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NSA To Scientists: We Won't Tell You What We've Told You; That's Classified 106

MojoKid writes One of the downsides to the news cycle is that no matter how big or hot a story is, something else inevitably comes along. The advent of ISIS and Ebola, combined with the passing of time, have pushed national security concerns out of the limelight — until, that is, someone at the NSA helps out by reminding us that yes, the agency still exists and yes, it still has some insane policies and restrictions. Earlier this year, the Federation of American Scientists filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the NSA. The group was seeking information it thought would be relatively low-key — what authorized information had been leaked to the media over the past 12 months? The NSA's response reads as follows: "The document responsive to your request has been reviewed by this Agency as required by the FOIA and has been found to be currently and properly classified in accordance with Executive Order 13526. The document is classified because its disclosure could reasonably be expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to the national security." The NSA is insisting that it has the right to keep its lawful compliance and public disclosures secret not because the NSA is made of evil people but because the NSA has a knee-jerk preference and demand for secrecy. In a spy organization, that's understandable and admirable but it's precisely the opposite of what's needed to rebuild American's faith in the institution and its judgment.
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NSA To Scientists: We Won't Tell You What We've Told You; That's Classified

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  • Propaganda (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 10, 2014 @11:21PM (#48117693)

    The US Government is now allowed to use propaganda against its own people due to the NDAA. They don't want us to know what propaganda they are using against us.

    • Re:Propaganda (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Teresita ( 982888 ) <<badinage1> <at> <netzero dot net>> on Friday October 10, 2014 @11:25PM (#48117713) Homepage
      And this is Obama's NSA, not even Bush's. Go figure.
      • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Lately Obama has been making Bush seem tame in regardless to trampling Americans' rights (the NSA spying on Americans, Obamacare forcing people to buy healthcare, including coverage they don't need, etc.)

        • by doccus ( 2020662 )

          Lately Obama has been making Bush seem tame in regardless to trampling Americans' rights (the NSA spying on Americans, Obamacare forcing people to buy healthcare, including coverage they don't need, etc.)

          Aaah.. the good old days of freedom under Bush...

      • Re:Propaganda (Score:5, Insightful)

        by meerling ( 1487879 ) on Saturday October 11, 2014 @12:10AM (#48117911)
        The NSA is the NSA. They were there before the president, and will be there many more presidents to come. They don't care about the president because he's only there for 4 years, maybe 8 at the most. Really, do you think any president "controls" the NSA? The best they can hope to do is reign in their worst activities on a good day.
        • The president can fire the head honchos at NSA and put Ron Paul or even somebody sane in charge if he wanted to.

          Somebody who reads too many blogs will reply "civil service act". The civil service act forbids firing a covered employee because they didn't donate to your campaign. He can fire them for any other reason. The act is only about one page, read it if you like.

          • by Anonymous Coward

            The president does not have the power to fire the head of the NSA. He can influence, he can appoint others that may, but he can't. It is the same principle with shareholders of a company. Even if you own 99% of all open shares in a company, you still can't fire the janitor. At best you can get rid of the entire board when the next election rolls around to do your singular bidding. Problem is, all the good board members, new and old, like clean toilets and wont listen to what you have to say.

            And thanks for a

            • by raymorris ( 2726007 ) on Saturday October 11, 2014 @01:56AM (#48118201) Journal

              Like most positions at a similar level, the director is nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate. I just double checked that to make sure I wasn't remembering incorrectly. He's supposed to get recommendations from DOD first. Of course, he appoints the head of DOD, the Secretary of Defense, and he appoints someone who is very loyal to him as Sec D.

            • Re: (Score:1, Redundant)

              That's some of the most ridiculous assertive rubbish I've read in a long time. Of course the president can fire the head of the NSA. Any political appointee serves at the pleasure of the president. Even the bureaucrats in the senior executive service in the federal government agencies (On the SES pay scale vs. the GS pay scale) can be fired relatively easily by the president or his appointees. Civil service protections are greatest at the lower levels, in the GS pay grades.

              And your point about board membe

          • by suutar ( 1860506 )

            Doesn't matter. The long term bureaucrats will just work around whoever gets appointed until the next president appoints someone else. The head honcho can dictate policy, but they don't actually implement it and don't really have a way to ensure that it does get implemented.

            • > The head honcho can dictate policy, but they don't actually implement it and don't really have a way to ensure that it does get implemented.

              See subject line. Firing federal employees is little different from firing in the private sector, but it's doable. You can also assign somebody to the outpost in the Mojave desert. Within the executive branch (only), if the president cares that something gets done, it gets done. Done poorly and over budget perhaps, but at high levels you get ahead (and stick ar

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by Anonymous Coward

            The president can fire the head honchos at NSA and put Ron Paul or even somebody sane in charge if he wanted to.

            You assume that the people at NSA isn't completely paranoid/batshit insane. They look at absolutely everything as conspiracies and power games and everything is allowed in the name of national security.
            I wouldn't put it above them to assassinate a president if they think that he is acting in a way that puts the nation at risk, for example by dismantling organizations that they think are vital to national security. After all, protecting the US against terrorist are more important than a president that can be

          • The president can fire the head honchos at NSA and put Ron Paul or even somebody sane in charge if he wanted to.

            Yes, its not like NSA has means to find dirt on people they dont like
            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/P... [wikipedia.org]

          • by Isaac-1 ( 233099 )

            Did you really say Ron Paul and sane in the same sentence, I suspect even many Ron Paul supporters would take issue with that.

            • "Ron Paul OR even somebody sane". Read it whichever way you wish -
              Either Paul or somebody sane
              Either Paul or somebody else sane

              Two choices on how you want to read that.

            • by Mr Z ( 6791 )
              Seems to be an exclusive or. "Ron Paul" or "somebody sane", which implies Ron Paul isn't in the sane set.
          • Right, but power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely. You can fire the people, have people set up to take their positions, but due to the actual need for the NSA to some extent, and the need for them to have some of the powers that they do have, will always provide a way for whoever takes over to become corrupt by the same mechanics that corrupted the original folks.

            The problem is in the people, not the NSA. Looking at it this way, you can compare having the NSA to having nuclear weaponry. We
        • by Anonymous Coward

          amazing what mental gymnastics liberals will do to defend Saint Obama.

          bombing pakistan schools & hospitals? i-i-it was the military! obama would never order them to bomb a school full of children to get 1 terrorist! (who wasn't even there that day and was arrested at home by the pakistan military)

          CIA sponsored revolutions? t-t-the CIA is out of control!

          bailing out of iraq before it's stabilized? h-h-hilary! she did it! obama said we would only leave when the job is done!

          inb4, "u dum republicunt. bush wa

        • While I think you meant "rein in", you have accidentally uncovered a bigger truth:

          Presidents *do* want to "reign" and the worst activities of the NSA conspire with them in that aspiration because it's mutually advantageous to both parties.

        • The NSA is the NSA. They were there before the president, and will be there many more presidents to come. They don't care about the president because he's only there for 4 years, maybe 8 at the most. Really, do you think any president "controls" the NSA? The best they can hope to do is reign in their worst activities on a good day.

          Nice responsibility dodging there ...

          Obama can put whomever he likes in charge of the NSA. He can fire who's in charge of the NSA. He is responsible. This is his NSA.

          When you and others rant against today's NSA, you are ranting against Obama. Now your head must explode like a 1960s sci-fi robot caught in a contradiction.

        • by houghi ( 78078 )

          Well, the 'But you can vote'-part still keeps the people thinking they have a say still works. An extra plus is that you only have two parties, so half the people can blame the other half.
          Devide and conquer is not a new idea, but it works, so why change it? (Together with panem et circenses [merriam-webster.com]

          Companies are smarter than people and do not vote on just one party. They vote on both parties and they do it with their wallets.

      • Re:Propaganda (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Saturday October 11, 2014 @05:38AM (#48118623)

        Just cause you dye the sock puppet black doesn't mean you have to change the play.

      • by HiThere ( 15173 )

        My wife also thinks there's a big difference between the Dems and the Repubs.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Why confirm what is true instead of leaving people wondering what might be speculation?

    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Why confirm what is true instead of leaving people wondering what might be speculation?

      Exactly. This is about authorized leaks, namely leaks that the powers that be authorized to be LEAKED, but since they are leaks versus announcements, meaning no official confirmation publically, it leaves doubt in the public about their validity and I think this is part of why they were leaked versus announced. I am not sure it is right for the NSA to use this way of releasing the information but hat is what they did.

      To recap, they deliberately released the info by a leak so it wasn't tracable to the NSA,

  • by msobkow ( 48369 ) on Friday October 10, 2014 @11:27PM (#48117729) Homepage Journal

    Screw "American's Faith." You need to start worrying about the world's opinion about your intrusive spies.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I'd be happy with "America's Laws"

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Only Americans are people, the world's opinion is irrelevant.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Only voters are people, everyone else is irrelevant.

        FTFY. Democracy is tyranny by popularity contest.

        • Democracy is tyranny... that is why we tried to have a Republic, for a while.

          Ben Franklin - on the day the Republic was declared, opined that we had "A republic, if you can keep it."
          • by dryeo ( 100693 )

            Republic is pretty generic, examples include N. Korea, China and Syria and democracy now a days really means representative democracy (Switzerland is about the only close to pure democracy and one of the more free countries in the world) where the people vote in representatives to govern us. The opposite, monarchy, is also usually a representative democracy with the monarch mostly being a figure head. There are exceptions, mostly American allies who actively support the Taliban and Isis. Saudi Arabia, Kuwai

      • by msobkow ( 48369 )

        Even if you believe such nonsense, the world is the customer, and the customers are leaving in droves.

    • Nobody is going to "restore America's faith" in such institutions until the bastards who built them up and run them are gone from the scene. That means Barack Obama and his whole crew, anyone left from Bush's crew, and anybody who has been appointed to the Supreme Court in the last 14 years. PLUS the "live-in" Congresscritters and their even more "live-in" staff.

      I'm not talking revolution, but what I am talking about is electing an awful lot of new legislators and a new President who aren't members of th
      • By the way: I consider that "members of the Good Old Boy club" very definitely includes Hillary Clinton. It's a figure of speech, not literal. But as a figure of speech, Hillary is as Good Old Boy as they get.

        I have nothing at all against a woman President... but I would never consider Hillary, even if she were a man. She's been involved in a lot of the most crooked politics in Washington, ever since her husband was elected. And maybe before.
        • by dbIII ( 701233 )
          Yes, Hillary "get the credit card details of all those diplomats of allied nations so we can frame them" Clinton. That leak is probably 90% of why Assange and Manning are not able to go outside and why she shouldn't be trusted in a position of responsibility.
    • A lot of Americans have this crazy idea that their government should serve them, not a bunch of angry foreigners who, honestly, will never be satisfied. There are always new grievances. Reflexively hating anything the Americans do is a way of life for a lot of people.
  • Who is surprised ? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by redelm ( 54142 ) on Friday October 10, 2014 @11:32PM (#48117755) Homepage

    First, there are the knee-jerk responses of an "Intelligence" organisation never wanting to let anything truthful be known about it, and particularly detesting FIOA requests. Traitors. Then there is the bureaucratic response of never saying anything lest you be accused of inaccuracy.

    But there also is a real security concern for the agency involved -- in answering "what did you release", they burn clandestine "leakers" as stooges. I do not think Snowden was a deliberate leak, but unless proven otherwise I assume about half the leaks are plants.

  • get rid of it. That's what I'd do. America was doing fine before these douchebag agencies were ever dreamed up.

    *cue scumbag Democrat/Republican politician shouting "National security! We need them to protect our freedoms!"

    Bullshit, America was far safer and freer without NSA CIA and the rest of the military-industrial-congress complex.

    *cue coolaid-drinking sheeple parroting, "Times have changed and the world is a more dangerous place. Gov't needs more power to protect us!"

    Yeah the world is more dangerous no

    • by Anonymous Coward

      There are a lot of powerful people who benefit from the existence of the NSA. So, it will take something a lot more extreme than the current level of public animosity to get it disbanded.

      Whether or not disbanding it is the right thing to do makes no difference at all (which is basically always the case in politics).

    • Re:Just disband it (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Saturday October 11, 2014 @06:38AM (#48118703)

      Well, Israel was more something that was blamed on the UK by the Arab world. What alienated them to the US was the douchbaggery that followed. I think one of the key turning points was the thing in Iran, with the US propping up Reza Pahlevi to be the Iranian dictator. To illustrate just HOW hated he was, imagine your option being that guy and some right wing religious nutjob, and you, as a secular, normal person, thinking the nutjob is the lesser evil. That was basically the situation in Iran 1979. If you interview some people who got out of there after the coup, you'll learn that a lot of them didn't support it because they liked the Ayatollah so much, but that the general sentiment was "no matter what he's like, he can only be better". Only later they learned that they jumped from the frying pan into the fire.

      And that was but the start. Then arming Saddam to "solve" that problem (after all the US first made Iran a state with a VERY modern and huge army that could have easily overrun the rest of the Arab peninsula, so they needed someone to neutralize that risk), backstabbing him when he wanted to decide for himself what dictatorship to attack. Along with the transport of the mujaheddin to Afghanistan in the 80s to fight the Russians only to turn against them when Russia was no longer the enemy (and we needn't score off them anymore) because they were no longer convenient.

      The US has a history of (ab)using people in the region for some 30 years now. Well, it's not like they wouldn't have a history for mistreating some "foreign" nation. I guess in about a century we'll get to hear some half serious and utterly dishonest apology and the Arabs get to build some casinos on the dunes that we decide they may keep.

    • "America was doing fine before these douchebag agencies were ever dreamed up." You mean like in the interim between WWI and WWII? As Under Secretary of State Henry L. Stimson wrote, "Gentlemen do not read each other's mail." (I guess he changed his mind after Pearl.)

      The problem is that no matter whether we spy or not, other nations will.

  • Telling people (including 'enemies') which 'leaks' were authorized and which ones were really leaks could give people all sorts of interesting information -- including which disinformation^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H leaks to trust and which ones not to.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      This. Exactly.

      I work in government, and the classification of documents is based on the sensitivity of particular facts, as well as the sensitivity of aggregated facts (let's assume no malicious intent for a moment...). This means that a document that contains a collection of unclassified information can become classified because the aggregated information makes it too easy to figure out information that is justifiably classified.

      The NSA's response sounds like producing the requested document(s) falls int

      • So you're saying that it's classified because of the data about the data? Damn, who knew that kind of stuff could be dangerous?
    • Re: (Score:2, Flamebait)

      by jopsen ( 885607 )

      Telling people (including 'enemies') which 'leaks' were authorized and which ones were really leaks could give people all sorts of interesting information -- including which disinformation....leaks to trust and which ones not to.

      True, it would not be advantageous for the NSA, perhaps not even advantageous for the US goverment, maybe and just maybe it might be disadvantageous to the American public.
      But could it "reasonably be expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to the national security".

      it seems to me like the NSA is playing the word game, where "exceptionally grave damage" == "slight annoyance or minor risk".

      • Ability to cause "exceptionally grave damage" is the definition of Top Secret. (Ability to cause damage --> Confidential, Ability to cause grave damage --> Secret.)

        Of course, maybe what you're saying is that the document(s) in question aren't able to cause damage.

    • By not releasing the list they passed on a golden opportunity of spreading more disinformation, which is their bread and butter.
      In good old times, secret services were not so damn lazy.

  • by raymorris ( 2726007 ) on Saturday October 11, 2014 @12:48AM (#48118029) Journal

    > NSA has a knee-jerk preference and demand for secrecy. In a spy organization, that's understandable and admirable but it's precisely the opposite of what's needed to rebuild American's faith in the institution and its judgment.

    Very well said. In the security arena, and I think intelligence as well, the default position is "need to know". You only give information to people who have an operational need to know that specific piece of information. See also "loose lips sink ships". That makes perfect sense from an operational security perspective. HOWEVER, the US is supposed to be a representative republic, where the government os accountable to the people. These two facts do create a natural tension, and finding exactly the right balance is difficult.

    I'm reminded of just after 9-11 there was criticism that the CIA, FBI, and NSA hadn't coordinated well, sharing information. Had they shared information with each other freely and effectively , 9-11 might not have happened. However, we are now being reminded that there's a good reason you don't want your spy agencies getting too close with your domestic law enforcement. You don't want the resources and tactics of the NSA to be used for domestic law enforcement. There are some tactics that might be good to use for spying on the Russians and China, but shouldn't be used to investigate Tommy Chong. We forgot that in our calls for more inter-agency cooperation after 9-11. Some of these things require just the right balance.

    • Speak for yourself, who's we?

      • "We" meaning most officials and most voters, including those on Slashdot. If you look back at old posts, you'll see criticism that while the government knew this and the government knew that, the government didn't put the two together because the right hand didn't know what the left hand was doing.

        In this case, we probably actually want to keep the left hand and the right hand apart. I don't want the CIA involved in drug enforcement.

    • by aralin ( 107264 )

      If the CIA, NSA and other secret agencies were actually effective at their job and did what they profess to do efficiently and the oversight could just tamper with that efficiency, I might, ... might... buy your argument. But they do not. They are wasting resources, producing no significant results and still want their secrecy. Maybe it is time we tried it differently.

  • Ahh, now there are two things that are just made for each other. If only the two could meet!

    • Maybe relief workers going to the Middle East should first infect themselves with Ebola. Then, when they get beheaded, they'll at least die knowing the guy holding the knife will be joining them soon.

  • by dbIII ( 701233 ) on Saturday October 11, 2014 @04:16AM (#48118497)
    "exceptionally grave damage to the national security"
    For fucks sake. Get rid of the toy soldiers and replace them with real ones.
  • by Arancaytar ( 966377 ) <arancaytar.ilyaran@gmail.com> on Saturday October 11, 2014 @08:27AM (#48118865) Homepage

    - "Please list the FOIA requests you have complied with in the past twelve months"

    - "That information is classified."

    - "Please state whether or not you will comply with this FOIA request"

    - "That information is... " *headexplode*

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