NSA said to intentionally cite 9/11 to justify spying program

Newly released government documents spell out how officials should answer questions about the NSA's mass surveillance program; examples include "defend the nation" and prevent "another 9/11."

Declan McCullagh/CNET

National Security Agency officials often reference the 9/11 terrorist attacks when justifying the agency's mass surveillance program that was leaked to the public last June; and, not surprisingly, this type of language appears to be intentional.

Under the Freedom of Information Act, Al Jazeera America was able to get its hands on insider NSA documents (PDF) that outline talking points for how officials should respond to spying allegations. These documents are peppered with statements that appear to invoke the September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

Here are a few of the suggested responses listed in the documents:

  • I much prefer to be here today explaining these programs, than explaining another 9/11 event that we were not able to prevent.
  • NSA and its partners must make sure we connect the dots so that the nation is never attacked again like it was on 9/11.
  • First responsibility is to defend the nation.
  • Post-9/11 we made several changes and added a number of capabilities to enable us to connect the dots.
  • NSA is committed to protecting the privacy and civil liberties of the American people.

Apparently, the suggestions in these documents have gotten some play with officials, like NSA Director Keith B. Alexander and Director of US National Intelligence James Clapper. During a House Intelligence Committee hearing on Tuesday about the surveillance program, "September 11" or "9/11" were mentioned 14 times, according to the Washington Post.

At one point during the hearing, Alexander even referenced how many people were killed in the attack. "How did we end up here? 9/11 -- 2,996 people were killed in 9/11."

Similarly, Rep Charles Ruppersberger (D-Md.) also drew from the talking points documents during the hearing, according to the Washington Post. "These dots should have and likely could have been connected to prevent 9/11," Ruppersberger said, "and are necessary to prevent the next attack. "

The NSA is one of the biggest surveillance and eavesdropping agencies in the U.S. and was whistleblower Edward Snowden's workplace before he decided to leak some of the agency's top-secret documents to the press in June.

That document leak opened the public's eyes to the government's collection of data on US residents through both cellular records and metadata from Internet companies . Since Snowden's original leak, thousands more documents have surfaced.

The NSA and the Obama administration have maintained that the surveillance program was carried out to protect Americans and track down foreign terrorists and pinpoint terrorist threats.

Tags:
Security
About the author

Dara Kerr, a freelance journalist based in the Bay Area, is fascinated by robots, supercomputers and Internet memes. When not writing about technology and modernity, she likes to travel to far-off countries.

 

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