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.
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