Decoding NSA doublespeak

The Electronic Frontier Foundation's Trevor Timm has a handy guide to decoding NSA doublespeak. The spookocracy has a pathetically transparent way of lying their way out of direct questions, but the press (and, more importantly, Congress) seems incapable of detecting the low-grade BS emanating from the smoke-filled rooms. For example, when you ask the NSA if they can read Americans' email without a warrant, they reply "we cannot target Americans’ email without a warrant." The amazing thing about this stuff isn't that the NSA tries it on, but that its nominal supervision doesn't notice it. My five year old is better at this than they are.

This makes a great addition to the glossary of NSAspeak compiled by the ACLU's Jameel Jaffer and Brett Max Kaufman.

Another tried and true technique in the NSA obfuscation playbook is to deny it does one invasive thing or another “under this program.” When it’s later revealed the NSA actually does do the spying it said it didn’t, officials can claim it was just part of another program not referred to in the initial answer.

This was the Bush administration’s strategy for the “Terrorist Surveillance Program”: The term “TSP” ended up being a meaningless label, created by administration officials after the much larger warrantless surveillance program was exposed by the New York Times in 2005. They used it to give the misleading impression that the NSA’s spying program was narrow and aimed only at intercepting the communications of terrorists. In fact, the larger program affected all Americans.

Now we’re likely seeing it as part of the telephone records collection debate when administration officials repeat over and over that they aren’t collecting location data “under this program.” Sen. Ron Wyden has strongly suggested this might not be the whole story.

A Guide to the Deceptions, Misinformation, and Word Games Officials Use to Mislead the Public About NSA Surveillance