Decoding NSA newspeak

At Slate, Jameel Jaffer and Brett Max Kaufman do an excellent job of translating NSA newspeak into meaningful English.

I do have one gripe though — and this is something endemic in mainstream news reporting: everyone is terrified of using the words lie and lying.

Hardly anyone dare unequivocally articulate what everyone knows to be an indisputable fact: that DNI James Clapper lied to Congress when he responded to a question about the NSA collecting any type of data on millions of Americans by answering: “No, sir,” to Senator Wyden.

One doesn’t require the powers of telepathy or need to have taken a deposition from a priest to whom Clapper might have confessed, to know that he was lying.

We now know without doubt that Clapper misled Congress and he later said: “My response was clearly erroneous”. But to say that the content of his statement was erroneous and that he misled Congress, sidesteps the issue of intention. It essentially says that without additional information, we are incapable of determining whether it was Clapper’s intention to mislead Congress — if we knew that was his intention, then we could without hesitation say he was lying.

Yet, who can be in any doubt that as Director of National Intelligence and thus responsible for oversight of the NSA, Clapper would have been fully aware of FISA court orders requiring Verizon and others to provide the NSA with metadata on all its customers? Clapper knew what Wyden knew and that when Wyden said “any type of data at all” he had crafted his question precisely to include metadata. And thus Clapper uttered a bald-headed lie and committed perjury, a crime for which he could be imprisoned for up to five years — that is, if anyone in Congress cared about upholding the law.

James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, has been harshly criticized for having misled Congress earlier this year about the scope of the National Security Agency’s surveillance activities. The criticism is entirely justified. An equally insidious threat to the integrity of our national debate, however, comes not from officials’ outright lies but from the language they use to tell the truth. When it comes to discussing government surveillance, U.S. intelligence officials have been using a vocabulary of misdirection — a language that allows them to say one thing while meaning quite another. The assignment of unconventional meanings to conventional words allows officials to imply that the NSA’s activities are narrow and closely supervised, though neither of those things is true. What follows is a lexicon for decoding the true meaning of what NSA officials say. [Continue reading…]

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