, our nation, and the world than any terrorist does.

     

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    Hephaestus (profile), Sep 20th, 2013 @ 2:48pm

    Damn ... that letter is real? I thought that letter was a parody.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 20th, 2013 @ 6:14pm

    I'm so sick of trillions of dollars, from our tax money, going to liars. Then the liars turn around and sell us out to the Israelis. So now they're liars and traitors.

    Plus the liars at the NSA have worked very hard at destroying the US Constitution. I suppose that falls under the 'treason' section.

    Then the NSA tells it's employees to spread the lies to their friends, family, and neighbors. Which speaks volumes about the NSA's morally corrupt character and agenda.

    Did the NSA stop the Boston Bombers? How about the US Navy yard shooting in Washington D.C.?

    I guess the NSA's true objective isn't about stopping terrorists. It's about spying on members of congress and the judiciary. Spying on foreign industries and leaders in Brazil. Finally, spying on and suppressing unruly citizens in the general population.

    Terrorism comes in a distant last, because the unconstitutional spy program fails horribly in this department. While excelling in all other spying, blackmail, and unconstitutional departments.

     

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      Postulator (profile), Sep 20th, 2013 @ 8:09pm

      Re:

      "Did the NSA stop the Boston Bombers? How about the US Navy yard shooting in Washington D.C.?"

      Of course not. You're forgetting that those are both domestic incidents, and thus outside the NSA's remit.

      /sarcasm

       

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    Postulator (profile), Sep 20th, 2013 @ 8:06pm

    One has to assume that NSA employees are losing family/friends/loved ones, who have realised that they are some of the people being illegally spied upon. This letter is in recognition of that, and trying to help employees save their personal relationships.

    Of course, when you have already figured that your "loved one" used the nation's premier spying body to look up information about you and then lied to you about it, this particular cover-up effort won't help a great deal.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 21st, 2013 @ 7:27am

    To sum it all up.

    A judge said they could get a datafeed to complete classes of information (internet, email, phone calls, bank transactions, locations and all manner of stuff), in order to filter and catch terrorists.

    General Slurpee Alexander, decided that meant he could *store* all the data he was slurping up, because well, who the hell would stop him and giving him access to it, is implicitly giving him the right to store it all.

    Which in turn meant a giant database he could query at any time on anyone without the need for the court order. At his whim, he could just go run queries on anyone about anything. Domestic, politicians, journalists, the man who cut him up at the traffic lights. Anyone.

    And by cross linking it all, he could data mine whole new information. Not 'anonymous' meta data when you can simply pull up the corresponding name, address, social security number, current location, bank details, friends, facebook account, Skype messaging, emails, political affiliations, underwear size.

    Now a few years back Obama made a few minor changes. Now they have to put a reason as to why they are accessing the database, and so he tells them a bunch of stock answers they can put in that will pass the auditors checks by sounding terroristy. Defeating the token check on his power.

    And a token filter was put in to remove a portion of the data on the Internet feed related to Americans. So General Alexander has hundreds of analysts stationed in the UK using an unfiltered UK feed. Defeating this token limit on his power.

    He also trades the unfiltered set to allies in other spying agencies abroad, in exchange for results useful to him, defeating any jurisdictional limits on his powers.

    And naturally he will have a version of XKeyscore that does all the querying with none of the logging, because nothing stops him bypassing these token limits on his power either. He controls that software.

    Now each of these analysts sees a little piece of the abuse and lets it go, because, well its small and he's told it's all a good mission protecting America. And they want to protect America right? Besides Congress fully knows about it and is happy, and the FISA court is happy, so you are alone in your doubts.

    Yet as the leaks come out, they see its not small, its big and has little to do with protecting America from terrorists, Congress was not told about it, the FISA court complained it was lied to and it's clear they are not alone, they are the majority.

     

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    relghuar, Sep 23rd, 2013 @ 3:48am

    myth of stopping 54 "plots"

    Apparently NSA has took the lesson from MAFIAA piracy statistics to heart - if you repeat any numbers loud and often enough, everyone will believe them regardless of reality.
    Well, perhaps except those basement-dwelling sexually suppressed internet freaks, but who cares about them, blah...

     

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