That said, the NSA really needs a rebranding. After decades of hiding in the shadows, the agency is now exposed to a level of public scrutiny that was previously only the stuff of Fort Meade nightmares. When I joined in the mid-1990s the “No Such Agency” era had ended. No longer did anybody pretend that the enormous espionage complex up Route 295 — the one with all those funny looking “golf balls” stretching on for miles — didn’t exist. But there was still a pervasive, fundamental secrecy about what the agency said it did.
And, hey, I’m fine with secrecy in principle – by its very nature, intelligence is conducted in secret. But the current crisis has exposed the agency to scrutiny based on falsehoods proffered by Kremlin-backed scoundrels and their useful activist idiots masquerading as journalists. The time has come to beat that back with some honesty, what might seem like frighteningly radical honesty to old SIGINT hands.
The NSA does foreign intelligence. Tell the American people a bit more about that. It’s overdue. Better to tell the story yourselves than to let your enemies do it. I’m not saying you need to let MTV film a reality show at agency headquarters — though I’ve heard worse ideas — but you need to level with the American people about what it is the NSA does and how it does it.
It’s 2013, and because of the Internet and the spread of smartphones, practically all Americans rely on information technology to function on a daily basis. So you can’t blame people who until recently had never heard of SIGINT when they get a tad freaked out by the leaks they’ve heard so much about in recent months. But the truth is far less scary than the lies being told about the agency.