Title: The SIGINT Philosopher Is Back — with a New Face!
Release Date: 2015-08-11
Document Date: 2012-05-29
Description: This 29 May 2012 article from the internal NSA newsletter SIDToday “SIGINT Philosopher” column, gives a first person account of how an analyst became reconciled to the idea of total surveillance during a polygraph test: see the Intercept article The Philosopher of Surveillance, 11 August 2015.
Document: DYNAMIC PAGE -- HIGHEST
POSSIBLE CLASSIFICATION IS
TOP SECRET // SI / TK // REL TO USA
AUS CAN GBR NZL
Welcome! Saturday, 10 Nov 2012
• Web search
• Agency-all Emails
• SID-all Emails
• NSA Rolodex
• SCQAWK: The SID Mailbag
• SIDtoday Blog
• SIDtoday Series
• SIGINT Worldwide VTC * •
• SIDtoday Article
• Letter to the Editor
• SIGINT-y Social Media Page
(U) The SIGINT Philosopher Is Back -- with a New Face!
FROM: the SIDtoday Editor
Run Date: 05/29/2012
(U//FOUO) Last year SIDtoday introduced the SIGINT
Philosopher column, penned by The column
was well received, but unfortunately Mr 's other work
commitments have made it impossible for him to continue
writing the column. We thank Mr for his contributions
to SIDtoday and wish him well in his career!
(U//FOUO) Today we can announce the new SIGINT
Philosopher columnist, While Mr^^^ does
not hold a degree in philosophy, as you'll see, he does have a
philosophical approach to things, as well as a sense of humor.
So, without further delay, we present Mr^^^J first
1. The SIGINT
Back -- with a
2. The SIGINT
Have Been a
3. The SIGINT
When Brevity Is
Just the Soul of
4. The SIGINT
Praise of Not
5. The SIGINT
(U) Since I've become the new SIGINT philosopher — a
position whose very existence will undo the good work of
generations of parents who wisely begged their children not to
major in philosophy because they will starve — I suppose I
should be clear what I mean by the term "philosophy." It is
one of those words that can have many different meanings,
ranging all the way from Plato to corporate mission 6
statements to any kind of folk wisdom:, e.g.:
Andrew: I can't beheve the Ravens blew that game.
Chris: Well, some days, you eat the bear, and some days, the
bear eats you.
Andrew: Wow, man. That's deep. You're so philosophical. But
to me, philosophy is useful only to the extent it can help you
figure out what to do with your life. And since I am the
SIGINT philosopher, in this column I'll try to talk about
questions that are relevant to what we all do at work every
day. Call it "applied philosophy with a SIGINT slant" with
possible gratuitous insertions of Heidegger just to make me
(U) One philosophical SIGINT conundrum that faces many of
us SIGINTers is the feeling famously expressed by Herbert
Hoover's Secretary of State, Henry Stimson, that "gentlemen
do not read other gentlemen's mail."
(S//REL) While almost everyone would agree this is a
hopelessly quixotic sentiment, and one doomed to be ignored
by every nation on earth, I was surprised when I began
working here to be assigned to a diplomatic target. Somehow,
it didn't sit well with me at first that we (the US) would invest
big money and effort into eavesdropping on the same people
we negotiated with. It was as if with the right hand of our
State Department we shook their hand, while with the left
hand of the Defense Department we reached into their coat
pockets. Surely, I thought, if there were any place in the world
that idealism should rule and we should show voluntary
restraint in our intelligence work, diplomacy was that place.
Terrorists who meant harm to cliildren and puppies were one
tiling, but civil servants talking about work while schlepping
their kids to soccer practice seemed a little too close to home.
(U) Last year, I unwittingly stumbled across what feels to me
like a good answer to this question during, of all tilings, my
Unlike All My
Teammates. I Am
Lessons for Civil
Servants from the
War (That Don't
(U) I'm a libertarian by nature. I like to be left alone.
Polygraphs to me are a unique kind of torture. Like many
analysts in SID, I also make them worse for myself by
analyzing and obsessing each question to death. Last year, a
day before my birthday, I had a really terrible polygraph that I
knew I had not passed. I spent a month obsessing over it,
wondering how I would find a new job, and laimchmg into
long internal diatribes berating a society in which it is no
longer possible for me to take my family in a wagon out to the
prairie and claim a plot of land by a creek and live in a mud
(U) One of the many thoughts that continually went through
my mind was that if I had to reveal part of my personal life to
my employer, I'd really rather reveal ALL of it rather than just
part of it. Partial revelation, such as the fact that answering
question X made my pulse quicken, led to misimderstandings.
I f oimd myself wishing that my life would be constantly and
completely monitored. It might seem odd that a self-professed
libertarian would wish an Orwellian dystopia on himself, but
here was my rationale: If people knew a few things about me,
I might seem suspicious. But if people knew everything about
me, they'd see they had nothing to fear.*
(U) This is the attitude I have brought to SIG^^ work since
then. If we are going to work on targets that fall short of being
technically "enemies" but are rather infonnative for our policy
makers -- and we are -- then even looking at it from the
target's perspective, we are honor-bound to do more and better
monitoring rather than less.
(U) For while the US does not truly have godlike powers --we
cannot do all things -- we do have extraordinary powers. And
we tend to mistrnst what we do not imderstand well. A target
that has no ill will to the US, but which is beuig monitored,
needs better and more monitoring, not less. So if we're in for a
penny, we need to be in for a poimd. From the perspective of
the US, obviously it is in our interest to understand a target
better. But even for the target (if we, like Stinson, are going to
chivalrously concern ourselves for him), it is better to be
completely and competently monitored rather than
halfheartedly and incompetently so.
(U) I guess if we were a corporation, we could make our
mission statement (or "corporate philosophy") this: "building
informed decision makers -- so that targets do not suffer our
nation's wrath uiless they really deserve it -- by exercising
deity-like monitoring of the target." Now that's philosophy.
Comments/Suggestions about this article?
"(U//FOUO) SIDtoday articles may not be republished or
reposted outside NSANet without the consent of S0121
(DL sid comms)."
Page Publisher: |
Last Modified: 11/10/2012 / Last Reviewed: 11/10/2012
DYNAMIC PAGE -- HIGHEST POSSIBLE
TOP SECRET // SI / TK // REL TO USA AUS CAN GBR
DERIVED FROM: NSA/CSSM 1-52, DATED 08 JAN 2007
DECLASSIFY ON: 20320108