When we reported on Edward Snowden’s fascinating interview with top Guardian journalists in Moscow last week, we admittedly headlined the article with the most salacious of Mr Snowden’s revelations – that sexually explicit photos of ‘extremely attractive’ innocents caught in ‘a sexually compromising position’ are considered ‘fringe benefits’ of the job at NSA central, and are routinely handed round by staff.
Perhaps not the most important thing Mr Snowden had to say, but it makes an eye-catching headline, and drives home with an immediacy that can sometimes be lacking in the seemingly endless litany of NSA pricey abuses, how NSA surveillance is a complete invasion of personal privacy.
It is therefore unsurprising that these comments have caused a great deal interest in the press, leading NSA spokesperson Nanee Vines to make a formal statement condemning any such behaviour among NSA employees.
‘NSA is a professional foreign-intelligence organization with a highly trained workforce, including brave and dedicated men and women from our armed forces. As we have said before, the agency has zero tolerance for willful violations of the agency’s authorities or professional standards, and would respond as appropriate to any credible allegations of misconduct.’
Such a strongly worded policy of ‘zero tolerance’ might be more credible if it wasn’t for the fact that this sort of thing has happened before, and in spite of the embarrassment the revelations must clearly have caused the NSA at the time, the sexist ‘laddish’ culture obviously continues unabated.
In 2008 ABC News reported on how the NSA listened in on sex tapes made by US soldiers and their partners, and then shared ‘best of’ clips of these with their colleagues,
‘”Hey, check this out,” Faulk [an ex-NSA intercept operator] says he would be told, “there’s good phone sex or there’s some pillow talk, pull up this call, it’s really funny, go check it out. It would be some colonel making pillow talk and we would say, ‘Wow, this was crazy. Faulk said he joined in to listen, and talk about it during breaks in Back Hall’s “smoke pit,” but ended up feeling badly about his actions.’
Former NSA chief Keith Alexander assured doubters last year that when it comes to access to NSA databases, ‘there is 100 percent auditability on what we do.’ This is clearly not the case however, as Mr Snowden observed in his recent interview,
‘A 29 year old walked in and out of the NSA with all of their private records… What does that say about their auditing?’