NSA Gave Employees Ridiculous 'Talking Points' To Spread Among Friends And Family Over The Holidays

from the we're-good-enough,-we're-smart-enough,-and-doggone-it... dept

It seems that the NSA’s “talking points” keep on leaking. The latest is a two pager it sent home with employees prior to Thanksgiving, so they’d have substance-free pablum to say in response to any family and friends who might actually have been paying attention to the news lately, and have some concerns to raise about the NSA violating our privacy and the Constitution. The document is broadly split into five sections, with sub talking points within each section. Here are the key points (underlines in the original):

  • 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.

Almost all of the talking points are misleading, with some clearly being outright lies. Kevin Gosztola at Firedoglake, who first obtained and published these talking points, does an incredibly thorough demolishing of the talking points, so I highly recommend reading that. Here’s a short snippet:

“NSA programs protect Americans and our Allies,” the document reads. “As an example, they have helped to understand and disrupt 54 terrorist events since 9/11: 25 in Europe, 11 in Asia and 5 in Africa. Thirteen of those had a homeland nexus.”

Deputy Director John Inglis admitted in August during a Senate hearing, when pressed by Sen. Patrick Leahy, that US bulk records phone spying had been “critical” in stopping just one terrorist plot. He clarified that the spying on phone records had only “made a contribution” to discovering the 13 plots.

Sens. Ron Wyden, Mark Udall & Martin Heinrich, who filed a brief in support of an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) lawsuit challenging the collection of phone records of all Americans, explained the Executive Branch has defended the program by conflating it with “other foreign intelligence authorities.” The senators highlighted the fact that the collection under Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act had played “little or no role in most of these disruptions.”

“Indeed of the original fifty-four that the government pointed to, officials have only been able to describe two that involved materially useful information obtained through the bulk call-records program,” the senators added. “Even the two supposed success stories involved information that [the senators] believe—after repeated requests to the government for evidence to the contrary—could readily have been obtained without a database of all Americans’ call records.”

At this point, any intelligence agency leader, member of Congress or government official who highlights 54 “thwarted” plots is advancing propaganda to save the NSA from being forced into giving up this power to collect the phone records of all Americans.

There’s much, much more at the original. Go read it. Most of these talking points are pretty much what you’d expect, and the standard doublespeak we’ve been hearing from the NSA and its defenders ever since the Snowden revelations began. At best they’re setting up strawmen to knock down. No one has argued that NSA employees aren’t American citizens. We just question what they’re doing. Furthermore, the whole “lawful, compliant” thing is kind of laughable, given the numerous examples of abuses, and the regular discussions from the courts about how the NSA has abused its mandate. Even more to the point, many of these programs simply have not been challenged in court in an actual trial, so claiming that they’re legal is a huge stretch.

Maybe it’s time that someone put together a list of “talking points” for friends and family of NSA employees to read back to them the next time they spew these kinds of bogus claims.

Bonus: The folks at Gawker worked the talking points into a script. Here’s a snippet:

DAD: So, Ted, how’s work lately?

UNCLE TED: NSA’s mission is of great value to the Nation.

DAD: Oh, for sure. I was just thinking since it’s been in the news a lot…

UNCLE TED: NSA performs timely, actionable intelligence to political and military customers who use that information in a range of activities from decisionmaking to military operations.

DAD: …

MOM: Honey, maybe Ted doesn’t want to talk abou—

UNCLE TED: NSA performs its mission the right way—lawful, compliant, and in a way that protects civil liberties and privacy.

KEITH ALEXANDER: Pass the salt?

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Comments on “NSA Gave Employees Ridiculous 'Talking Points' To Spread Among Friends And Family Over The Holidays”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

You have a low opinion of Americans surely? Wouldn’t loyal Americans refuse to work for such organisations whose activities are so clearly at is with the constitution.

Oh no, my mistake, it’s not possible to have too low an opinion of Americans as a group. Although thankfully albeit confusingly there are the unusual individuals who give the impression that the US could be, if things were different be worthy of of something other than the contempt it is currently held in.

Anonymous Coward says:

Notice what *isn't* said

If you look for *isn’t* said.

“NSA’s mission is of great value to the Nation:”
No mention of spying on foreign allies.
No claim that mass surveillance helped terror plots.

“NSA *Analysts* do not decide what topics to work”,
So NSA DOES decide what topics to work, but NSA *analyst* don’t. Well apart from LOVEINT etc.

It also does not deny spying on allies for political leverage.

“NSA does not and will not *steal* industry secrets”
All of them are right there in the backbone tap, and that GCHQ data feed. All the commercial emails, the prices for parts, contracts won, all in those offshore taps, and Tempora feeds.

When a British company wins a Chinese contract, those emails are captured by GCHQ, fed into the NSA spy machine, and any data useful to the US economy is taken. That is your NSA mission statement, that is in the leaks.
You might not call it *stealing*, but most people are not fooled.

“NSA performs its mission really well”
$10 billion a year, since General Alexander came to power that’s $13 per person on the planet.
Only a tiny insignificant portion of that budget is anti terror work.

So the commercial gain on that data, to justify the spend must have been greater than $80 billion, in other words you’ve done $80 billion dollars worth of commercial damage minimum to other countries.

“The people who work for the NSA are loyal Americans”.
Your boss General Alexander has swapped around the ‘surveillance and suspicion’ parts of judicial protection.
First comes the surveillance, then comes the suspicion. You loyal Americans must know he’s a problem for democracy that poses.
You also, am damn sure aware of how being a ‘loyal American’ means to us Brits, with our traitorous spy agency helping you undermine our democracy.

“We embrace public dialog”
Then why the talking points? If the analysts are not free to speak their own views, and have to parrot General Alexander talking points the how is it even a dialog?

Internet Zen Master (profile) says:

Re: Re:

At least most religions aren’t monitoring your every waking moment to make sure you’re behaving according to religious laws. They let their deity of choice do that for them.

Okay, that’s not quite true, but the level of privacy invadin’ is a lot lower from most religions than it is from the NSA these days, that much is for sure.

PittCaleb (profile) says:

Funny… A decade plus ago, Big Pharma did the same thing. They gave us brochures every Thanksgiving on “how to talk to your family about the pharmaceutical industry” The NSA isn’t the only ones doing this.

Biggest thing that would shut up my grandparents – You see our nice house? You see our nice car? Stop talking about how much your prescription drugs cost now please. 😉

Anonymous Coward says:

[…] propaganda to save the NSA from being forced into giving up this power to collect the phone records of all Americans.

This is arguing against a non-solution. A complete and total disbanding of the NSA is the only acceptable outcome at this point. When an agency violates the constitutional rights of Americans on such a massive scale, it can not be fixed, it must be completely shuttered.

anon says:

They are right. The US of A is the only country which has these Freedom and Democracy things, which are the greatest things humanity ever seen. Why would anyone speak against these things? The NSA clearly represents the Freedom and the Democracy, they even have a motherf*ckn eagle on their seal.
Why dont you guys love them? They are American and since they love Freedom and Democracy they cant be bad. Ever.
Im starting to think that im reading a site for terrorists or communists.

Seriously guys this crap has been going around for half a century. The USA was once THE symbol of freedom, liberty and democracy(more or less) but now its a joke.

jfioew89 says:

But they left out the most important points!

Warrantless mass surveillance allows us to:

-Make billions from insider trading and high-frequency electronic trading

-Support covert operations which hijack foreign governments and industries as described by Perkins in “Confessions of an Economic Hit Man”

-Identify, track and harass whistleblowers who expose corruption in government

-Identify, track and harass politicians and political groups which oppose our attempts to do all of the above

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