Following on the news that Ed Snowden told the Guardian how NSA employees routinely
passed around pictures they had intercepted of "extremely attractive" people who were naked, the NSA has issued one of its typical non-denial denials
. In an email to Forbes' Kashmir Hill, NSA spokesperson Vanee Vines basically said, "If we knew about it, that wouldn't be allowed":
“NSA is a professional foreign-intelligence organization with a highly trained workforce, including brave and dedicated men and women from our armed forces,” said spokesperson Vanee Vines by email. “As we have said before, the agency has zero tolerance for willful violations of the agency’s authorities or professional standards, and would respond as appropriate to any credible allegations of misconduct.”
Except, of course, what nearly every story talking about this has left out is that this is hardly the first such revelation. The NSA has a history and pattern of this kind of thing. Back in 2008, it was revealed that NSA analysts had been listening in on
and passing around tapes of Americans having phone sex:
Not only were calls between Americans listened to and recorded on a regular basis, the "good parts" (i.e., phone sex) were sent around to other operators to listen to as well. One of the operators said that on a regular basis messages would be sent around with messages like: "Hey, check this out. There's good phone sex or there's some pillow talk, pull up this call, it's really funny, go check it out."
Even if we take the NSA at its word that it has a "zero tolerance" policy for this kind of thing, that actually makes the story even worse
. Because it just shows how weak (to non-existent) the NSA's "100% auditability" really is. Keith Alexander insisted that everything done by people with access to these databases was tracked and audited. But it's becoming increasingly clear that that's not true at all. And it makes you wonder just how much abuse is going on that the NSA has no idea about -- potentially for things even worse than listening in on phone sex or passing nudie pics around the office.