Leaked memo details NSA talking points on Prism

A leaked memo apparently sets out the NSA's "talking points" to its defenders in government who are discussing the situation with the press and critics. Mike Masnick at TechDirt has a point-by-point rebuttal of what is, overall, a very weak document. It's almost as though the NSA has grown accustomed to getting its own way by sneaking around behind America's back and doing whatever it wants, rather than by setting out its case with compelling logic:

The news articles have been discussing what purports to be a classified, lawfully-authorized order that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA Court) issued under an Act of Congress – the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). Under this Act, the FISA Court authorized a collection of business records. There is no secret program involved here – it is strictly authorized by a U.S. statute.

"There is no secret program here"? Bullshit. Why, then, have so many people, both in the Congress and the public been shocked at the extent to which the NSA is snarfing up data? This is a secret program, enabled by a secret interpretation of the FISA Amendments Act, by the FISA Court, which the DOJ and the NSA insist the public is not allowed to know. Yes, it's a secret program. Saying otherwise is simply lying.

Leaked: NSA's Talking Points Defending NSA Surveillance


  1. Here’s the next shoe to drop:

    (post Boston bombing)

    On Wednesday night, Burnett interviewed Tim Clemente, a former FBI
    counterterrorism agent, about whether the FBI would be able to discover
    the contents of past telephone conversations between the two. He quite
    clearly insisted that they could:

    BURNETT: Tim, is there any way, obviously, there is a voice mail they can try to get the phone companies to give that
    up at this point. It’s not a voice mail. It’s just a conversation.
    There’s no way they actually can find out what happened, right, unless
    she tells them?

    CLEMENTE: “No, there is a way. We certainly
    have ways in national security investigations to find out exactly what
    was said in that conversation. It’s not necessarily something that the
    FBI is going to want to present in court, but it may help lead the
    investigation and/or lead to questioning of her. We certainly can find
    that out.

    BURNETT: “So they can actually get that? People are saying, look, that is incredible.

    CLEMENTE: “No, welcome to America. All of that stuff is being captured as we speak whether we know it or like it or not.”

    “All of that stuff” – meaning every telephone conversation Americans
    have with one another on US soil, with or without a search warrant – “is
    being captured as we speak”.

  2. Okay, so there is no secret program, but we’ve got to prosecute Edward Snowden for telling everyone our secrets… riiiiiiight.

  3. ” Why, then, have so many people, both in the Congress and the public
    been shocked at the extent to which the NSA is snarfing up data?”

    Since when did lack of awareness by congress constitute proof of anything?  Isn’t that the default condition? Just playing devils advocate.

    1.  Devil’s advocate, or no, that was not the point.  The point is that America doesn’t know the difference between the truth and a lie. 

      1. Worse, there’s a subset of this America that doesn’t care, thus laying the basis for bullshit as defined by Frankfurt.  The author of this article might have intended it as a pejorative, but calling the NSA’s words “bullshit” is formally correct.

      1. ‘Wait you want us to actually Read this stuff before we sign it? That’d take… weeks.’

  4. Well, I also feel like playing Devil’s advocate here…  “Why, then, have so many people, both in the Congress and the public been
    shocked at the extent to which the NSA is snarfing up data?” This is argument by rhetorical question. Rhyolite had it right – people being surprised is hardly sufficient proof that something is secret, it’s just proof they didn’t know about it.
    Another reason Congressfolk act shocked is because it suits their political agenda (for that, though, they’d have to be “shocked, shocked!”). Politicians acting shocked are either idiots or disingenuous.
    Another reason the public may be shocked is they’re fine with all kinds of surveillance, but thought it would just be of brown people, or people with an accent, or scary people, not themselves.
    Also, people are just starting to realize how BIG big data really is. It’s like buying a shirt in Large, not realizing that Large has gotten huge lately. It’s surprising, maybe upsetting, but it is what you bought.
    As for whether the “program” is secret, or whether its conduct and results are secret, I think more the latter than the former. But I’m no lawyer.
    Surveillance, like a gun, is a weapon, and it bothers me based on how it’s used. I expect the gov’t will have, and use, weapons. Look at our armed forces, used for good and for ill – I was for the invasion of Afghanistan because they supported the attack on our territory. I was against the invasion of Iraq because that was unprovoked, and was intended mainly to turn a profit. I was for the action in Bosnia, because it was well-run and was for humanitarian reasons. All that said, I’m not against the existence of our armed forces.

  5. What bugs me the most, is so many of the people saying these things seem to believe what they are saying. In one breath they say:

    No court has convicted us of a crime. Leave us alone. Destroy Snowden right now. No need to wait for due process. We are not doing things in secret. Our activities are too secret to be investigated. Snowden exposed important secrets. Which don’t exist. Snowden was a minor cog. Ignore him. But, he somehow gained access to important secrets. But, we are responsibly protecting your information. No need to investigate. We are important people doing important things. But, nothing important is going on here. Finally, even though all our statements contradict each other, this time we are telling the truth.

    The shocking bit is the sheer stupidity of the message. When I look at the intelligence community, I can tolerate a little evil. But, these guys can’t seem to form coherent sentences. Are we sure we are locking up the right potheads?

    1. We apologize for any inconvenience that this move toward totalitarianism may cause. Thank you for your understanding.

  6. Also, I’m surprised the NSA is relying on FISA for cover. Didn’t the Bush administration neuter the FISA courts a decade ago? I fugured the judges have just been doing crossword puzzles since then.

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