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United States Government Privacy

NSA's Former General Council Talks Privacy, Security, and Snowden's 'Betrayal' 212

blottsie writes: In his first interview since retiring as general council to the NSA, Rajesh De offers detailed insights into the spy agency's efforts to find balance between security and privacy, why the NSA often has trouble defending itself in public, the culture of "No Such Agency," and what it was like on the inside when the Snowden bombshell went off. He describes the mood after the leaks: "My sense of it was that there were two overriding emotions among the workforce. The first was a deep, deep [feeling] of betrayal. Someone who was sitting next to them—being part of the team helping keep people safe, which is really what people at the agency think they are doing—could turn around and do something so self-aggrandizing and reckless. There was also a deep sense of hurt that a lot of what was in the media was not entirely accurate. Questioning the motives and legality of what NSA employees were being asked to do to keep Americans safe—all within the legal policy construct that we've been given—that was difficult for the NSA workforce."
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NSA's Former General Council Talks Privacy, Security, and Snowden's 'Betrayal'

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  • by DoofusOfDeath ( 636671 ) on Friday April 03, 2015 @04:09PM (#49399969)

    So as long as my boss tells me it's okay to torture people and routinely violate the Consittution, it's okay?

    Fuck you, cowardly anti-democratic traitor.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Is NSA in the torture business? I thought that was the other three letter agency...

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The article seems like a lot of spin.

      Doesn't give any details, basically citing that he isn't allowed to divulge details, about how and why people are protected by mechanisms like FISA, yet we've already been shown how much of a rubber stamp the FISA courts are, and still the NSA games the system to stymie what little oversight they have.

      All of those bums should be prosecuted for breaking the law, but since the powerful protect the powerful, and power corrupts them, no one will ever laying charges against a

    • by boristdog ( 133725 ) on Friday April 03, 2015 @04:22PM (#49400087)

      I think a key phrase is "being part of the team helping keep people safe, which is really what people at the agency think they are doing"

      So he admits they just think that they are helping keep people safe. Or that they have convinced the lower echelons that public safety is their goal, when higher-ups like him know better.

      • Not only convinced them so, but now using them in an attempt to gain sympathy from the public

        • by rtb61 ( 674572 ) on Friday April 03, 2015 @08:13PM (#49401677) Homepage

          But, big BUTT here, the people at the NSA and people with university degrees, supposedly well educated and well informed people so the excuse but 'I'm stupid' doesn't really cut it. They knew they were breaking the law, every single last one of the lying asshats, they knew they were betraying their fellow citizens, there is no escape from that. What Snowden, was the one and only properly informed individual in the whole NSA including contractors, fucking bullshit. We are talking literally tens of thousands of co-conspiring criminals, obeying orders is no excuse, it is illegal to obey an illegal order and they are as guilty as the politicians who ordered them to do it.

          • "He is a good German..."

            I believe the guy, at least partially. Probably a lot of NSA drones are honest, decent people that knew very little about all the dirty shit that the agency is pulling. In an organization that size you can't keep secrets very long unless you can compartmentalize information. There are probably a lot of low level people who work for the NSA because they believe in protecting America.

            Of course that makes the small group(s) of filthy fuckers that are in the know and driving this s
            • by rtb61 ( 674572 )

              Doesn't even stop there. Couple of recent stories have pointed up a new NSA hack. They are right into the US postal service. All the computerised mail and parcel handling computers have now been hacked and pawned by the NSA. This is resulting in seeming completely random police raids on individuals who do a suspect amount of letter and parcel postage, extremely violent raids, as the Evil Empire is desperate to fund more tax cuts for the rich by stealing 'er' confiscating the assets of the middle class, the

          • There are a zillion departments in the NSA. Saying they all knew they were breaking the law is a wildly stupid and inappropriate allegation. Additionally, the vast majority of what they do is perfectly legal.

            • by rtb61 ( 674572 )

              A lot of gerk and nerds knew the truth and where commenting on it many years ago, again stupidity is not an acceptable excuse, before quarter done government reports. Oh well, maybe stupidity with regard to quite a few NSA agents is a viable excuse, your choice ;D.

              • I hope you hold the same policy toward everyone in a large organization. A few people make a mistake and you hold everyone in the organization accountable with the added "there's no excuse" bullshit.

      • by gweihir ( 88907 ) on Friday April 03, 2015 @04:36PM (#49400197)

        My grandparents on my mother's side where both part of some 3rd Reich organizations. They believed back then they were doing good and in hindsight never were sure they could have seen what they were really doing and supporting at the time they did it. Gave them a life-long extreme distaste for politics, because they realized it is easy to trick people into doing utter evil while they think that do good. The NSA workers that felt betrayed are lacking that insight, and they do so in a situation where finding out what it actually going on is much easier.

        • by Grog6 ( 85859 )
          Years ago this would have invoked the godwin rule; but when a society is obviously following the same path, that gets pushed aside by common sense. It's really too bad that common sense isn't so common anymore. Secret Courts, Secret warrants... The fact is now that Hong Kong or Russia or wherever is a better safe haven than America, for a Whistleblower exposing something so Completely Unconstitutional that people should be in prison for it, and are still in charge, or recently retired, as this Asshole i
        • by painandgreed ( 692585 ) on Friday April 03, 2015 @06:04PM (#49400819)

          My grandparents on my mother's side where both part of some 3rd Reich organizations. They believed back then they were doing good and in hindsight never were sure they could have seen what they were really doing and supporting at the time they did it. Gave them a life-long extreme distaste for politics, because they realized it is easy to trick people into doing utter evil while they think that do good. The NSA workers that felt betrayed are lacking that insight, and they do so in a situation where finding out what it actually going on is much easier.

          Remember, Goebbel's propaganda wasn't primarily used to fool other nations, but to fool the Germans themselves.

          • by gweihir ( 88907 )

            Rather obviously. However, the same techniques, only somewhat modifies to changed circumstances and language, are now used against the US population, and it is falling just as much for it as the Germans did back then. People do not learn one bit from history, it seems.

            • > People do not learn one bit from history, it seems.
              Nonsense - here we are having this conversation, along with millions of other Americans, long before things have gotten as bad as they did in Germany.

              Nevertheless Barnum's law still applies: You can fool most of the people, most of the time.

            • Rather obviously. However, the same techniques, only somewhat modifies to changed circumstances and language, are now used against the US population, and it is falling just as much for it as the Germans did back then. People do not learn one bit from history, it seems.

              People are people. Social engineering works. Training can help against specific and obvious threats, but history isn't much help if the very information you have access to is only partial or wrong to begin with.

      • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) * <mojo AT world3 DOT net> on Friday April 03, 2015 @06:45PM (#49401121) Homepage

        Even if they do believe that they are doing some good, that doesn't excuse the constitutional violations.

      • So he admits they just think that they are helping keep people safe. Or that they have convinced the lower echelons that public safety is their goal, when higher-ups like him know better.

        Or he's simply pointing out that - correctly or not - the NSA sees themselves as the good guys. Just like both Hitler and Churchill did. Admitting your self-image is subjective doesn't mean admitting it's wrong, much less purposeful self-deception.

    • Darn Snowden and his outdated sense of patriotism. I guess he didn't get the memo that the Bill of Right's was downgraded the legal status of "Just a suggestion". It should have been clear to him that the American people couldn't be trusted with knowing what the government is doing to them. Good thing they already got all that money budgeted, because if there is one thing we know it's that once a program is a line item on the budget it can't be stopped.

    • by Tokolosh ( 1256448 ) on Friday April 03, 2015 @04:47PM (#49400291)

      "Ve vere yust followink orders!"

      Time to watch Dr. Strangelove again, which perfectly captures the atmosphere inside this little man's bubble.

    • Yes, fuck them.

      "being part of the team helping keep people safe, which is really what people at the agency think they are doing"

      Surprise assholes. We need people to keep us safe from YOU.

  • How 'bout.. (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    That feeling that someone finally caught them doing what they knew most people would consider unconstitutional? Nobody experienced that within the NSA?

    • Re:How 'bout.. (Score:4, Insightful)

      by tnk1 ( 899206 ) on Friday April 03, 2015 @04:30PM (#49400147)

      As explained in the article, the staff of the NSA does not have carte blanche to just spy on people. They operate based on requirements. Now, those requirements might cause information to be collected in a way that is unconstitutional, let's face it, they're doing a job. The feeling that they are doing something earth shatteringly wrong is not one that you get in a bureaucracy like the NSA because they're generally only privy to a compartmentalized section of it. Similar sorts of things happen all the time with regimes where large bureaucracies support activities such as intelligence gathering, or "special activities".

      That means that any particular person working there believes that their little bit of the work is helping their country. Without a full insight into the project, they will not feel that the criticisms leveled at the Agency are leveled at them personally. Instead, they believe that Snowden is making their job more difficult, which honestly, he is. It's a matter of perspective. Easy for those of us with no involvement or investment in the NSA to take a strong view against their employer, but for those who earnestly work to do their job there to aid their country, they're going to feel like they're being betrayed. Some of them might, like Snowden, have a larger view and rebel against it, but do would not have his access.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        the staff of the NSA does not have carte blanche to just spy on people

        They had to create an entire CATEGORY of spying called LOVEINT because so many of them were spying on their spouses, partners or potential dates. While the semantics over what was 'authorized' can be debated, that large numbers of agency personnel had access to the data to troll at their leisure without fear of reprisal still hasn't been refuted.

        • by khasim ( 1285 )

          While the semantics over what was 'authorized' can be debated, that large numbers of agency personnel had access to the data to troll at their leisure without fear of reprisal still hasn't been refuted.

          And, apparently, there were no safeguards set in place to detect such activities.

          It SHOULD have been easy to have a few internal people randomly checking the legality/applicability of searches.

          From TFA:

          Those who don't pay too close attention think the NSA is out there gathering up whatever it can without rhym

          • And, apparently, there were no safeguards set in place to detect such activities.

            Apparently that isn't true since they have detected and punished the 1-2 people per year that act out in that manner.

            If those statements were accurate than Snowden's "betrayal" would be meaningless.

            Please explain your logic there. The quoted section would make Snowden's betrayal even more devestating, which it is.

            • The large percentage of people who have been 'disciplined' over misuse have self-reported [techdirt.com] their offenses...i.e. they have no idea of the scope.
              • I'm pretty sure that losing your job and security clearance (for cause) counts as discipline, not 'discipline'.

                So you think that the fact that individuals had a chance to cooperate with investigations and admit their wrongdoing implies that there was no other way they would be found out? You can believe that if you want to, I guess ....

                • Self reporting != admitting it to people already looking into something.

                  There wasn't any investigation even started with most of them...until they came forward.

                  That does not bode well since *most* people aren't going to self-report.
                  • Anyone holding a security clearance is subject to periodic reinvestigation. Things are stricter at actual intelligence agencies, including the use of polygraphs. (Spare me the discussion on them.)

                    Ordinary commercial companies do things like log SQL querries, and perform audits. I would expect nothing less at intelligence agencies. Being discovered would only be a matter of time for comptuer misuse. Even Snowden's activites were detected although he managed to lie his way out of it helped by the nature o

                    • Anyone holding a security clearance is subject to periodic reinvestigation.

                      so, clapper was investigated and found to be guilty of lying to congress? when does his sentence in prison start?

                      look, if you want to be taken seriously here on slash, you have to stop YOUR lying.

                    • And your proof that these LOVEINT 'self-reporting' incidents were the result of periodic reinvestigation is....what?
                    • I would expect nothing less at intelligence agencies.

                      That's cute. You believe government with no oversight is competent?

                    • Anyone holding a security clearance is subject to periodic reinvestigation.

                      so, clapper was investigated and found to be guilty of lying to congress? when does his sentence in prison start?

                      look, if you want to be taken seriously here on slash, you have to stop YOUR lying.

                      Let's review what I wrote:

                      Anyone holding a security clearance is subject to periodic reinvestigation. Things are stricter at actual intelligence agencies, including the use of polygraphs. (Spare me the discussion on them.)

                      And here is evidence:

                      Periodic Reinvestigations [dss.mil]

                      The whole thing about Clapper is you trying to put words in my mouth, and falsely claiming that I'm a liar. You seem to be providing evidence that you have an integrity problem.

                      Tell you what, I'll throw you a bone on the Clapper thing since you can't be bothered to come to a deeper undersanding of Wyden's underhanded dealing on your own.

                      Clapper and Wyden: Scenes from a Sandbagging [newrepublic.com]
                      Wyden’s Stunt Was Congress at its Worst [commentarymagazine.com]

                      `

                    • Feel free to read the NSA IG's letter in this story:

                      NSA offers details on 'LOVEINT' [cnet.com]

                    • You think that a major agency in the Department of Defense, headed by a 4 star General/Admiral, with a budget in the tens of billions of dollars that provides information to the President on a daily basis receives no oversight? And it can't figure out how to do log files and periodic audits?

                      You might be inhaling a little too much of that pixel dust.

                    • You apparently didn't comprehend much of what you read, or understand it in context. So called "LOVEINT" constitutes about 12 cases in 10 years. That isn't "common" in any meaningful way for an organization of over 10,000 people. Losing a security clearance means you aren't going to be able to handle classified information which means you can't work at an intelligence agency. People certainly were punished. How did you miss this?

                      One "received a reduction in grade, 45 days restriction, 45 days extra duty, and half pay for two months. It was recommended that the subject not be given a security clearance."
                      One "received a reduction in rank, 45 days extra duty, and half pay for two months. The member's access to classified information was revoked."
                      One's "database access and access to classified information were suspended."
                      One "received a written reprimand."

                      Would you like to give up a months' pay?

                      The "seven times per day" incidents

            • there's my boy fjord! wondered when he would come along.

              he's the slashdot equiv of fark's bevets.

              only thing missing is the doctored up tarot card...

      • by kuzb ( 724081 )

        They say they don't have a "carte blanche to just spy on people", but the issue becomes when you can effectively make everything classified nobody can check to see if you're following the rules. From the Snowden leaks it's obvious they do not follow the rules.

        • It's also a nicely crafted piece of doublespeak: 'carte blanche to just spy on people' suggests a right to just chose somebody for whatever reason you feel like and just start spying on them, for whatever reason. As far as we know, unsystematic picking of random targets isn't something that the NSA does a lot of, and it may well be something they don't have legal authority to do.

          However, pretty much the whole point of public displeasure over what the NSA has been doing is that its programs are sufficient
      • Re:How 'bout.. (Score:4, Informative)

        by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Friday April 03, 2015 @05:55PM (#49400775) Journal
        Even if their daily grind gives them no personal access to the objectionable work being done; only stupidity or willful ignorance would prevent them from learning about and thinking about what the NSA does in the same way the rest of us did.

        Somebody who just pushes buttons or spies on North Korea or whatever wouldn't have any reason to develop an on-the-job sense that they were doing the wrong thing; but when you can't open a newspaper without seeing reports on 'NSA basically spies on all the stuff, all the time, at home and abroad; FISA is a sad joke, massive domestic dragnet, etc, etc.'; the fact that you don't feel like you do bad things at work is irrelevant to your consideration of whether your employer does some deeply troubling work.

        In fact, if they do feel 'betrayed'; it's hard to argue that they aren't explicitly identifying with the actions of the agency; even if their job is unrelated to the ones that caught the public eye. Given that those programs were effectively certain to operate with impunity for as long as they wanted if they went undiscovered(even with public knowledge, they've been substantially resistant to any real change); there is very little room for a "Well, those programs are wrong but Snowden should have opposed them more responsibly!" position that isn't bullshit. Filling out a form and dropping it in the suggestion box or sending his boss a worried email or something would have been indistinguishable from doing nothing, in terms of effect.
  • If they all feel that we are just completely unappreciative of all their hard work spying on us, they should all quit... or go on strike atleast.
  • I don't want to hear about how things are inside the NSA so much as what Congress is doing to fix these laws that can be "misinterpreted" so badly. It's easy and low-friction to just accuse the NSA but the blame belongs on the shoulders of congress, both those members doubtlessly complying due to the availability of blackmail material and those complying because they want to be the top dogs in a 1984 universe.
  • A council is a group of persons who meet to decide things. A counsel is an attorney or other advisor. I'm pretty sure this story refers to the latter. This is not exactly an obscure or little-used difference of homonyms - please correct.
  • by NotDrWho ( 3543773 ) on Friday April 03, 2015 @04:20PM (#49400067)

    What aren't you in prison, rotting right next to all the other NSA leaders who betrayed their country and its Constitution?

  • "We let this man into our very own bunker, where we monitor everything that everyone says, even our bosses," said Rajesh De. "And then he went and told our bosses what we were doing. Let me tell you, it was a deep,deep sense of betrayal."

    • serpico was also shunned by his peers and bosses...

      you just have to wait a while for history to realize who was really a good guy and who was not.

  • by tomxor ( 2379126 ) on Friday April 03, 2015 @04:25PM (#49400111)

    There was also a deep sense of hurt that a lot of what was in the media was not entirely accurate. Questioning the motives and legality of what NSA employees were being asked to do to keep Americans safe.

    People who confuse or purposely use law as a synonym for morality are not to be trusted... The focus could not be more clearly on morality in this case.

    • by gweihir ( 88907 )

      Indeed. Morality and ethics is what is about right and wrong. "The law" is about how the people writing it want the others to behave and quite often what the others should think. The law has absolutely no connection to morality or ethics (just look at some examples), but the claim of it being so must be the most successful global propaganda campaign of all time.

  • by Kohath ( 38547 ) on Friday April 03, 2015 @04:27PM (#49400133)

    If you read the article, he talks about how they have "policies" against indiscriminate snooping. But it's all a lot of talk. For example, he says the FISA court "can be quite harsh" in their written opinions -- as if this were a real consequence. Maybe it's a big deal for a lawyer, but there's an extremely large cultural divide between lawyers and non-lawyers.

    No one will be reassured by any of these statements. Nor should they be, if this is the best story the NSA can tell.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Rajesh De, you are so full of shit. The truth is you spineless fucks have been taking the country over and implementing some of the worst totalitarian wet dreams the world has ever seen. Most of it was illegal, in a position of National Security that is akin to treason. Any nation is a product of the laws an the ethos upon which it was built, the minute you undermine that, for whatever reason, you are the enemy, you are the traitor.

    We all know this is systemic throughout the intelligence agencies and the

  • Rajesh De (Score:5, Insightful)

    by stox ( 131684 ) on Friday April 03, 2015 @04:37PM (#49400209) Homepage

    Your first and absolute responsibility is to the Constitution.

    The NSA has failed miserably in that role.

  • by aralin ( 107264 ) on Friday April 03, 2015 @04:42PM (#49400259)

    ... Lucifer complained about God's betrayal and claimed that Hell has got to be hot, which is fully within the framework he is supposed to operate in and there is really nothing he can do about it.

  • Tonight on our program, a man who made his living defending the practices of a massive extra-legal spying organization will defend the practices of that organization. But first, a look at sports.
  • Four Points (Score:4, Informative)

    by ikhider ( 2837593 ) on Friday April 03, 2015 @04:55PM (#49400353)
    1) The NSA is aware of computer software vulnerabilities and exploits by other unscrupulous entities, yet they hoard this information rather share with the public (they are mandated to protect). Imagine how much safer American computers would be from say, phishing and ransomeware that affects even public institutions like schools should the NSA actually try to help them. 2) A lot of NSA espionage resources are dedicated to industrial espionage of foreign entities to maintain economic hegemony for a handful of corporate interests rather than American business at large. 3) Retroactive punishment. Web activity is stored and mined should future laws be broken to retroactively punish a populace or build profiles. For instance, someone takes part in a protest such as the occupy movement. That person's web life becomes an opportunity to search and find anything incriminating, no matter how trivial. 4) Mandated sharing of raw intelligence gathering with Israel, without reciprocity. Rather than empowerment, the NSA seems more of a repressive regime tool.
  • by kuzb ( 724081 ) on Friday April 03, 2015 @05:16PM (#49400513)

    No, fuck all that crying. It SHOULD be difficult for them. Anyone with as much power as the NSA should have to account for every damn thing they do on domestic and friendly soil. Fuck the delusional workers who think they're doing the public a great service. It's time for them to wake up and understand that they're goddamn pawns in the game of circumventing democracy so the rich and powerful can stay rich and powerful.

    The NSA broke the public trust in a major way, and they deserve all the criticism and skepticism they get.

  • Damn that Snowden and his betrayal of the trust of an agency whose modus operandi is betraying trust.
  • Time to get rid of those toy soldiers and replace them with real ones.
  • "being part of the team helping keep people safe, which is really what people at the agency think they are doing"

    If this is exactly what he said, then haha.

  • If our founding fathers were alive to learn NSA is doing, they would be grabbing their muskets from the walls!

    Shame on you NSA.
    Shame on you Congress for empowering them to do it.
    Shame on us for re-electing them.
    Shame on them for brainwashing us.

  • Seriously, those that deliver information to the public are heroes. Our nation must no be so weak kneed that we need secrets. Voting means nothing when the public has no right to know. Example : Does our military need more funding or less funding? How the heck can we know when we do not know the capabilities of our military? Some senator preaching in the senate may make all kinds of claims but that may be based on bringing home the pork chops rather than military needs.
  • deep sense of hurt that a lot of what was in the media was not entirely accurate

    Coming from an agency who's entire public record can be summed up by the words "not entirely accurate" ...

    ...

    ...

    Shit, dog, I got nothin.

As in certain cults it is possible to kill a process if you know its true name. -- Ken Thompson and Dennis M. Ritchie

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