Over the weekend, hip-hot artist Jasiri X posted this image on his twitter feed. It’s taken from the front page of the New York Daily News’ website. Note the screaming headline and the sympathetic caption: “Accused killer Dylann Roof had one chance at a stable family life — and his abusive dad ruined it for…
In the digital age, we are subjected to an inconceivably enormous flow of information. Politics, news, current events, fact, fiction . . . they all flood the airwaves with a constant barrage of light and sound, pulling us in a thousand different directions as we struggle to assimilate such a vast amount of data.
In the midst of all this, various events have the potential to exert near-dominance over the public consciousness; take, for example, the recent acquittal of George Zimmerman for the murder of Trayvon Martin. While it certainly merits a considerable degree of attention, the Zimmerman trial and the subsequent fallout have shifted much of America’s focus away from many other, equally dramatic events that have been taking place simultaneously. Consider the following:
On July 2nd, a little-known blog called “The Mob And The Multitude” posted an article written by a young woman known only as “Madiha” titled “The NSA Comes Recruiting”, about her recent experiences dealing with NSA recruiters as a student at the University Of Wisconsin. She ended up engaging with them in a heated debate, with two of the other students at the seminar following suit. A fourth student managed to record a large chunk of the conversation with his iPhone, and submitted it to Madiha via SoundCloud for use as a frame of reference for this article.
The only thing more remarkable than the serendipitous coordination and unflinching courage of these young people is the information they obtained, particularly on the definitions of certain key terminologies used internally by the agency. When asked to clarify whether certain EU member states (like Germany, who recently discovered they were under massive surveillance by the NSA) are considered to be “adversaries” of the American government, the following exchange took place:
NSA RECRUITER 1: I’m focusing on what our foreign intelligence requires of [us], so . . . you can define “adversary” as [an] enemy and clearly, Germany is not our enemy, but would we have foreign national interest from an intelligence perspective on what’s going on across the globe? Yes, we [would].
MADIHA: So by “adversary”, you actually mean anybody and everybody. There’s nobody, then — by your definition — that is not an adversary. Is that correct?
NSA RECRUITER 1: That is not correct.
If you’re wondering why the NSA doesn’t just come out and ask Germany to share their intelligence information with American officials, then you’re beginning to see why this answer is so deeply problematic. Something as routine as a request for metadata doesn’t seem so innocuous if handled publicly, but clearly, we didn’t want Germany to know we were snooping around in their records. Germany stands to make a bundle if the Trans-Pacific Partnership comes to fruition, so it seems the “theater of war” has now extended to international trade negotiations. Why would we need a back door into Germany’s telecommunications network unless they are now considered an economic “adversary”? The term “disturbing precedent” fails to describe how incredibly insidious this actually is.
Now, we all know that the NSA has considerable power at their disposal, but they don’t act independently. This idea of the US being in an ‘”adversarial” relationship with other world powers has to come from somewhere, right?
NSA RECRUITER 2: We do not generate the intelligence requirements. They are levied on us, and so if there is a requirement for foreign intelligence concerning this issue or this region or whatever . . . whether that’s “adversary” in a global war on terrorism sense or “adversary” in terms of national security interests or whatever – that’s for policymakers, I guess to make that determination.
MADIHA: So, “adversary” is basically what any of your so-called “customers” as you call them – which is also a strange term to use for a government agency – decide if anybody wants, any part of the government wants something about some country, suddenly they are now internally considered or termed an “adversary”. That’s what you seem to be saying.
NSA RECRUITER 2: I’m saying you can think about it using that term.
So there you have it: “adversary” has been added to our government’s official lexicon of elastic words and/or phrases that can be stretched beyond credibility to fit any definition required of them, resting comfortable beside “terrorism” as one of the worst offenders. These terms form the backbone of many of our current political institutions, for they can be used to mean what they need to mean when they need to mean it, and can be applied to whomever or whatever they need to be applied to. Again, “disturbing precedent” doesn’t quite cut it here.
In addition, it would seem as if the NSA’s lackeys would prefer to lockstep for the agency in the Nuremberg fashion, and then drink their cognitive dissonance away in silly costumes at karaoke bars. According to Madiha, one the recruiters discussed what appeared to be the fairly insular social habits of NSA employees, saying “[she] can imagine that [the NSA social network] also exerts a lot of social pressure and works as a kind of social closure from which it would be difficult to escape.”
While this is purely speculative of course, when pressed upon the idea, the NSA recruiters couldn’t seem to come up with a straight answer.
STUDENT A: I have a lifestyle question. [Y]ou seem to be selling [what] sounds more like a colonial expedition. [T]he “globe is our playground” are the words you used, the phrasing that you used, and you seem to be saying that you can do your work, you can analyze said documents for your so-called “customers”, but then you can go and get drunk and dress up and have fun without thinking of the repercussions that the information you’re analyzing has on the rest of the world.
NSA RECRUITER 2: I’m not sure what the -–
MADIHA: I think the question here is do you actually think about the ramifications of the work that you do, which is deeply problematic, or do you just dress up in costumes and get drunk?
NSA RECRUITER 2: That’s why the context — when I was talking about reporting information, the intelligence that we get — reporting it in the right context is so important, because the consequences of bad political decisions by our policymakers [is] something we all suffer from.
Clearly, NSA employees only think as much as they’re paid to, otherwise these two snake oil salespeople would have been better prepared to answer questions like this, even if it was with outright fabrications. Perhaps those with a true gift of gab won’t settle for the recruiter pay grade? Who knows.
But there you have it, folks: this is what we’re dealing with in regards to NSA business practices. A hive-mind that does what it’s told from on high, through an ever-expanding vocabulary of doublespeak that would have Orwell spinning in his grave. When the day is done, they drink away their autonomy and sing songs for the glory of the Party, allowing the cacophony and the community to numb their ability to think critically about their employer’s reprehensible behavior. In the words of “Student B”:
STUDENT B: I’d love to read the opinion of the FISA court that says that one of the NSA’s programs was violating the 4th Amendment rights of massive amounts of Americans, but it’s a big ol’ secret, and only people like you, who will not talk with their wives when they get home about what they do all day, are able to . . . protect us from the “terrorist threat”. But let’s let everyone here hear more information about karaoke.
YOU HAVE TO VOTE. OK, it’s not up to me to tell you what you “have to” do. But please vote. Like,
When Pres. Obama announced Attorney General Eric Holder’s pending retirement Thursday, our friends on the right seemed to lose their composure. The Cato Institute’s Ilya Shapiro posted an article on the organization’s website – which has since been removed – in which he compared Holder to noted segregationist George Wallace: “Holder, according to Shapiro’s column,…
Condoleezza Rice, who served as Pres. George W. Bush’s National Security Advisor and Secretary of State, recently turned down an invitation to deliver the commencement address at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, to the dismay of many would-be First Amendment scholars and free-speech purists. Her reason? The wide-spread student protests that greeted the…