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NSA employees received talking points for Thanksgiving dinner

NSA employees received talking points for Thanksgiving dinner
If a politically-charged dinnertime debate sidelined your Thanksgiving, don’t blame the National Security Agency. New documents have surfaced suggesting the NSA sent their employees home for the holidays with pre-determined talking points.

Kevin Gosztola of Firedoglake published a document on Monday that was allegedly handed out to employees of the intelligence agency ahead of Thanksgiving to ensure embattled staffers would stand their ground if family members or friends berated them about the ongoing surveillance scandal started six months ago by contractor-turned-whistleblower Edward Snowden.

The first of a series of classified documents were disclosed by Snowden all the way back in June, and a steady stream of leaks has ensured that the US government’s top-secret surveillance operations haven’t gone unreported in the months since. In a document dated November 22, NSA employees and staffers of the Central Security Service (CSS) are presented with a laundry-list of items to share with loved ones this holiday season who might want to learn more about the most interesting federal agency of the year.

“NSA’s mission is of great value to the nation,” reads the first bullet point on a list of items cleared by the government “employees are authorizes to share . . . with family and close friends.”

NSA's Talking Points for Holiday Gatherings, courtesy of Kevin Gosztola

The documents goes on to list over the course of two pages a number of factors that could brought up in conversation to remind others that the NSA is far from the most sinister organization in the world, even after revelations made possible through Snowden’s leaks have spawn a firestorm of criticism at the US intelligence community from seemingly all corners of the globe.

Elsewhere the document reminds staffers that the “NSA performs its mission the right way — lawful, complaint and in a way that protects civil liberties and privacy,” and that that mission is performed “exceptionally well.”

As Gosztola was quick to note, however, independent audits of the NSA’s performance indicates anything but. Gosztola notes that a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court acknowledged that the NSA has been found guilty of committing “longstanding and pervasive violations.” Additionally, calls for the agency to reform how it collects and handles personal data have been so widespread that congressional action earlier this year came exceptionally close to ending the NSA’s surveillance programs.

Again, though, the talking points memo makes claims that the “NSA is committed to increased transparency, public dialog and faithful implementation of any changes required by our overseers.” But half-a-year since the Snowden leaks first raised concern, critics of the agency’s surveillance operations insist that all too little is publically known about the NSA’s operations. Indeed, even the Obama administration’s supposed attempt to add a lawyer of oversight to the intelligence community in the wake of the blowback brought on by Snowden’s leaks was largely rejected when it was revealed that Director of National Intelligence James Clapper would head an oversight committee.

The ‘review’ the NSA expects us all to appreciate is being overseen by the man who lied to Congress ,” wrote Gosztola, “and has also permitted various employees under his purview to lie to the secret surveillance court purportedly in place to prevent abuses of surveillance powers.”

Other allegations made by the NSA in an attempt to drum up support for the agency are borderline erroneous and directly contradict leaked internal documents supplied to the media by Snowden during the last several months. “NSA does not target US citizens or permanent resident aliens,” the agency insists with one bullet point, adding that the government requires intelligence officers to show probable cause that a person in question should be targeted before moving forward with a probe — quite the contrary to leaked documents showing the NSA routinely collects telephony metadata pertaining to millions of Americans on a regular basis. Then one line down, the NSA claims they aren’t in the business of “stealing industry secrets in order to give US companies a competitive advantage,” but leaked Snowden docs showing American efforts in South America with respect to their oil industry suggest just that.

The latest memo from the NSA comes less than three months after Gosztola obtained a similar letter send home to intelligence workers early on in the Snowden saga in which the agency insisted, “We have weathered storms before and we will weather this one together, as well.”