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Employee Morale Is Suffering At the NSA 841

Posted by samzenpus
from the turn-that-frown-upside-down dept.
Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "Ellen Nakashima reports at the Washington Post that morale has taken a hit at the National Security Agency in the wake of controversy over the agency's surveillance activities and officials are dismayed that President Obama has not visited the agency to show his support. 'It is not clear whether or when Obama might travel the 23 miles up the Baltimore-Washington Parkway to visit Fort Meade, the NSA's headquarters in Maryland,' writes Nakashima, 'but agency employees are privately voicing frustration at what they perceive as White House ambivalence amid the pounding the agency has taken from critics.' Though Obama has asserted that the NSA's collection of virtually all Americans' phone records is lawful and has saved lives, the administration has not endorsed legislation that would codify it. And his recent statements suggest Obama thinks some of the NSA's activities should be constrained. 'The agency, from top to bottom, leadership to rank and file, feels that it is had no support from the White House even though it's been carrying out publicly approved intelligence missions,' says Joel Brenner, NSA inspector general from 2002 to 2006. 'They feel they've been hung out to dry, and they're right.' Former officials note how President George W. Bush paid a visit to the NSA in January 2006, in the wake of revelations by the New York Times that the agency engaged in a counterterrorism program of warrantless surveillance on U.S. soil beginning after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. 'Bush came out and spoke to the workforce, and the effect on morale was tremendous,' Brenner said. 'There's been nothing like that from this White House.' Morale is 'bad overall' says another former NSA official. 'It's become very public and very personal. Literally, neighbors are asking people, 'Why are you spying on Grandma?'"
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Employee Morale Is Suffering At the NSA

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  • by rossdee (243626) on Sunday December 08, 2013 @07:30PM (#45635017)

    That Snowden got all the attention, maybe others were planing on blowing some whistles

    • by DavidClarkeHR (2769805) <david@clarke.hrgeneralist@ca> on Sunday December 08, 2013 @07:47PM (#45635105)

      That Snowden got all the attention, maybe others were planing on blowing some whistles

      They've been upset for a long time, about doing secret, unapproved missions. It's a snowden LEAK that make their discontent ... public knowledge.

      At least, that had better be the story. Because anything else is just a bunch of rich kids whining that they've been outed (and treated poorly). They weren't slaves, prisoners or compelled to remain.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 08, 2013 @08:44PM (#45635481)

        Indeed. Snowden already said that morale there had been terrible for a long time, and people were being kept in line through a toxic combination of fear and false patriotism. He was talking about before he left, of course.

        I noticed something else from the articles. The number of CV's being submitted for clearance is higher than any previous time. That implies a brain drain from the NSA, which is good - one of the few things that will really hurt them is when their brightest people suddenly don't want to work there anymore. And it's worth remembering stuff is so compartmentalized there, probably most of the employees had little clue what was really going on. Maybe they suspected but didn't know for sure. They were allowed to see their small part of the picture and nothing else. I bet the NSA folks have learned more about their employer in the last few months than the rest of their careers combined. So not really a surprise many of them are now leaving.

        captcha: unhappy

        • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 08, 2013 @10:14PM (#45636117)

          I was there for an interview, I turned it down.. Say I'm working at N.S.A. Somebody puts a code on my desk, something nobody else can break. Maybe I take a shot at it and maybe I break it. And I'm real happy with myself, 'cause I did my job well. But maybe that code was the location of some rebel army in North Africa or the Middle East. Once they have that location, they bomb the village where the rebels were hiding and fifteen hundred people I never met, never had no problem with, get killed.

          Now the politicians are sayin', "Oh, send in the Marines to secure the area" 'cause they don't give a shit. It won't be their kid over there, gettin' shot. Just like it wasn't them when their number got called, 'cause they were pullin' a tour in the National Guard. It'll be some kid from Southie takin' shrapnel in the ass. And he comes back to find that the plant he used to work at got exported to the country he just got back from. And the guy who put the shrapnel in his ass got his old job, 'cause he'll work for fifteen cents a day and no bathroom breaks. Meanwhile, he realizes the only reason he was over there in the first place was so we could install a government that would sell us oil at a good price. And, of course, the oil companies used the skirmish over there to scare up domestic oil prices. A cute little ancillary benefit for them, but it ain't helping my buddy at two-fifty a gallon.

          And they're takin' their sweet time bringin' the oil back, of course, and maybe even took the liberty of hiring an alcoholic skipper who likes to drink martinis and fuckin' play slalom with the icebergs, and it ain't too long 'til he hits one, spills the oil and kills all the sea life in the North Atlantic. So now my buddy's out of work and he can't afford to drive, so he's got to walk to the fuckin' job interviews, which sucks 'cause the shrapnel in his ass is givin' him chronic hemorrhoids.

          And meanwhile he's starvin', 'cause every time he tries to get a bite to eat, the only blue plate special they're servin' is North Atlantic scrod with Quaker State. So what did I think? I'm holdin' out for somethin' better. I figure fuck it, while I'm at it why not just shoot my buddy, take his job, give it to his sworn enemy, hike up gas prices, bomb a village, club a baby seal, hit the hash pipe and join the National Guard? I could be elected president.

          • by tchdab1 (164848) on Sunday December 08, 2013 @11:38PM (#45636595) Homepage

            Thank you Matt Damon.

        • by memnock (466995) on Sunday December 08, 2013 @11:20PM (#45636487)

          If these people are as good as all the stories say they are, and I'm not saying they aren't, you have to wonder, and worry a little, where they will end up. Are they just moving over to a former contracting company and doing the same thing? If so, would that really hamper the NSA? It probably means that former NSA employee, now NSA contractor, is doing the same thing, only getting more money. That doesn't really do anything to rein in the NSA's activity via attrition.

          I doubt those former employees will leave the field altogether, since they're probably aces in the field. I'm sure they have ND clauses and other restrictions, but that doesn't mean the security apparatus will shrink a whole lot.

        • by rtb61 (674572) on Monday December 09, 2013 @12:05AM (#45636727) Homepage

          I hope you can also see the problem. Sure the best (those with honesty, integrity and loyalty to their country and fellow citizens and fortunately the brightest) but that will basically leave behind the sick perverts, psychopaths and the politically corrupt. Those are the ass hats that took the NSA down that route and they will be the only ones left. Now that is going to be a huge problem and pretty much the exact same problem that manifested at the CIA, where the best left leaving behind the corrupt who then privatised and contracted out intelligence services as retirement plans for themselves, billions blown on make believe for profit misinformation.

          This directly fuelled a war with misinformation, where billions of dollars was siphoned off to ex-CIA now private contractors and major military industrial complex corporations. It is easy to guess what they new CIA will become, a blatant corporate intelligence service. With out honest people, it will become as bad as you can imagine.

          • by davester666 (731373) on Monday December 09, 2013 @01:50AM (#45637125) Journal

            "publicly approved intelligence missions"

            I'm not sure 'publicly' is being used correctly here, as the public certainly has NOT approved these missions.

            Most people (IMHO) would agree with "secretly approved intelligence missions" or "intelligence missions approved by the white house".

            Nevermind that the administration has only CLAIMED these massive data gathering operations have resulted in discovering up to 2 (two) instances that might have been terrorist plots of some kind and maybe provided some information helpful to a couple dozen of other investigations (which were initiated and driven by intelligence NOT derived from these mass data gathering operations).

      • by SuperBanana (662181) on Sunday December 08, 2013 @09:16PM (#45635745)

        They've been upset for a long time, about doing secret, unapproved missions. It's a snowden LEAK that make their discontent ... public knowledge.

        Meh. I disagree - I think most NSA employees love that they get to do something really james-bond-ish, get a blank-check budget, and have essentially unlimited power over everyone else. There is no doubt a strong voyeuristic angle to the whole thing. They're also, by and large, getting paid obscene amounts of money.

        I've met a number of people who work government jobs with clearances and they all act so goddamn smug about it, I've wanted to punch them in the mouth.

        I think they were all quite happy nobody knew the power they had; they were "getting away with it." Now that we do, they're demoralized because they don't get to lord over us with the mystique. Plus, robbing the cookie jar isn't fun when everyone sees you do it.

        Fuck 'em. I hope the place becomes a miserable place to work and the whole thing falls apart at the seams.

        • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 08, 2013 @09:38PM (#45635883)

          Meh. I disagree - I think most NSA employees love that they get to do something really james-bond-ish, get a blank-check budget, and have essentially unlimited power over everyone else. There is no doubt a strong voyeuristic angle to the whole thing. They're also, by and large, getting paid obscene amounts of money.

          This shows exactly how much you know.. basically nothing. Tell me again how much a worker bee GS 7 through 12 [opm.gov] is getting paid? Fuck you. Focus on the contractors and there's your problem, which is what Snowden was.

          I've met a number of people who work government jobs with clearances and they all act so goddamn smug about it, I've wanted to punch them in the mouth.

          Retired military here.. I'd have put you down hard, sweetie. In addition, I'm from the old school.. if somebody is acting smug about something, then they're likely a) a nobody or b) a contractor.. see above.

          I think they were all quite happy nobody knew the power they had; they were "getting away with it." Now that we do, they're demoralized because they don't get to lord over us with the mystique. Plus, robbing the cookie jar isn't fun when everyone sees you do it.

          Fuck 'em. I hope the place becomes a miserable place to work and the whole thing falls apart at the seams.

          Again, amatuer hour on your part. It sucks not being able to tell your family what you're working on, let alone anybody else. Any sort of 'mystique' is in your envious eyes only. In addition, if 'the whole thing falls apart' then we as a nation are fucked.

          You seem to have a lot of animus. Focus on the contractors. Seriously. I'm no longer in the game, but in my amateur opinion (which is apparently a lot more informed than yours) this is the result of relying on contractors instead of federal civil service. When I was in the field, they could throw us in the clink and then throw away the key; the sorts of things these contractors are getting away with is astounding.

          • by LVSlushdat (854194) on Sunday December 08, 2013 @10:00PM (#45636019)

            ....In addition, if 'the whole thing falls apart' then we as a nation are fucked.

            As far as I'm concerned "we as a nation" ARE ALREADY fucked... When both parties shit on the Constitution, and any amount of truth from the government is non-existant, we are swirling down the toilet... I'm a Army vet, and love this country and the Constitution, and before anybody decides to label me, I AM NOT A REPUBLICAN, NOT A DEMOCRAT, NOT A LIBERTARIAN, I AM AN AMERICAN!!. What is happening to the country I love makes me absolutely sick... Frankly, I'm glad I'm in my 60s, and not a young'un anymore, as I don't want to see where this country will be in 10-20 years.....

            • by interkin3tic (1469267) on Monday December 09, 2013 @01:20AM (#45637003)
              In my opinion, we're only fucked as a nation when we as a nation give up due to fear or apathy. We did give up for a while after 9/11, but it's not permanent, bad government never is. The fear is weakening, and the apathy is starting to crumble as a result of what happened right after 9/11.

              The time frame might be too long, especially if you're planning on not being around longer than 10 years, but we're not totally fucked permanently ever. Remember that we've had a two party system basically the whole time this country has been around, and the constitution has been shit on much more thoroughly than it has after 9/11. For that matter, the constitution itself had some shit baked right into it from the start, we managed to improve upon parts of it. That's not to say things are good today, just that they've been much worse and we've recovered from it.
          • by Redmancometh (2676319) on Sunday December 08, 2013 @10:22PM (#45636179)

            They shouldn't get paid a single red cent of MY money to spy on me. They should be thrown in prison for treason for a year at the bottom and life at the top.

            • by Solandri (704621) on Monday December 09, 2013 @07:52AM (#45638201)

              They shouldn't get paid a single red cent of MY money to spy on me. They should be thrown in prison for treason for a year at the bottom and life at the top.

              Hopefully your sentiments are the same for the elected officials who told NSA to do this. From what I've read, this wasn't some rogue NSA operation. It was fully endorsed by Congress and the White House (both Bush and Obama). Now that it's gone public and sentiment is decidedly against it, the politicians are in full CYA-mode, dumping all the fallout from this squarely on the NSA when it was in fact the elected officials who initiated it. As much as I detest Feinstein's support for this surveillance program, at least she's being honest and up front about her support for it. Not hiding and pretending not to have had any part in it in the hopes that the public won't notice their role come next election.

        • by icebike (68054) on Sunday December 08, 2013 @09:42PM (#45635909)

          If you re-read his post, he never actually said that, he was more or less suggesting that SHOULD be their story

          At least, that had better be the story. Because anything else is just a bunch of rich kids whining that they've been outed

          Seriously, how can an educated person go to work each day, knowing they are violating civil rights of everyone in the country (not to mention the world) and still feel good about their job? They job demands bunch of deluded true believers or people simple without ethics.

          Even if every single one of them goes to work each day determined to PERSONALLY not do any evil with the information they have at hand, they have to know its not that way at every desk.

          That they are "dismayed that President Obama has not visited the agency to show his support" should be their clue that its time to look for honest work.

          • by Opportunist (166417) on Sunday December 08, 2013 @10:31PM (#45636207)

            Maybe I can fill that question.

            It's a mix of patriotism and idealism at the start, and a mix of wanting job security and jadedness at the end. In between, there's a lot of conditioning. And I don't mean some kind of active and forceful indoctrination, but rather that subtle kind where you are constantly surrounded by the same people who give you resonating and reinforcing feedback. Groupthink isn't a phenomenon that's unique to Slashdot Doubts you might once in a while have when you're crossing your personal line between what you think is good for your country and what you may impose on your people are quickly dispelled by the people around you. Your premise is that you're doing the right thing and you want to listen to people telling you that you still do when doubts cross your mind.

            So Obama not showing up and telling them "good job" is probably a quite serious blow to their self-image.

          • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 08, 2013 @10:40PM (#45636257)

            This is a sample size of one, but in my family (going to be vague here) is a retired career military officer who worked in the NSA. I've talked with him and he's extremely arrogant. We talked about some things about the government and the military and it was quite clear that he believed in the chain of command and near-absolute loyalty to the government. This was some years ago, so it never really occurred to me to ask him about the Bill of Rights or anything like that, but I suspect that he would believe that bending the rules for the sake of his perception of protecting the country would be quite OK with him.

            So there has to be a fair number of people like him with the same attitudes.

            There are also a lot of brilliant nerd/geek types who are probably mostly loners who are looking for some type of recognition or sense of accomplishment and working for the NSA gives them something interesting to work on. I hate to make sweeping generalizations, but there are a lot of people in that category who are so socially isolated that they really just don't have any sort of sense of ethics in their worldview (like you state).

        • by memnock (466995) on Sunday December 08, 2013 @11:27PM (#45636545)

          I was at an air force base where I saw a bumper sticker that said "I read your email". How is that for power tripping?

    • by careysb (566113) on Sunday December 08, 2013 @07:49PM (#45635109)

      Washington Post:
      "Last month, we reported on LOVEINT, the facetious term used to describe NSA analysts who misuse their surveillance powers to spy on romantic interests instead of terrorists. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) asked the NSA to get more specific about the misconduct the NSA had uncovered. So the NSA sent Grassley a letter with details of the 12 LOVEINT incidents it has uncovered since 2003.

      The incidents have a number of things in common. Almost all of them involved spying on foreigners outside of the United States (one man targeted his American girlfriend, and a few others spied on communications involving both Americans and foreigners). In seven of the 12 cases, the misbehaving employee resigned while the disciplinary process was ongoing. The rest received letters of reprimand, got demoted, lost pay, were denied security clearances or faced other punishments. None of the individuals were prosecuted for their actions."

      "Not prosecuted"? No wonder they're not getting any support. (amongst many, many, many other reasons)

      • by Impy the Impiuos Imp (442658) on Sunday December 08, 2013 @08:37PM (#45635451) Journal

        And how many incidents go undetected?

        Worse, LOVEINT is a bit disturbing, but not the kind of abuse that's serious on a governmental level.

        Suppose the next election is Hillary vs. Christie. Would you be happy with people listening in on Christie's phone calls and those of his circle and supporters? Or Hillary's?

        Imagine how that could be abused to swing elections. Counter strategies. Embarrass or blackmail donors.

        All because the technology is in place with weak protections that a determined agent (or cabal) could easily bypass.

        Just the "metadata", knowing who these people talk to, can be seriously abused.

        • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 08, 2013 @10:07PM (#45636073)

          "Suppose the next election is Hillary vs. Christie. Would you be happy with people listening in on Christie's phone calls and those of his circle and supporters? Or Hillary's?"

          This is exactly what is happening in Turkey. They released a video of main opposition parties leader with a married woman from the same party. He resigned. Then they released the supposed to be top secret communications of Turkish military leaders. Half of them are now in jail with made-up evidence based on modified legitimate private documents.

          Once, there was a coup thread from the top general to prevent Erdogan's radicalization of Turkish state. Next day Erdogan met with him, and the general did a 180 turn. The rumor is that Erdogan had a video of her unmarried daughter having sex.

            Now, the islamist prime-minister Erdogan is exchanging angry words with his once ally, the man behind a global islamist movement, Fethullah Gulen. It is said that Gulen (who has schools all around the world, including united states) controls Turkish police, and justice system and has lots of hidden recordings of Erdogan, and his party leaders through his followers in police intelligence teams.

          Everybody in Turkey is waiting to see who will chicken out first: Erdogan or Gulen. The hope is, before that happens, there will be more videos and leaks from private communications to entertain everybody.

        • by Opportunist (166417) on Sunday December 08, 2013 @10:33PM (#45636211)

          Also in the news, Nixon was channeled by a medium. Allegedly he claimed his only crime was that he was ahead of his time.

      • by Subm (79417) on Sunday December 08, 2013 @11:27PM (#45636543)

        the NSA sent Grassley a letter with details of the 12 LOVEINT incidents it has uncovered since 2003.

        The NSA self-reporting 12 incidents is like finding 12 cockroaches in your pantry. You know there are uncountably more scurrying around.

        Except for one thing. The cockroaches aren't nearly as disgusting.

    • by npridgeon (784063) on Sunday December 08, 2013 @08:16PM (#45635317)
      Don't do bad shit, so you don't have to feel bad about it.
      • by anagama (611277) <obamaisaneocon@nothingchanged.org> on Sunday December 08, 2013 @09:20PM (#45635783) Homepage

        Exactly, and furthermore: the snubbing, the low morale, the personal insults -- couldn't happen to a more deserving group of scum. If they want not to be considered scum, they need to quit and get a valuable, or at least a "not harmful" job. But when a person acts like Stasi, her or she should expect to be treated like shit, because it is well desrved, even if just following orders.

      • by schnell (163007) <me@schnell.REDHATnet minus distro> on Sunday December 08, 2013 @10:20PM (#45636157) Homepage

        Don't do bad shit, so you don't have to feel bad about it.

        Disclaimer: I am writing this as someone who believes that the current US scope of electronic snooping is improperly controlled, far out of bounds, and wholly counterproductive.

        From reading the comments here so far, I have come to realize that there is a major "culture gap" between the people who comment on Slashdot and those who work in places like the NSA, the US military, the police or other "authority" organizations. Being (apparently) one of the few people in the former category who also knows and admires friends in the latter category, I thought it might be useful to attempt to explain the cultural gap that otherwise prevents the two groups from understanding each other.

        Most employed Americans - including nearly all Slashdotters - have a job. They may like it or hate it, but they fundamentally view themselves as free agents within an economy where their employer wants to get the most work out of them for the least money, and they want to get the most happiness for the least work. Employer/employee loyalty is not particularly important (except where it is grudgingly mandated through unions, which dulls the "free agent" concept as well). Work is what they do to provide for themselves and not their "calling."

        Some employed Americans believe themselves instead to have a calling of national service, such as military personnel, or employees of other national-security related agencies. (A similar argument for a "calling" as employment could be made for teachers, firemen, police, community volunteers, etc.) They forego monetary or other opportunity in the belief that the work they are doing to serve their country is a "higher calling" that makes the trade-offs worthwhile. An important difference between "national service" callings vs. some others is an implicit understanding of a military-style discipline - the military does not work if the captain says "let's attack hill X" and the private decides to shoot at hill Y instead.

        This is not an attempt to absolve "but I vas only taking orders, herr prosecutor!" behavior. These people still maintain an individual conscience and are willing to exercise it. But by and large, there is a trust that individual employees have (necessarily) only a limited view of the big picture, and the responsibility for figuring out what's right or wrong to do is being shouldered by the executive-level ranks who do actually have the big picture. (For example, you wouldn't want an individual CIA analyst to say "I won't put surveillance on this address" because it's a US address when they don't have the full picture that it's being used by a foreign agent.)

        Far too long story short - NSA employees don't feel like their work is spying on Grandma. They think their work is very valuable, and it's spying on potential terrorists or otherwise giving the US political leadership all the data it needs about what is going on anywhere else in the world.. They are not going to spend their time reading up on every secret court ruling about what is or isn't kosher spying - most of them don't have access to all the information anyway! They feel hung out to dry because the senior government officials who they trusted to answer "is this OK?" said "yes" and then didn't back them up when an angry US and world public said, 'WTF?'"

        You may agree, you may not agree. Apologies for any misrepresentations to the people I am speaking on behalf of. But I thought it might be useful for most Slashdotters to at least hear the thinking of the people on the "other side" and why it may not be a cut-and-dried issue.

        • by shadowofwind (1209890) on Monday December 09, 2013 @12:52AM (#45636909)

          I worked in the aerial surveillance industry for several years. In the niche I was in, everyone pretended it was about patriotism and national service. But if you looked at what actually drove the decisions, it was mostly about money, spiced up a little bit with vicarious violence. Aside from some minimal ass covering, there wasn't anybody in the whole chain of command that considered morality or what was actually helping, this was always regarded as someone else's responsibility. And for what they put into it, the money was actually quite good. I have almost no sympathy. Many of them are too far into it to get out now, but they got themselves there by lying to themselves. If they were actually sincere, when they came across evidence of corruption, they'd want to do something about it. But when I started discovering more of what was going on, nobody wanted to hear a thing about it. How they represent their actions to themselves, in their own imagination, doesn't change the nature of what they are doing.

          • by hairyfish (1653411) on Monday December 09, 2013 @03:52AM (#45637521)

            In the niche I was in, everyone pretended it was about patriotism and national service. But if you looked at what actually drove the decisions, it was mostly about money, spiced up a little bit with vicarious violence.

            I've worked in a few government agencies, some of them requiring security clearance, and my experience has been that for 99% of people I met it was about money, job security or pension plan. My family is knee deep military including service in most major conflicts and after WW2 it was never about service, just a way to make a living that was the best option on the table at the time. In fact I'd go so far as to say I've never met one person that join the public service for patriotism (outside of grandfathers signing up to kill Hitler). WW2 gets a special mention because it was the last war the west fought that actually risked our way of life. That was the last great cause, since then it has just been politics, money and corruption.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 08, 2013 @08:18PM (#45635335)

      The problem is that Secret Santa is impossible during the holidays there.

  • by Kell Bengal (711123) on Sunday December 08, 2013 @07:31PM (#45635023)
    I would say these are exactly the sorts of questions we should be asking, and they should be able to answer.
  • by Spy Handler (822350) on Sunday December 08, 2013 @07:31PM (#45635025) Homepage Journal

    n/t

  • one could wish (Score:4, Insightful)

    by wbr1 (2538558) on Sunday December 08, 2013 @07:32PM (#45635027)
    That Obama would condemn and stop being ambivalent, but I suppose letting them stew is enough.
    • Re:one could wish (Score:5, Informative)

      by phantomfive (622387) on Sunday December 08, 2013 @07:44PM (#45635093) Journal

      That Obama would condemn and stop being ambivalent

      Obama is not being ambivalent at all, he approves the NSA program. You could know this before he was elected the first time, because he went out of his way to vote in favor of the program.

      The reason he sounds 'ambivalent' is because, like all politicians, he tries to confuse the gullible by saying things to appease both sides on an issue.

    • Re:one could wish (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 08, 2013 @07:51PM (#45635127)

      You're really that blind to what kind of sociopath is in the White House today, aren't you? Funny, Slashdotters are so fast to call CEOs sociopaths at the drop of a hat and yet the most powerful man in the world is looked on with sympathy as if he was an unwitting victim of the very system he helped establish and personally has near total control over.
       
      I guess you really can get drunk off of Kool-Aid.

  • by willoughby (1367773) on Sunday December 08, 2013 @07:36PM (#45635045)

    Well, I sure missed *that* call.

  • by chihowa (366380) * on Sunday December 08, 2013 @07:36PM (#45635049)

    Literally, neighbors are asking people, 'Why are you spying on Grandma?'

    So, they're hoping that the public approval of the president will keep them from having to come up with an answer to that question?

    I guess nothing alleviates the need for thoughtful introspection like a big pat on the head from the master.

    • by swillden (191260) <shawn-ds@willden.org> on Sunday December 08, 2013 @11:43PM (#45636615) Homepage Journal

      Literally, neighbors are asking people, 'Why are you spying on Grandma?'

      So, they're hoping that the public approval of the president will keep them from having to come up with an answer to that question?

      The answer to that question is obvious. Here's what they say "We aren't spying on Grandma. Sure, we're gathering up her information along with all the rest, but we don't actually look at it, or use it. And we can't be selective about what we grab, because then we'd sometimes miss stuff that's important. So need to continue grabbing everything, just in case, but, really we're nice people and we would only use it to help the American people. Okay, so there's the occasional bad apple who abuses it (e.g. LOVEINT), but we try to find them and get rid of them."

      Does getting that answer make you feel any better about it? Probably not. It doesn't make me feel any better, even though I can see clear as day how a bunch of well-intentioned, hard-working people could follow this particular road right into massive surveillance hell, fully convinced that they're doing the right thing. From their perspective, it's easy to see that they are only doing good things, if we'd only just trust them. From our perspective, we can't know what they are or are not doing, and they're doing it without our permission and in contravention of our most fundamental law, no matter how they try to split hairs.

  • problem is (Score:5, Insightful)

    by phantomfive (622387) on Sunday December 08, 2013 @07:36PM (#45635053) Journal
    The problem is, no one has a clue what the NSA is doing. Even if they are the kind of people who would normally support spying for defense purposes, it's not even clear what defensive purposes the NSA is serving.

    When Obama defends the NSA spying programs, he says, "If we're gonna do a good job preventing a terrorist attack in this country, a weapon of mass destruction getting on the New York subway system, et cetera, we do want to keep eyes on some bad actors."

    OK, but that's not very convincing, especially when a few months ago Obama was saying the war on terror is over [usnews.com].
  • by fred911 (83970) on Sunday December 08, 2013 @07:40PM (#45635067)

    You must have a spine.

  • GOOD. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jcr (53032) <jcr@nOspAm.mac.com> on Sunday December 08, 2013 @07:40PM (#45635073) Journal

    Violating the constitution SHOULD make you feel like shit.

    Hint to NSA minions who want to redeem themselves: there is no apology more sincere than hara-kiri. Spill your guts, and we might forgive you.

    -jcr

  • by BenEnglishAtHome (449670) on Sunday December 08, 2013 @07:43PM (#45635081)

    I retired a couple of years ago from a near-30 year career with the Internal Revenue Service.

    People tried to kill me on more than one occasion. Dogs were set on me more times than I can remember. A man once openly threatened to kill me, in front of witnesses, while we were standing in a courthouse hallway, on a break, during a jury selection.

    People comitted suicide from dealing with us even when doing so made no sense; they simply let their ignorant fears of the Big Bad put them in a bad place, mentally.

    When a parade of kooks and idiots testified to Congress in 1998 that we were all baby-eating monsters, NO ONE stood up for us. Horrific legislation that left the agency permanently hamstrung resulted.

    Over the last 3 decades, the IRS has actually deserved about 1% of the vitriol poured out on it. Morale is a thing of the past.

    Yet, still, no one stands up for the IRS. Those of us who worked there had to adapt. It's possible.

    To those at the NSA who are just awakening to the new reality that people are, now and forevermore, going to hate you whether you deserve it or not, I can only say "Welcome to my world. Learn to deal with it. It'll drive you nuts if you don't."

    • by pete6677 (681676) on Sunday December 08, 2013 @07:51PM (#45635125)

      Learn to deal with it indeed. It won't be changing anytime soon. It's part of the price you pay for a sweet government gig.

      • by BenEnglishAtHome (449670) on Monday December 09, 2013 @01:16AM (#45636993)

        It's part of the price you pay for a sweet government gig.

        The price I paid for my sweet government gig was being paid less than half what comparable private sector employees earned. I once consulted with a group of 16 employees who worked a project for 3 years that netted the government just over $16B.

        That's billion, with a "b".

        Their average pay was about $60K/year plus benefits. They got no bonus for bringing in that staggering sum. That sort of treatment was normal.

        My sweet gig will only pay off if I live for quite a while more, since the only advantage I have over the private sector is that I earned a small pension and decent health insurance, both of which are unlikely to be threatened because my employer goes into bankruptcy.

        I had to spend 30 years behind the earnings curve to get where I am now; I wouldn't call that a "sweet gig". It was a trade-off I made with my eyes open and if I live another 20 years, it'll turn out to have been the right choice, but please disabuse yourself of the notion that there are more than a small handful of federal jobs that can accurately be termed "sweet gigs." They just don't exist.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 08, 2013 @07:54PM (#45635143)

      While I know there are some crazies out there, I think more than 1% of the scorn heaped on you guys is deserved. I don't know about you personally, but the IRS is responsible for ruining people's lives and lacking proper accountability and due process for the individual taxpayer.

      Here's an amusing anecdote about power-tripping IRS agents that luckily didn't end up ruining anyone financially:

      I have a friend who got audited one time; the IRS found a minor problem and my friend simply offered to pay the penalty on the spot (it was very minor, like a couple hundred dollars for an improper deduction or something). The IRS auditor told him to sit down and shut up so that he could berate him. My friend wasn't going to have any of that and simply left the IRS office. He never heard from them again about the supposed improper deduction and wasn't asked to pay.

      • It's a trap. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 08, 2013 @07:58PM (#45635187)

        I have a friend who got audited one time; the IRS found a minor problem and my friend simply offered to pay the penalty on the spot (it was very minor, like a couple hundred dollars for an improper deduction or something). The IRS auditor told him to sit down and shut up so that he could berate him. My friend wasn't going to have any of that and simply left the IRS office. He never heard from them again about the supposed improper deduction and wasn't asked to pay.

        They are just biding their time until the penalties compound enough for them to simultaneously garnish his wages and seize his house.

    • by phantomfive (622387) on Sunday December 08, 2013 @07:56PM (#45635169) Journal
      It's really a pain to get a letter from the IRS, informing you have a fine, but not explaining the fine and also not telling you how to challenge the fine.

      And that's just the beginning.
      • by Herkum01 (592704) on Sunday December 08, 2013 @09:54PM (#45635985)

        I have gotten fines from the IRS, and it was always because I missed something and it was my fault. Sometimes it took a little work to figure out what the problem was, and even called them up when I was trying to figure it out. The people were never rude and always helpful.

        Was I happy with it? No, who really wants to admit they made a mistake and have to pay to fix it? No many people, but you know what? I sucked up my ego, which all it really was, and admitted my mistake and paid up.

        For all the scorn people heap on the IRS, they do a very good job, especially considering all the crap they get from anyone who seems them as an easy dog to kick.

    • by Skarecrow77 (1714214) on Sunday December 08, 2013 @08:22PM (#45635371)

      I took an english class in college on the "rhetoric of intimidation". that is, how to write in order to intimidate. Not surprisingly, example #1 was the IRS. the professor had spent years studying with them and working with them. One of her favorite stories was when she learned that the majority of the time, an audit occurred because the IRS's records on you didn't match, and rather than figure it out they audit you to make you figure it out.

      My best friend works with a lot of self-employed people. One of them had several (3 or 4) years in a row where his tax refund would have been miniscule, something like $10 or $20 in the black, so he didn't even bother sending in the forms. He figured he'd just let the government keep the money. The IRS responded by sending him a bill for roughly $10,000 owed, because they figured that was a nice round number to make up.

      I'm sure everybody here has anecdotes like this. That "1%" of bad eggs you talk about must have been terribly terribly busy.

    • by russotto (537200) on Sunday December 08, 2013 @08:41PM (#45635463) Journal

      People comitted suicide from dealing with us even when doing so made no sense; they simply let their ignorant fears of the Big Bad put them in a bad place, mentally.

      When a parade of kooks and idiots testified to Congress in 1998 that we were all baby-eating monsters, NO ONE stood up for us. Horrific legislation that left the agency permanently hamstrung resulted.

      I don't know how you missed this while working there, but the IRS deliberately cultivates that reputation. They WANT to be known as baby-eating killers, they want people to fear dealing with them so much that they don't even risk anything which could result in an audit even if it's 100% legal. The IRS has been doing government by terrorism for a very long time now, and it's quite effective.

      Every so often the people get uppity, so the IRS has to pull something like holding day care students hostage until the parents pay the school's taxes. That usually works.

    • by MetricT (128876) on Sunday December 08, 2013 @10:22PM (#45636175) Homepage

      I made a $3 mistake on my income tax return (Scottrade updated my tax info *after* I'd sent mine in, but they didn't notify me).

      The IRS apparently took that as an excuse to torment me for most of a year. I got audit for the above $3 claim, as well as for "falsely claiming that I was due a tax deduction for student loans" (I took some night classes at the local community college). Apparently that $3 claim was justification for a fishing expedition.

      First time, I take an entire day off to redo my taxes, discover that I have made a $3 error, cut them a $3 check, and sent them the 1098-T from the college to prove that the other claim is false.

      Couple months later, they send me the exact same form. I again take another day off to recompute my taxes (I was correct), and again send them the same 1098-T info that they requested.

      Third time, I told that I will be taken to court because I haven't provided the proof required. I take yet *another* day off to go to the local IRS office in Nashville and sit down with a lady to explain that I've already sent the 1098-T form in.

      She logs into her computer, turns it toward me, and starts hitting page-down. "We don't have any record that you sent it in." I see it flash by and tap on the screen. "Yes you did, it was just on your screen a second ago." She pages up and stares at it in silence for 2-3 minutes. "Well I just don't understand that."

      Great. So now that the IRS knows I've sent it in, we can put this whole misunderstanding behind us, right? "I'm sorry, but there's nothing I can do to fix this". My choices were pay it off, send an appeal to the IRS, and hope that suddenly grow a brain after the **4th** time, or go to tax court, lose yet another day's salary, and hope the judge was smarter than the IRS. So I paid.

      The IRS's excruciatingly, devastatingly, mind-numbing incompetence cost me roughly $1000 in lost salary for a $3 difference. And the whole collective IRS can go pleasure itself with a saguaro cactus.

    • by strikethree (811449) on Sunday December 08, 2013 @11:11PM (#45636445) Journal

      To those at the NSA who are just awakening to the new reality that people are, now and forevermore, going to hate you whether you deserve it or not, I can only say "Welcome to my world. Learn to deal with it. It'll drive you nuts if you don't."

      Oh boy, where do I begin? Prior to 1990, the IRS was a terrorist organization with virtually unlimited power. Senators and upper level administration folks were terrified of you. You guys would seize millions of dollars of property, lock all bank accounts, and freeze all assets over trivial amounts of disputed payments which left the victim no chance to defend themselves. Fuck you if you think you did not deserve the hatred you received. You were plain fucking evil. I saw the trail of devastation and shattered lives you guys left behind.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 08, 2013 @07:43PM (#45635085)

    Sure, Obama should take the heat, and certainly he is standing up for them in my experience.

    But it's hard to buy the narrative of NSA employees and leadership as innocent victims. They are following poilcy, but Obama doesn't personally design and approve all activities of the million person, trillion dollar executive branch. Much of their activity is of their own design and initiative.

    They may be unhappy but they need to stop targeting it at someone else. They are responsible. Perhaps they should feel a little guilty that Snowdon was the only one with the nerve to act responsibly.

  • by melchoir55 (218842) on Sunday December 08, 2013 @07:50PM (#45635111)

    'It's become very public and very personal. Literally, neighbors are asking people, 'Why are you spying on Grandma?'"

    Were they my neighbors, I would be asking the same thing.

    Were they my friends, I would shun them.

    Were they my significant other, I would leave them.

    The notion in the USA that the minions are innocent and "just following orders" is ridiculous. Unless conscripted (which these people are not), they are as complicit as their masters. These people are damaging the USA in profound ways. They deserve it to be uncomfortable every step of the way.

    • by Desler (1608317) on Sunday December 08, 2013 @07:54PM (#45635153)

      Especially when the US didn't accept such logic in the Nuremberg Trials. "Just following orders" does not excuse things.

    • by TheGratefulNet (143330) on Sunday December 08, 2013 @08:18PM (#45635331)

      dare I say it: working at _commercial_ spying places should also be met with the same hatred.

      I'm looking at you, google. and others, but google is the current poster child of unwanted tracking and spying and is the definition of 'power, out of control'. and yet, people are still lining up to go work there. even full well knowing what they are doing.

    • by Anubis IV (1279820) on Sunday December 08, 2013 @08:26PM (#45635401)

      I know this isn't a popular belief, but I actually am willing to buy into the idea that most of them had no idea this sort of stuff was going on. You gotta figure that with it being a compartmentalized intelligence agency, the right hand may not know what the left is doing in many cases, particularly for the rank-and-file employees. And by all indications, most of the things we're hearing about really were the result of initiatives being pushed through by top people who had a couple of small teams of developers willing to do their dirty work.

      For instance, one of PRISM's selling points was that it was low-budget on account of it only having a few developers. Considering the budget the agency has, I'm guessing they employ a LOT of people, yet we're mostly hearing about programs that only need a handful of people at most. Seems to me that it's entirely plausible that the vast majority of NSA workers actually are decent people doing legitimate (and legal) work, and for them, it's a shame what's happened. By no means am I excusing the ones directly responsible for this stuff, nor the ones who had awareness of it, but I'm willing to bet that quite a few of the rank-and-file are just as outraged as we are, but know that abandoning their mission would only make things worse, since the work that those people are doing is still necessary.

      But if acknowledging such a thing is too difficult for most of us here, let's go ahead and believe that every last one of them is irredeemable scum who deserve to die a slow death. Because none of us here have ever been in a situation where people we were associated with did bad, perhaps even unconscionable, things without us having a say in it. Right?

      • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 08, 2013 @09:29PM (#45635837)

        Posting anonymously for obvious reasons...

        They knew what was going on. My grad school was funded by the NSA. I never had clearance, but did visit Ft. Meade a few times. Based in the public stuff they were funding (*cough* GNU Radio *cough*) and the types of projects we did, it was very obvious what the applications were.

        Everyone I met there was very smart (way smarter than me). If I could figure it out 8 years ago from some funding and vague conversations, they definitely could.

        I turned down the offer to work there for ethical reasons. Too creepy even without knowing everything.

      • by DMUTPeregrine (612791) on Sunday December 08, 2013 @10:32PM (#45636209) Journal
        "Today I mourn for two things: for the fate of those millions of people who were murdered by the National Socialists. And for the girl Traudl Humps who lacked the self-confidence and good sense to speak out against them at the right moment." -- Gertraud "Traudl Humps" Junge, Adolf Hitler's secretary.
        She was pardoned at the Nureberg trials. "She was young, she couldn't have known any better. She was only guilty of consistently going along with what her society demanded. She was not the one who had brought death to Europe and the East, and in fact was ignorant of the Nazi's crimes as they were being committed."

        Later in life, she said:
        "It was no excuse to be young. It would have been possible to find things out."

        http://www.viruscomix.com/page474.html

        Ignorance among the rank-and-file is not an excuse. Collaborating with evil is evil.
  • by elashish14 (1302231) <profcalc4&gmail,com> on Sunday December 08, 2013 @07:52PM (#45635133)

    but agency employees are privately voicing frustration at what they perceive...

    Jeez, of all people, you'd think the ones working at the NSA realize that this can't be!

  • Guilt (Score:4, Insightful)

    by betterprimate (2679747) on Sunday December 08, 2013 @07:53PM (#45635139)

    ... It kind of happens when you are found out for conspiracy against the people you are meant to serve and protect.

    It's called having a conscience. Or lack of, since morale is only suffering after you've been caught.

  • Well-deserved shame (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Aboroth (1841308) on Sunday December 08, 2013 @07:54PM (#45635145)
    You know what this sounds like? "Aw shucks, people don't like me because they caught me peeping in their windows and jerking off. Don't they know I'm helping to keep them safe? What's wrong with them?"
    It sounds like a lot of them are sad people don't like them, not that they were unwittingly helping to ruin America. They need a big ol' whack across the head with a cluebat.

    However maybe some of them actually have souls. I'd feel like crap too if I was a party to trampling all over the constitution and promoting a police state. Maybe we'll see another one with a brain and a conscience grow a pair and do something about it. It's hard to do when you have people you love who depend on you but that's life. Life isn't fair. Shit needs to get better and it requires sacrifice. If you can't handle that then you're a crappy patriot.
  • by elashish14 (1302231) <profcalc4&gmail,com> on Sunday December 08, 2013 @08:04PM (#45635223)

    'The agency, from top to bottom, leadership to rank and file, feels that it is had no support from the White House even though it's been carrying out publicly approved intelligence missions,' says Joel Brenner, NSA inspector general from 2002 to 2006.

    Maybe you haven't been listening to the reaction Joel, but NOBODY APPROVES of your stupid fucking agency and the stupid fucking things they do. Except perhaps your authoritarian, imperialist, warmonger friends in Congress (Feinstein and the like).

    You probably won't realize why this is happening until you figure out how to admit how utterly fucking wrong you are. It's YOUR FAULT that your agency (and all other intelligence agencies) are hated because you decided to run out of control without a single shred of oversight. Don't blame this embarrassing atrocity on any one else.

  • Funny... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Eggplant62 (120514) on Sunday December 08, 2013 @08:08PM (#45635265)

    I remember this really old adage that my mom used to tell me... Something about reaping or sowing or some shit. Been a while since I heard that one.

  • Need to know... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by GumphMaster (772693) on Sunday December 08, 2013 @08:12PM (#45635287)

    NSA employees operate in a strictly compartmentalised environment where the need to know is enforced. Some people are in positions of extreme trust, but the vast majority are not. We all need to understand that the revelations coming from Snowden's leaks are just as surprising to the vast majority of NSA employees as they are to the public at large. A good number of these people will be equally dismayed at the actions of their employer. We don't need to hound the individuals. The organisation is fair game though.

  • by some old guy (674482) on Sunday December 08, 2013 @08:20PM (#45635355)

    The bastards got caught, and the poor little dears are upset..

    Fuck 'em.

  • by bill_mcgonigle (4333) * on Sunday December 08, 2013 @08:23PM (#45635381) Homepage Journal

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UrOZllbNarw [youtube.com]

    (notice how much hasn't changed in 15 years)

  • Conflicted (Score:5, Interesting)

    by TheSeatOfMyPants (2645007) on Sunday December 08, 2013 @08:52PM (#45635543) Journal

    I'm surprised to find myself feeling conflicted in thinking about this situation from that point of view. On the one hand, the people making decisions at the NSAare acting like spoiled brats whining that Daddy doesn't love them anymore because he showed displeasure at their misbehavior.

    On the other, our fucked-up economy has left a lot of people desperate enough to hold onto their jobs (especially if they have dependents to support) that I can easily see an average employee letting themselves believe their superiors' reassurance that their orders were legal/necessary or that their role is so minor that it didn't make a big difference. It's also very possible that many employees were chosen specifically based on a lack of knowledge about our rights, so they didn't even realize they were doing bad things. Either way, after all of those years of reassurance, having their leader turn his back on them to save his own ass when they're under attack would suck beyond belief -- and Ican only feel disgust for that behavior on his part.

    We all like to believe that we wouldn't be as 'weak' as the people that violated the Constitution/Bill of Rights as part of following orders, that we'd stand up to our boss/superior or maybe even pull a Snowden... But we also all like to believe we wouldn't cause horrible harm to others through abusing power [wikipedia.org] or following orders [wikipedia.org], and virtually all of us are wrong.

  • Yes! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Chewbacon (797801) on Sunday December 08, 2013 @08:54PM (#45635557)

    To the disgruntled NSA employees: you feel this way because you know what you're doing would have our founding fathers rolling in their graves! Take a stand, dammit. While easier for me to say than you to do, quit your job if it sounds wrong and send a clear message that this violation of privacy and more is wrong and you won't have any party of it. I bet then you could sleep better at night about your professional life, but maybe not as far as paying your bills.

  • In related news (Score:4, Informative)

    by gmuslera (3436) on Sunday December 08, 2013 @09:10PM (#45635703) Homepage Journal

    Some doctors are upset for not getting support after they helped torturing detained suspects [vice.com].

    In both cases, that maybe shows that very deep inside them, there is still a human being trying to confess the crimes that even they realize that are doing. "I was just following orders" don't cut the pain anymore.

  • President Obama... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Bartles (1198017) on Sunday December 08, 2013 @09:42PM (#45635903)
    ...won't visit the NSA to show support, because doing so would show acknowledgement that he is in charge of their actions. He prefers to remain at a distance, so he can politically separate himself from their actions to the maximum extent possible. Judging how few comments there are here blaming him for their activities, it appears to be working well.
  • by HangingChad (677530) on Sunday December 08, 2013 @09:43PM (#45635915) Homepage

    'The agency, from top to bottom, leadership to rank and file, feels that it is had no support from the White House even though it's been carrying out publicly approved intelligence missions,' says Joel Brenner, NSA inspector general from 2002 to 2006.

    Which "public" was that? Spying on foreign leaders, collecting unlimited data on US citizens, tracking cell phones...I think I'm seeing the problem. They know they're doing wrong and still feel justified. Now they want the president to make them feel better.

    It's like the phone companies wanting retroactive immunity for cooperating with spying. They want Congress to pass new laws making everything they've done legal.

    Nevermind all the spying didn't stop the Boston Marathon bombers or the Sandy Hook shooter or any of the more common threats.

    Maybe they deserve to feel bad.

  • by JWSmythe (446288) <jwsmythe@nOsPaM.jwsmythe.com> on Sunday December 08, 2013 @10:01PM (#45636031) Homepage Journal

        Here's my "Are You Fucking Kidding Me"(tm) list.

        1) Employees at the agency that is chartered to be the most secretive agency the US government has is telling the press they aren't happy?

        2) They want the President to visit because they've been doing their jobs, and it made the news?

        3) They want a pitty party because a contractor has been leaking information? The fucking NSA? Let a contractor leak anything? They let a contractor walk away with classified documents? How is he still alive?

        4) Are they not being paid for their jobs?

        5) Were they under some insane misconception about what their job would be when they were hired? It's one of the largest intelligence agencies in the world. What did they think they were getting hired for? Play solitaire and collect paychecks?

        This story makes me think that next week we'll be hearing about massive layoffs, and new openings with the agency.

  • Good. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by pla (258480) on Sunday December 08, 2013 @10:19PM (#45636155) Journal
    Good. You want a new sense of "morale"???

    Fucking quit.

    All of you. En masse. Find a real job, and move on.


    Now if only we could get people to treat the TSA the same. At least I, for one, can take personal credit for a public shunning... But no one else seems to care.

    Baaaaah!
  • by yoshi_mon (172895) on Monday December 09, 2013 @01:41AM (#45637079)

    ...even though it's been carrying out publicly approved intelligence missions...

    The "public approval" has come though a representative government that has single digit approval ratings. That were gerrymandered into being allowed to keep office. That most progressives have railed against the President for his failures to keep even some of his basic promises, even his 2nd term promises, about transparency and trying to respect civil liberties.

    Ok...deep breaths.

    If you continue to lie to us we will call you out on that. What you just said is a lie. It might be not a direct lie but it is a lie of omission. Stop fucking doing that. I could start talking about how your director should be in federal prison for doing exactly that but I'm going to stop right now.

FORTRAN is a good example of a language which is easier to parse using ad hoc techniques. -- D. Gries [What's good about it? Ed.]

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