NSA Can Neither Confirm Nor Deny It Uses The Phrases It Used On A Leaked Slide
from the NATSEC-shrugs dept
The NSA’s ubiquitous Glomar response continues to appear on every FOIA request denial it issues. The entirety of the NSA’s systems can neither be confirmed nor denied, no matter how much information has been leaked to the press over the past year.
Investigative reporter Jason Leopold recently filed a FOIA request asking the agency to turn over any documents related to the phrases displayed on the leaked slide pictured below.
Leopold asked the NSA about its variations on the phrase “collect it all” (a.k.a. former NSA head Keith Alexander’s personal motto), including “sniff it all,” “process it all,” “exploit it all,” “partner it all” and “know it all.” As is its particular idiom, the NSA Glomared all over the response letter. (via Freedom of the Press Foundation’s Trevor Timm)
Your request appears to be related to recently published information about alleged NSA activities. Therefore, to the extent that your request seeks any information about NSA intelligence programs, or in relation to any specific methods or means for conducting the programs, we cannot acknowledge the existence or nonexistence of such information.
We have determined that the fact of the existence or nonexistence of the materials you request is a currently and properly classified matter in accordance with Executive Order 13526, as set forth in Subparagraph of Section 1.4. Thus, your request is denied pursuant to the first exemption of the FOIA which provides that the FOIA does not apply to matters that are specifically authorized under criteria established by an Executive Order to be kept secret in the interest of national defense or foreign relations and are, in fact properly classified pursuant to such Executive Order.
Quick question: if the material, in fact, does not exist, is it still “properly classified?”
In addition, this Agency is authorized by various statutes to protect certain information concerning its activities. The third exemption of the FOIA provides for the withholding of information specifically protected from disclosure by statute. Thus, your request is also denied because the fact of the existence or non-existence of the information is exempted from disclosure pursuant to the third exemption.
So, not only are the phrases apparently subject to a variety of FOIA exemptions, even a simple nod of recognition in the direction of the NSA’s “collect it all” aspirations is strictly forbidden. It’s enough to make you want to drag the NSA into the nearest interrogation room and yell at it while jabbing repeatedly at the slide above, “THIS! THIS! DOES THIS LOOK FAMILIAR?!??”
As mentioned earlier, this is standard operating procedure for the agency, which has greeted this new, forced era of openness with begrudging releases (compelled by court orders) of previously classified documents and an unwillingness to confirm or deny anything about its programs. People who have requested anything the NSA has gathered on them personally are familiar with this response. Even the FBI will cough up its own files if asked, but the NSA can’t even let respondents know whether or not it’s siphoned up any of their metadata, presumably because doing so allows the terrorists to win.
At the bottom of the response letter, the NSA includes its token spiel about the possible avenues of recourse requesters can avail themselves of should its “neither confirm nor deny” response fail to satisfy, but it’s not like anyone believes anything short of a federal lawsuit will loosen the agency’s grip. And even then, that’s not a sure thing. The best case scenario is a long-delayed, heavily-redacted document that provides little to no insight into the NSA’s activities.