Talking points given to National Security Agency officials in the wake of whistle-blower Edward Snowden’s leaks revealing the agency’s massive intrusion on American privacy prove that the NSA seeks to justify its continued Constitutional abuses by repeatedly bringing up the 9/11 terror attacks.
An NSA document obtained by Al-Jazeera through a Freedom of Information Act request contains talking points and statements suggested for use by NSA officials responding to public outrage over Snowden’s leaks.
Under the subheading “Sound Bites That Resonate” the NSA leadership advises employees to use the following statement when the agency’s methods are questioned: “I much prefer to be here today explaining these programs, than explaining another 9/11 event that we were not able to prevent.”
According to Al-Jazeera, NSA officials refused to comment on the finding. The news outlet reported:
Asked to comment on the document, NSA media representative Vanee M. Vines pointed Al Jazeera to [NSA Director Gen. Keith] Alexander’s congressional testimony on Tuesday, and said the agency had no further comment. In keeping with the themes listed in the talking points, the NSA head told legislators that “it is much more important for this country that we defend this nation and take the beatings than it is to give up a program that would result in this nation being attacked.”
NSA officials and other supporters of the spy agency have certainly taken the NSA talking points to heart, endlessly bringing up the terror attacks in recent months.
On Tuesday, during a House Intelligence Committee hearing about the leaks, the 9/11 attacks were mentioned 14 times by Alexander and other NSA officials. In one instance, Alexander said: “How did we end up here? 9/11 — 2,996 people were killed in 9/11.”
NSA apologist Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) has also repeatedly invoked the 9/11 attacks in seeking to justify the continuance of the agency’s intrusive surveillance measures.
In an op-ed published by The Wall Street Journal earlier this month, the Senator wrote: “In the summer of 2001, the CIA’s then-director, George Tenet, painted a dire picture for members of the Senate Intelligence Committee when he testified about the terrorist threat posed by al Qaeda. As Mr. Tenet later told the 9/11 Commission, ‘the system was blinking red’ and by late July of that year, it could not ‘get any worse.’”
And Representative Charles Ruppersberger (D-Md.) recently referred to clues the government had about a possible attack prior to 9/11, saying “these dots should have and likely could have been connected to prevent 9/11, and are necessary to prevent the next attack. ”
The “connect the dots” reference comes from a separate directive in the NSA’s list of talking points, which suggests that NSA officials tell critics: “After 9/11 it was determined the intelligence community failed to connect the dots.” And, “Some of those dots were in the United States. The intelligence community was not able to connect those ‘domestic dots’ — phone calls between operatives in the U.S. — and Al-Qa’ida terrorists overseas.”
The NSA also advised officials to use the word “lawful” as often as possible when discussing NSA surveillance programs, and to note that “our allies have benefited [from the programs] just as we have.”
With regard to answering questions about NSA abuses of civil liberties, officials are instructed to say that there have been no “willful violations” of Americans’ civil liberties.
It must have been that bit of advice that Director of National Intelligence James Clapper was following when he lied to Congress during a hearing on March 12, when Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) asked, “Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?”
Clapper replied, “No, sir… not wittingly.”
Clapper later said his answer was the “most truthful, or least untruthful” response he could come up with at the time.
Read the full NSA talking points here.