Today I’m not going to write breathlessly detailing the latest new NSA shocker from the Snowden cache (although there are one or two of these). Instead I want to focus on how the NSA arrives at what it says about all this.
You see, on June 13 al-Jazeera America submitted a FOIA request to the NSA for
copies of all talking points as well as all documents, which includes but is not limited to, emails, reports, memos, transcripts, used to prepare said talking points for members of Congress, the media and anyone else within the Obama administration surrounding the leak of information related to NSA surveillance activities.
This document, or as much of it as I have been able to digest so far, may not be quite as scandalous as the typical Snowden-Greenwald scoop itself, but nonetheless is educational. The first page, with heading “Media Leaks One Card” seems to be a summary of the rest. It’s first line is
*FIRST RESPONSIBILITY IS TO DEFEND THE NATION
Then we have
*NSA AND ITS PARTNERS MUST MAKE SURE WE CONNECT THE DOTS SO THAT THE NATION IS NEVER ATTACKED AGAIN LIKE IT WAS ON 9/11
From there the page gives similarly formatted statements claiming that all three branches of government nave oversight, that a specific court order obtained with probable cause is required to target the communications of a “U.S. person,” and so on. In short, all the things you’ve heard the good Generals of intelligence tell us in the last few months (including the famous one that
*PROGRAMS HAVE RESULTED IN INTELLIGENCE THAT HELPED CONTRIBUTE TO THE DISRUPTION OF OVER 50 POTENTIAL TERRORIST ATTACKS.
Did you really think General Alexander was ad-libbing at that Congressional hearing?)
But the real fun is in the specifics beginning on the second page. The very first item, as the AJA article
highlights, is presented under the heading “SOUND BITES THAT RESONATE,” and is
I MUCH PREFER TO BE HERE TODAY EXPLAINING THESE PROGRAMS, THAN EXPLAINING ANOTHER 9/11 EVENT THAT WE WERE NOT ABLE TO PREVENT.
Then there are items about “connecting the dots,” oversight, protection of privacy, and on and on. Later in the document there are points about the specific terrorist plots the agency claims to have thwarted, such as the famous Zasi scheme to bomb the NY subway system (touted by Alexander and Senator Feinstein alike on separate occasions, although the claim that the agency provided a crucial link has been thoroughly discredited).
Recent Snowden revelations have suggested that terrorism is at best mixed with economic and political information in foreign surveillance, and some of us have long suspected that the real purpose of the “accidental” surveillance of USians themselves that supposedly falls out of the foreign surveillance is monitoring progressive activists. These 27 pages of talking points do not of course prove such contentions, but the agency is certainly methodical in its use of language in public.