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Employee Morale Is Suffering At the NSA 841

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

  • Zero sympathy (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 08, 2013 @07:37PM (#45635059)

    to the employees who have worked there tens of year knowing what they are doing. Now one man opened his mouth, and the rest of the cattle is feeling bad.

    Bou hou. Cry me a river.

  • 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 DavidClarkeHR ( 2769805 ) <(david.clarke) (at) (> 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 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 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 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.

  • 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 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 jma05 ( 897351 ) on Sunday December 08, 2013 @08:15PM (#45635309)

    I don't know about the Gestapo. But I watched interviews with ex-Stasi who continued to believe that they did what needed to be done and hence were patriotic. No second thoughts.

  • 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 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 @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

  • Re:Need to know... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 08, 2013 @08:47PM (#45635503)

    NSDAP 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 Auschwitz are just as surprising to the vast majority of NSDAP 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.

  • Re:GOOD. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by jcr ( 53032 ) < .ta. .rcj.> on Sunday December 08, 2013 @08:50PM (#45635519) Journal

    I did mean suicide, but if any of them come clean like Snowden did, then they should get a pardon.


  • 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 [] or following orders [], and virtually all of us are wrong.

  • 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 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 [] 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.

  • 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 Culture20 ( 968837 ) on Sunday December 08, 2013 @09:48PM (#45635945)

    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.

    But that takes a conspiracy, doesn't it?

    It may take a conspiracy to occur in a coordinated fashion, but it only takes the possibility to cause a chilling effect. There should be better checks and transparency in place. If a lone employee can keep tabs on love interests, then a lone employee can commit political blackmail.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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 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 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 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.

"Call immediately. Time is running out. We both need to do something monstrous before we die." -- Message from Ralph Steadman to Hunter Thompson