A recent headline from The Week says “NSA: We were just about to stop spying on everyone before Snowden spoke out” (March 30, 2015). At first glance this may seem like a good imitation of an Onion headline but truth is stranger than fiction.
The Associated Press tells us, “The proposal to kill the program was circulating among top managers but had not yet reached the desk of Gen. Keith Alexander, then the NSA director, according to current and former intelligence officials who would not be quoted because the details are sensitive.”
Most people’s reactions to this is to laugh. The idea that the NSA, an organization all but synonymous with spying on the American people, was going to self-regulate is worth a good chuckle indeed.
The fact that Alexander needed convincing that the program was a failure is proof enough that it was mostly talk. If you need to convince your boss of something that is widely known otherwise and that he has little incentive to admit, what do you think will happen?
This dynamic within a hierarchy is not new and related to a phenomenon Kevin Carson calls “magical thinking”.
The workers at the bottom of the NSA, complicit as they may be for these awful affronts to our dignity, are much more front and center with what the program actually does. Thus they have much more knowledge about what is going on and what might be worth changing. But they have little incentive to tell the people up top that because they could get fired or punished.
And people like Alexander are more likely to be signing the release forms or doing press control where it needed to be done than questioning these policies. Thus his connection to what these policies do are weaker and it shows. When Alexander tries to speak about their consequences he is either inconsistent at best or flat out wrong about these polices and their effects on the safety of America.
Back in 2013 the New America Foundation reported that, “An in-depth analysis of 225 individuals … charged in the United States with an act of terrorism since 9/11, demonstrates that traditional investigative methods, such as the use of informants, tips from local communities, and targeted intelligence operations, provided the initial impetus for investigations in the majority of cases, while the contribution of NSA’s bulk surveillance programs to these cases was minimal.”
So here we have an incompetent but incredibly powerful organization saying, “oh yeah we would have stopped spying on everyone if you hadn’t exposed us!”
Come on NSA, pull the other one.
Translations for this article:
- Italian, La NSA se la Tenta di Nuovo.