NSA Cryptography Analyst: We, Too, Are Americans

A from-the-trenches view of the agency’s surveillance activities
US News • Views: 25,847

NSA mathematician (they do code-breaking, remember?) Roger Barkan has a very interesting piece at ZDNet on his experience of what it’s really like to work for the NSA, a counter-weight to the cartoonish paranoia of the Greensnow Axis.

As someone deep in the trenches of NSA, where I work on a daily basis with data acquired from these programs, I, too, feel compelled to raise my voice. Do I, as an American, have any concerns about whether the NSA is illegally or surreptitiously targeting or tracking the communications of other Americans?

The answer is emphatically, “No.”

NSA produces foreign intelligence for the benefit and defense of our nation. Analysts are not free to wander through all of NSA’s collected data willy-nilly, snooping into any communication they please. Rather, analysts’ activity is carefully monitored, recorded, and reviewed to ensure that every use of data serves a legitimate foreign intelligence purpose.

We’re not watching you. We’re the ones being watched.

Further, NSA’s systems are built with several layers of checks and redundancy to ensure that data are not accessed by analysts outside of approved and monitored channels. When even the tiniest analyst error is detected, it is immediately and forthrightly addressed and reported internally and then to NSA’s external overseers. Given the mountains of paperwork that the incident reporting process entails, you can be assured that those of us who design and operate these systems are extremely motivated to make sure that mistakes happen as rarely as possible!

A myth that truly bewilders me is the notion that the NSA could or would spend time looking into the communications of ordinary Americans. Even if such looking were not illegal or very dangerous to execute within our systems, given the monitoring of our activities, it would not in any way advance our mission. We have more than enough to keep track of — people who are actively planning to do harm to American citizens and interests — than to even consider spending time reading recipes that your mother emails you.

More: NSA Cryptanalyst: We, Too, Are Americans

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