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Davidson writes: "The Agency moves broadly and clumsily; it's greedy in a way that is unhealthy; it tells itself that rules can mean what it wants them to mean."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel. (photo: unknown)
German Chancellor Angela Merkel. (photo: unknown)

Our Clumsy Foolish NSA

By Amy Davidson, The New Yorker

27 October 13


t has become painfully clear that what the National Security Agency lacks, above all, is discretion. That probably occurred to President Obama on Wednesday, when he got on the line with Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany, who was calling with what was apparently unmitigated anger to ask why the N.S.A. was monitoring her cell phone. Obama told her that it isn't, or won't-a "wasn't" seems to have been missing - but Merkel's government had seen enough, in N.S.A. documents obtained by the German news magazine Der Spiegel, to know what it thought. (According to Reuters, one listed her mobile phone number.) Obama had a similar call with France's Fran├žois Hollande, and may have about thirty-three more, based on the latest Guardian report on the number of heads of state whose phones it tracked. But the N.S.A.'s wildly indiscreet character had already come well into the light in the first documents leaked, this summer, by Edward Snowden, about its mass, often indiscriminate collection of American telephone and Web communications. The Agency moves broadly and clumsily; it's greedy in a way that is unhealthy; it tells itself that rules can mean what it wants them to mean; it is a poor judge of people; it has no real discernment - and that, for a spy agency, may be the worst part of all.

Our current and recent intelligence leaders seem determined to reinforce this judgment. On Thursday, Michael Hayden, the former director of the N.S.A., talking on his cell phone on Amtrak's Acela, gave anonymous quotes to various reporters loudly enough for a fellow passenger named Tom Matzzie to hear and live-tweet it. The same day, the Pentagon posted a video interview with Hayden's successor, General Keith Alexander, in which he awkwardly tried to explain that the operations Snowden revealed "are not spying programs" and dismissed privacy concerns this way:

It's like when you were younger-well, this is for boys - you know, when you're younger you say, "I don't want to take a bath." You say, "No, I'll never to take a bath." Why would you want to take a bath, well, you have to take a bath, clean, da da, da. You say, "But isn't there a better way?" So we had to take baths, right. Or showers.

READ MORE: Our Clumsy Foolish NSA your social media marketing partner
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