NSA Staff Whining That President Obama Isn't Defending Them Enough

from the perhaps-there's-a-reason-for-that... dept

Foreign Policy magazine has an article highlighting how NSA employees are pissed off that President Obama hasn’t been defending the NSA strongly enough these past few months. While many (including us) have been quite critical of President Obama’s weak defense of the NSA programs, folks inside Ft. Meade are pissed off that he’s not out there defending them more strongly:

Gen. Keith Alexander and his senior leadership team at the National Security Agency are angry and dispirited by what they see as the White House’s failure to defend the spy agency against criticism of its surveillance programs, according to four people familiar with the NSA chiefs’ thinking. The top brass of the country’s biggest spy agency feels they’ve been left twisting in the wind, abandoned by the White House and left largely to defend themselves in public and in Congress against allegations of unconstitutional spying on Americans.

Former intelligence officials closely aligned with the NSA criticized President Obama for saying little publicly to defend the agency, and for not emphasizing that some leaked or officially disclosed documents arguably show the NSA operating within its legal authorities.

“There has been no support for the agency from the President or his staff or senior administration officials, and this has not gone unnoticed by both senior officials and the rank and file at the Fort,” said Joel Brenner, the NSA’s one-time inspector general, referring to the agency’s headquarters at Ft. Meade, Maryland.

Of course, one response to this is: too bad. Perhaps if the NSA didn’t keep pushing the boundaries further and further out, and there were more courageous folks like Ed Snowden willing to speak up and say “what we’re doing is wrong,” those NSA employees wouldn’t be dealing with this mess. And, of course, you’d hope that the NSA would employ grown ups who don’t get all mopey because the President has other things to focus on.

While the President has defended the NSA programs a few times (on TV programs such as Charlie Rose and Leno, as well as in that one press conference in August), it is true that most of the defending has come directly from intelligence officials themselves, including Keith Alexander and James Clapper, as well as the NSA’s big defenders in Congress. The higher ups within the administration have been fairly quiet. And, apparently what’s pissing off many in Ft. Meade is that President Obama had embraced them so closely since he came to office. Despite expressing some skepticism about these kinds of activities while he was running for office, once he got into the White House, Obama’s “embrace of the dark world of spycraft has been near-absolute.”

Of course, some might argue in response that there’s really not much else that the President can do at this moment. He’s given a few statements about it, set up the ridiculous weak “review” board, and then has kind of had his hands full with things like Syria and a government shut down — both of which are, certainly, issues that deserve his attention. The article quotes Brenner again, saying that the President should have gone to Ft. Meade and given them a pep talk. That seems a bit silly to me. If NSA employees need pep talks to keep morale up, it seems like they’re in the wrong business.

A former NSA general counsel, Stewart Baker — last seen here blaming civil libertarians for 9/11, blaming Senator Wyden for encouraging people to reveal NSA excesses and blaming privacy advocates for you having to get groped at airports — is also quoted in the article whining that:

“The President is uncomfortable defending this. Maybe he spends too much time reading blogs on the left,” Baker said. “That’s fatal in cases like this. You have to make the case because nobody else will.”

Yeah. It’s those damn lefty blogs that are the problem (ignoring, of course, how much of the outcry have come from right-leaning and libertarian blogs). Of course, there is the possibility that President Obama is legitimately embarrassed over having the NSA’s excesses come out. A couple years ago, we highlighted famed whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg talking about President Obama’s response to whistleblowing (the discussion was about Wikileaks), and he speculated that Obama’s incredible devotion to secrecy when it came to civil liberties violations and leaks might be because of pure embarrassment. As he noted, President Bush didn’t care much for civil liberties, but he also was fairly upfront about that fact. President Obama, however, acted as if he did care about civil liberties, while behaving in a very different manner. Thus, it’s entirely possible, as Ellsberg speculated years ago, President Obama is happy to do all of this so long as it stays secret. The second any of it comes out, he’s ashamed by his own actions — which might explain the less than full-throated support for these actions.

Still, as others point out in the FP article, if the rift is really that big, it’s somewhat surprising that the President hasn’t yet thrown either Alexander or Clapper under the bus, giving him the opportunity to pretend to blame them alone for the overreach. The President has already made the ridiculous claim that he only finds out what the NSA is doing from the press, so he could easily argue that the agencies have gone “rogue” and get rid of the leaders. But he hasn’t done that.

Still, the potential of a growing rift between the White House and the intelligence community is worth watching as new bills are proposed to curb those agencies’ excesses.

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Comments on “NSA Staff Whining That President Obama Isn't Defending Them Enough”

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Paul says:

Re: Re: Re:2 cruel and unusual punishment forbidden by Constitution??

You just made a point for me…… What Constitution are you referring to?? The one they null & voided with their sneaky interpretation of the Patriot Act?? The same one they have dismissed as in their way? Considering their defiance & abuse of the Constitution, how could they ever expect it to provide any protection for them??

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 cruel and unusual punishment forbidden by Constitution??

I voted insightful as it is a valid point if you concede that the Constitution is truly dead. However you cannot advocate upholding the Constitution and attacking those who violate it by violating it yourself. That’s a “ends justify the means” mentality which is what THEY use to try to justify their actions. The appropriate response is to advocate for their arrest and prosecution under the full due process of law UNDER the Constitution as it stands. The view is always better from the high road.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 cruel and unusual punishment forbidden by Constitution??

Even without the provisions in the Constitution against cruel and unusual punishment, I still believe what you are advocating would fall in violation of International Laws against “cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment” (from Article 5 of Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted in 1948 by the UN General Assembly) so now are we throwing out both the US Constitution AND International Law?

Paul says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Weirdo??

Weirdo?? Not by my standards… Possibly a little extreme, yes. But, as a 100% disabled & decorated US Naval Viet-Nam Veteran, I’m lucky I didn’t have to give my life to protect your rights (as many of our fallen servicemen have). When was the last time you visited a US Veterans Hospital to see for yourself what the cost of freedom is?? I have given of myself to fight for and uphold the Constitution of the United States. I’ve paid an extremely personal & steep price which I believe allows me to promote extreme measures to assure our freedoms are no longer trampled. Public castration seems very fitting for their crimes against us.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Weirdo??

This is not to diminish the value of the service or the price that you and others like you willingly gave and paid or those who continue to give and pay. You are not the problem here. It is those who are sending those like you into harm’s way for unjustified reasons that are. Do you have a right to be angry about that. Absolutely. But your logic simply doesn’t hold up. I’m sorry but no, the experiences and sacrifices you made in service to the country do not allow you to advocate violating the Constitution in the name of upholding it no more than the experiences and sacrifices that General Clapper or General Alexander made in their service in this country’s military allow them to justify their violation of the Constitution in the name of upholding it. It does not make sense.

out_of_the_blue says:

So, back to politics as usual... Or, rather, from tech to politics...

Mike, the NSA bounce is over. It’s fading into background “normal” as I predicted: zero changes except that now most dolts are aware of it.

At best, you’re being diverted like other sheep into the usual safe channels of politics and the defenses made for criminal activities, not the crimes.

Michael (profile) says:

Dear Mr. President,

It has come to our attention that you have not been defending the actions of the NSA. We know you have a lot going on with the government being shut down and military actions to deal with around the world, but we have been doing a lot of spying for you and think you should support us in these efforts that you authorized.

You do not have to call a press conference or go on television in support of us, but for god’s sake man, do you really have to belittle us? Just the other day, you were speaking with the PM on the oval office telephone and told him that you were embarassed by the behavior of our agency! Only days before that, we heard you talking about how James Clapper should resign when you were on a conference call with top democratic leaders!

If you are not going to defend us, at least keep your mouth shut.


Transmitte (profile) says:

We’ve gone past double speak.

Cry me a fucking river NSA defenders. You got your hands smashed by the lid of the cookie jar you should not have been in in the first place and have the nerve to blame and whine while looking for sympathy for your wrong doings, nay, crimes against the American citizenry you’re supposed to be protecting? Nope, not even remotely interested in your antics, take a hike.

I would like to see actual trials and hearings for all of those involved but we know it would just boil down to theater for the masses and some ultra light weight club fed visits and/or gentle wrist slapping. And sadder still, in 8-12 months time, a lot of this will be taking up space under the rug it swept under.

Patrick B says:

Yeah, but it's legal!

When the NSA defends itself by claiming that what they’re doing is perfectly legal, all it does is exemplify how corrupt the entire legal system has become. Anyone with a conscience can see that the law and what’s right/moral are miles apart at this point. All the law does is uphold the ever-growing criminality of those in power.

Anonymous Coward says:


“There has been no support for the agency from the President or his staff or senior administration officials, and this has not gone unnoticed by both senior officials and the rank and file at the Fort,”

There has been no support for the people of the world who have been swept up in your dragnet surveillance, either.
And THAT has not gone unnoticed, either!

Go cry me a river, asshole!

Anonymous Coward says:

More of this please...

Please. That’s the way. Attack the Administration more, but harder and with more intensity. This is a good strategy for you to go with. Please. Get the president to ask Holder to sick the DOJ attack dogs on the leaders of the NSA like he does on everyone else they don’t like. Please. This will be a good thing. Meanwhile I will start hoarding popcorn.

Brazenly Anonymous says:

Waahmbulance or threats?

Two highly divergent possibilities continue to exist side-by-side:

The NSA could easily be inept and failing, in which case this is little more than a temper tantrum.

The NSA could also be far more capable and delivering an ultimatum to Obama about blackmail they’ve got on him concerning certain blogs he may not want the public to find out about.

Watch Obama’s reaction to this carefully.

Anonymous Coward says:

A better idea

How about the “DOJ Arron Swartz treatment” ? No I guess that won’t work as the DOJ is complicit and deserves the same treatment. We really need a higher authority, like “the people”, we could pick representatives, write a set of rules to live by, form a justice system and everything would be good. Oh fuck, we did that and look where we are now! Maybe castration isn’t such a bad idea after all.

Anonymous Coward says:

There is this unstated undercurrent in all this, that maybe Obama encouraged the NSA to go far beyond what they normally did and now has been hung out to dry and take the heat from the public while Obama stays insulated from it. Pure speculation but the first thing that hit me when I started reading the article, whether intended or not.

That the NSA feels it needs heavy weights to defend it tells me they are worried about the responses the Snowden leaks are going to cause. Of course if they were operating within their mandates, this would never have been an issue.

Saying that they are operating legally to me stretches the word ‘legally’ just like so many other english language words have been redefined for the NSA’s use. Claiming an illegal law makes it legal only works till if is officially made illegal. We see all the time where states make laws the courts later state are not legal and this one is no different for claiming legality.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I want to live in your dream world. Legislation is rarely, if ever, checked for how Constitutional it is prior to passing.

The attitude is that it’s the judicial branch’s job to determine Constitutionality, and the judicial branch can’t rule on anything until there’s been a court challenge, which can’t happen until it’s law.

It’s messed up in the extreme.

Cold Wind says:

Stop whinning and obey the Constitution

General. At some point there will be something like the Nuremberg trials for those in government who broke their oath (like you)and trashed the Constitution. Stop spying on American citizens now. Stop the dragnet and you might be cut some slack. What would really help your case is if you tell us who really killed JFK ?, did 9-11 and how, what really happened at Bengazi, at the Boston Marathon, and where Obama was really born. etc.

Thebes says:

I look forward to the day that Clapper and Alexander will be hanged for their various treasons against the People of the United States of America.
Now, I am a reasonable fellow, and am happy to wait until after the revolution, and I even want to see them given a fair trail.
But then I really do hope to see a video of them being hanged on You Tube.

Biffbitrot (profile) says:

slippery slope

Well it looks like the Supreme Court won’t make their ruling on the constitutionality of the NSA’s phone call, sms and toilet cam traps until someone directly affected by them brings a suit directly before the Supremes. And in that case the NSA can continue stealing information as long as they don’t use it in anyone’s prosecution. If the calls happen to snag a terrorist they can try to find a different way to get evidence and foil the plot and if they fail, they can just not mention it and even use the “secret – undiscovered” plot as an excuse for MORE surveillance. In the meantime they can use the info they gather any damn way they please ie industrial espionage, an administrations enemies list, blackmail etc. (People at NSA ask for “trust? You don’t get what you’ve ALREADY broken.) What I’m wondering is whatever happened to the phrase “slippery slope”? Wasn’t that always supposed to be an unofficial guiding principle for the courts and even the police and prosecutors? Something to remind them of when they crossed the line and something they respected? Or has the concepts of shame, common decency, respect for the American people and their constitution completely eluded Mr. Keith Alexander et al.?

Chris says:

This Good Article

Hello. I am American and I want complain as much as possible about things being different than I would do them. I have no real experience nor do I understand the overwhelming complexities of any government system, I didn’t even go to college, but I have opinions and I’m going to fucking share them with you. That’s what we do. We complain, consume large amounts of psychoactive stimulants as a standard corporate practice because it makes us temporarily interested in mundane details. And when the stimulants wear off, I’ll let you know what’s wrong with the world, except my own, which is perfect. Hup ho, I am educated and I will tell you exactly what I would do and how those other people are idiots. Yep. I am a real human and I have a real computer. I don;t even have to show you my face or tell you my name. I can just read all day long, find things I disagree with, and then spend hours letting similarly undereducated people know what I am thinking from minute to minute. I am going to force my ideas up every orifice I can find using the latest technology – twitter, facebook,RSS, CNN, etc. Then, I’ll find in 10 years this post still exists and it was a fucking waste of my life..and yours because I chose to spend a portion of my limited life offering my empty opinions and wants to complete strangers that don’t give a fuck, and for which nobody is going to scroll down a page to read this inane bullshit. Bless this great land. Bless the Redneck States and bring them Slim Fast.

P.S. Please keep illegally tracking my searches, thoughts, and behaviors. It is essential to survival of this nation that Google be a repository for every thought I had in the last 20 years and for them to analyze patterns and conclude on my character…and pass it on to other law-breaking organizations for their similar uses. Thanks Sergey, thanks Larry. I know when you guys were in your dorm this is exactly what you wanted to happen. At least you got rich selling out. Fuck the rest of us. Now you can afford more BigMac & Whoppers than anybody else!

Anonymous Coward says:

Everyone posting on this page had their webcams turned on, facebook friend list profiled and branched to make associations and archives of all skype conversations pulled to be further looked at by an agent. your porn tastes have been logged and a profiling has been stored in the event of future un-patriotic behavior. You have been warned citizen, now be quiet, be good and enjoy the kool aid

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