HuffPo Reporter Notes NSA Claims They Don't Have the Technology To Search Their Internal Emails

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Sometimes, it’s hard to tell the difference between someone being stupid and being evil. According to Justin Elliott of ProPublica, writing in the Huffington Post, the NSA responded to his freedom of information request with a stonewall.

Elliott said he was asking for emails between NSA employees and the National Geographic Channel within a certain time period so he could research how the NSA handles public relations. He said that NSA Freedom of Information Act officer Cindy Blacker told him: "There's no central method to search an email at this time with the way our records are set up, unfortunately,” and added (probably with a nervous laugh) that the NSA’s email system is “a little antiquated and archaic”.

He said that she further told him that the Freedom Of Information Office was only able to search emails person by person--which is not very efficient because the agency has about 30,000 employees.

servers
"Those? Why, we don't even know what they do. We just like the pretty lights."

And this is where we get back to the part about stupid versus evil. It is possible that the NSA’s own email system was put together by incompetent people back in the dark ages. It is possible that Ms. Blacker, whose job it is to cull data for FOIA requests after all, is just a clueless rube. (It is even possible that the NSA budget item related to office email services and computers is far too small to provide adequate equipment and software--which isn’t uncommon among government agencies.)

However, it is far more likely that the NSA just doesn’t want anyone snooping on its emails and is lying, which is evil. The idea that an agency that has and continues to amass and process mountains of data on U.S. citizens through its PRISM spying program and associated FISA shadow court can’t look through a few of its own emails is ludicrous. It’s basically the “What’s a truck?” feigned ignorance tactic, a la Fat Tony in The Simpsons.

It’s not like requesting emails is a new and baffling thing; it’s incredibly common, in fact, as part of legal investigations and internal matters. There’s essentially no way that the NSA can’t fulfill requests like the one Elliott made; however, if the NSA doesn’t want to comply, telling its FOIA office that it’s simply not capable of turning over email data is an easier way of saying that it just doesn’t feel like following the rules.
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Fat Tony?!

I thought you were a legitimate businessman. For shame!

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Clixxer replied on Wed, Jul 24 2013 4:39 PM

While the way the NSA handled this isn't surprising, I just chalk it up to gov't being a complete mess as it always has been. Granted it can't be done and that would be a better reply. I know people would still cry unfair and the gov't can do anything (which anyone with common sense understands they cant).

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I don't see why an attorney can't file some kind of lawsuit to make the NSA comply with the law. It would be something else to see maybe the supreme court make the NSA fall inline. Checks and balances baby!

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realneil replied on Wed, Jul 24 2013 9:00 PM

Circumnavigation of our government's checks and balances has been the norm in government for a long time.

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ajm531 replied on Wed, Jul 24 2013 11:51 PM

Hah!! and again i laugh HAH!!!! And thats all i have to say about that. Seriously they must think we are all idiots. Granted some deserve that title but majority dont so yeah the goverment just called us stupid.

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BEckley replied on Wed, Jul 24 2013 11:55 PM

I'm sure that the NSA has it's own security policies that don't allow low level clearance employees to examine internal email for even trivial things. Personally I think we as citizens should be allowed access to some information since we pay for it but, it's possible for example that if the FOIA officer did a query for a certain subject line she might pull up more than what she is cleared to see.

With the information that was given the reporter could have called NatGeo and asked them who wrote in and got copies of emails from them or contact addresses for the NSA to comply with the request. I don't think it's all that big of a deal since the reporter could have done more instead of crying over not being able to get an answer the first time he asked a question.

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Clixxer replied on Thu, Jul 25 2013 12:24 AM

realneil:

Circumnavigation of our government's checks and balances has been the norm in government for a long time.

Pretty sure they are trying to make this into a law to add it to the constitution :P Well if they could figure out a way around the fact you can't :P

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