The NSA wrote turkey-day talking points, because of course it did

December 2, 2013

(Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

Thanksgiving can be a touchy time for families with divergent politics. If not Obamacare, it's a good bet that somebody, somewhere was facing off with an aunt or uncle about the NSA.

Defenders of the spy agency might have found this set of talking points helpful. Distributed internally by the NSA the week before Thanksgiving and reported earlier today by Firedoglake, the two-pager — a literal set of bullet points — armed employees with verbal ammunition that they were encouraged to share "with family and close friends."

As with previous sets of talking points prepared for top intelligence officials, this latest document isn't afraid to invoke 9/11. It also cites a common statistic about the effectiveness of NSA surveillance, claiming that it contributed to the disruption of 54 terrorist plots since 2001. Critics challenge this figure, saying that less than a handful of those cases can be realistically connected to the snooping.

Another part of the talking points takes a thinly veiled shot at China.

"NSA does not and will not steal industry secrets in order to give U.S. companies a competitive advantage," it reads. Beijing has, on occasion, been accused of conducting economic espionage as a way to advance its political interests.

At other times, the talking points take a sloganeering turn.

"NSA performs its mission exceptionally well," it reads (its emphasis). "We strive to be the best we can be, because that's what America requires as part of its defense in a dangerous world."

The memo wraps with a bid for closure, pledging support for transparency and a willingness to make whatever reforms the White House sees fit. But at the dinner table, closure was probably elusive.

Hat tip: Christopher Soghoian

Brian Fung covers technology for The Washington Post, focusing on telecom, broadband and digital politics. Before joining the Post, he was the technology correspondent for National Journal and an associate editor at the Atlantic.
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