Last Tuesday, the NSA conducted a recruitment drive on the campus of the University of Wisconsin. Madiha Tahir, a journalist taking a language course at the university, stopped by to ask some uncomfortable questions. (Note: Tahir has posted a recording of the exchange, as well as a transcript, on her blog, The Mob and the Multitude.)
“Do you consider Germany and the countries that the NSA has been spying upon to be adversaries,” she asked, to which a recruiter responded, “You can define adversary as ‘enemy’ and, clearly, Germany is not our enemy. But would we have foreign national interests from an intelligence perspective on what’s going on across the globe? Yeah, we do.”
Tahir, unsatisfied, pressed for clarification until the frustrated recruiter interjected, “our business is apolitical. OK. We do not generate the intelligence requirements. They are levied on us so, if there is a requirement for foreign intelligence concerning this issue or this region or whatever then that is. If you wanna use the word adversary, you ca– we might use the word ‘target.’ That is what we are going after. That is the intelligence target that we are going after because we were given that requirement.”
Essentially, “we’re given ‘targets’ and pursue them blindly”–probably not the best sales pitch. Tahir, very aware of the gaffe, pounced: “I’m just surprised that for language analysts, you’re incredibly imprecise with your language.”
After further discussion in which Tahir pressed the NSA reps on whether a citizen ought to be able to opt out of surveillance (something Mozilla has been campaigning for of late), Tahir’s questioning inspired nearby students to join in. “I have a lifestyle question that you seem to be selling,” began a student,
It sounds more like a colonial expedition. You know the “globe is our playground” is 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 of the info you’re analyzing has on the rest of the world. I also want to know what are the qualifications that one needs to become a whistleblower because that sounds like a much more interesting job. And I think the Edward Snowdens and the Bradley Mannings and Julian Assanges of the world will prevail ultimately.
All around, a bad day for NSA recruiting in Badger-town. I guess they’ll have to go back to hiring from academic backwaters like MIT and Cal Tech.