Did You Really Think NSA Workers Were any Better than the TSA?

You may remember that TSA insiders assured us that, yes, they were laughing at our bodies when we went through the nudie scanners at the airport. Well, here’s a newsflash for those who need it: the TSA is not some especially bad government agency. When you offer people power and intrusive authority over other people the results are not good. Since there is no supply of angels for the TSA to hire, the employees don’t deal well with the power they are given.

Thus, there is no reason to expect the NSA to be much better than the TSA. According to whistleblower Edward Snowden, they are not. He says that NSA employees pass around nude photographs from surveillance for entertainment.

From Ars Technica:

If Snowden’s allegations of sexual photo distribution are true, they would be consistent with what the NSA has already reported. In September 2013, in a letter from the NSA’s Inspector General Dr. George Ellard to Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), the agency outlined a handful of instances during which NSA agents admitted that they had spied on their former love interests. This even spawned a nickname within the agency, LOVEINT—a riff on HUMINT (human intelligence) or SIGINT (signals intelligence).

“You’ve got young enlisted guys, 18 to 22 years old,” Snowden said. “They’ve suddenly been thrust into a position of extraordinary responsibility where they now have access to all of your private records. In the course of their daily work they stumble across something that is completely unrelated to their work in any sort of necessary sense. For example, an intimate nude photo of someone in a sexually compromising position. But they’re extremely attractive.

“So what do they do? They turn around in their chair and show their co-worker. The co-worker says: ‘Hey that’s great. Send that to Bill down the way.’ And then Bill sends it to George and George sends it to Tom. And sooner or later this person’s whole life has been seen by all of these other people. It’s never reported. Nobody ever knows about it because the auditing of these systems is incredibly weak. The fact that your private images, records of your private lives, records of your intimate moments have been taken from your private communications stream from the intended recipient and given to the government without any specific authorization without any specific need is itself a violation of your rights. Why is that in a government database?”

Then Alan Rusbridger, The Guardian’s editor-in-chief, asked: “You saw instances of that happening?”

“Yeah,” Snowden responded.

“Numerous?”

“It’s routine enough, depending on the company that you keep, it could be more or less frequent. These are seen as the fringe benefits of surveillance positions.”

Given the kind of behavior that is reported in the FBI, nothing about Snowden’s claims about the NSA should surprise us.