Daniel Drezner, contributing editor at Foreign Policy, recently paid a visit to the National Security Agency’s complex in Fort Meade, Maryland and chatted with various employees at the intelligence agency.
The article Drezner wrote about the visit, which was published earlier this week, presents a fairly sympathetic view of the NSA and its frustrated employees in light of the heavy public scrutiny due to its controversial domestic surveillance programs. But he recounted a conversation with one unnamed agency official that shows a very real, terrifying disconnect over the concerns with its spying (emphasis added):
The NSA’s attitude toward the press is, well, disturbing. There were repeated complaints about the ways in which recent reportage of the NSA was warped or lacking context. To be fair, this kind of griping is a staple of officials across the entire federal government. Some of the NSA folks went further, however. One official accused some media outlets of “intentionally misleading the American people,” which is a pretty serious accusation. This official also hoped that the Obama administration would crack down on these reporters, saying, “I have some reforms for the First Amendment.” I honestly do not know whether that last statement was a joke or not. Either way, it’s not funny.
Yeah, that’s not funny, whether it was meant as meant as a joke or not. But the sad thing is that these comments echo a sentiment expressed by NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander in government-sponsored propaganda.
In October, Alexander said that “it’s wrong that that newspaper reporters have all these documents [leaked by whistleblower Edward Snowden],” adding that “[w]e ought to come up with a way of stopping it.” The video in which he made the comments was posted on the Department of Defense’s official YouTube channel.
Drezner’s report, which is well worth a read, comes in the same week in which 60 Minutes aired a puff piece on the NSA that allowed agency officials to mislead viewers about its domestic surveillance and bulk data collection.
A day following that piece, a federal judge issued a scathing opinion in which he said the NSA phone metadata program is “likely unconstitutional.” On Wednesday, the White House released a much-anticipated report by Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technology which stated that the “current storage by the government of bulk metadata creates potential risks to public trust, personal privacy, and civil liberty.”
The five-member review group recommended reforms that, if implemented, would dismantle the NSA’s phone record database, which stores information on virtually every American even if they’re not subject of investigation.
The report suggested that data still be retained by phone companies or a third-party for purposes of searches whenever authorized by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC). The panel also recommended also legislative reforms would limit the extent of and access to the database.
Despite the whining and chilling calls for curtailing of the freedom of the press, the NSA and President Obama, who supports the domestic surveillance programs, have lost the public relations battle in a big, big way.