Shortly after the National Security Agency spy scandal broke, ProPublica journalist Jeff Larson filed a freedom of information request with the agency seeking any personal data it had collected on him.
While he didn’t expect a response, he received a Glomar response—neither a confirmation nor denial that the information he was seeking existed. The reasoning explained for the Glomar response is simply baffling.
In a letter to Larson, Chief NSA FOIA Officer Pamela Phillips wrote:
Any positive or negative response on a request-by-request basis would allow our adversaries to accumulate information and draw conclusions about the NSA’s technical capabilities, sources, and methods.
Our adversaries are likely to evaluate all public responses related to these programs.
Were we to provide positive or negative responses to requests such as yours, our adversaries’ compilation of the information provided would reasonably be expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to the national security.
The letter goes on to offer boilerplate justifications for its data collection efforts.
But the question remains for many Americans: Who does the NSA classify as an “adversary”?