What I told the kid who wanted to join the NSA

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You gotta smack some sense into that kid.


My God that’s sad. This country eats patriots.


You said it better than I could.


It is hardly unique in that.
Greedy, amoral people seek power, and to them every upright person is a threat.


Tricky question. On the one hand I WANT decent, ethical and principled people to be the ones who work for the NSA and other agencies. On the other hand, any individual who tries that in the current environment is doomed.


One thing he could do differently than Snowden: use Snowden as a threat.

“You have two choices, NSA: I become another Edward Snowden, or you listen to what I’m saying.”

Not that that would work, but it would be different!


I agree, but I can’t bring myself to “like” that.


It’s not so much that this country is particularly bad with eating its patriots, but rather its particularly good at playing a game that has gone obsolete. Nationalism as a way of guiding policy is dead. Its only useful any more to keep the consumer class in line, but even that is fading fast. If we want to do better, we’re going to have to look at what the multinationals are doing, and do that, only better. (scaling up is the hard part, but building better policy is easy! just stop optimizing for the rich, and anything you do will be better. kind of like a random keyboard is better than qwerty.)


I hope the kid doesn’t listen to your advice.

The NSA isn’t going anywhere. Maybe at some point it’s powers will be limited by congress more, but I won’t hold my breath.

I would much rather well meaning sheep-dogs are inside running it, vs wolves.

Everything you said was true, and perhaps he will be part of the machine and get swallowed in it. Maybe he will rebel and get put down. Maybe he will learn their ways, quit, and apply his knowledge to other projects.

Or maybe - just maybe - more like minded people like him join the NSA and they do change things internally. Optimistic? Unlikely? Perhaps. But there is a chance it would happen if more people like this kid joined the NSA, and a next to zero chance of it happening if they don’t.


Dead in what sense? Because I see a plethora of it. An overabundance. No, an epidemic.


When I was in the last year of my Comp Sci degree, ASIS, the Australian Signals Intelligence Service, came calling to the Uni to recruit techies. I sent in my resume happily.

I had no political agenda. It just sounded a whole lot more fun than managing databases in a bank. I’m sure they would have supplied me the moral justifications to make it okay to be tapping Indonesian mobile services, and I would have eaten it all up.


Crazy how prescient this appears now…



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No multinational advocates going to war because of patriotism. That comes later, when they decide how to sell the war. Back in WW2 Coke and IBM were selling to both sides of the conflict. You think they cared about national interests? Branding the war in terms of the flags involved is a 19th century holdover that’s still considered useful to sell the product. They’ll show you lots of video with chanting dittoheads and tell you “we had to, because these guys voted”- that’s bullshit. That jingoistic nationalist Sam The Eagle sales pitch has nothing to do with deciding policy, it’s all about selling the policy after it’s been made. We are in Afghanistan and Iraq because oil companies want us there, not because anyone gives a shit about the national interest.


So what I hear you saying, is that if enough brave geniuses like Snowden throw their lives and careers away, eventually the wall will slowly chip away and we’ll have an NSA that works in the people’s best interests. That sounds a lot like Gandhi’s advice to the Jews in WW2.


I’m not sure what that means and I’m too busy to look it up.

I think change with the NSA will come both from external and internal pressure. Any internal pressure and/or willingness internally to alter things will help change along.

Glad you’re doing something productive. Here’s the quote:

"Hitler killed five million Jews. It is the greatest crime of our time. But the Jews should have offered themselves to the butcher's knife. They should have thrown themselves into the sea from cliffs. As it is, they succumbed anyway in their millions. "

Hang on. From the article, I really liked that kids point:

He had a good answer: “If no one who cares about civil rights and the law joins the NSA, how will they improve?”

Starving the agency of good people won’t make the agency go away, it will just mean it remains staffed with bad people and no internal moderation.

Also :

unless you have a theory about how you’ll succeed where [Snowden] failed, you’re setting yourself up to fail, too.

While there are bad parts to the Snowden story, I’m not sure we should be saying that he outright failed in doing what he did.