NSA denial statement analysis shows no new information

“Reports that NSA secretly intercepts data infuriate Google and Yahoo” by The Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2013/oct/30/google-reports-nsa-secretly-intercepts-data-links


My analysis attempts to better describe the nature of the information contained in the NSA’s response to the Washington Post’s news article using a framework derived by Dr. Luciano Floridi’s work in the philosophy of information that I’ve solely developed. My framework attempts to develop information “strings” that aim to isolate what is and is not being said. My analysis only breaks down the information on a sentence-by-sentence basis, and does not collate the information as a whole, as I haven’t gotten that far in my framework’s development. However, my qualitative analysis reveals areas that should require further explanation. Most of these identified areas are perceivable by people when reading this content. However, my aim is to attempt to analyze systemically and systematically.

The claims of information being “not true” while not being directly addressed is deception. From John J. Mearsheimer’s book, Why Leaders Lie: The Truth about Lying in International Politics, Mearsheimer explains in the very beginning of chapter 1:

Truth telling is when an individual does his best to state the facts and tell a story in a straightforward and honest way. Every person invariably has limited knowledge about the details of any case and biases as well. Memories can also be faulty and it is impossible to relate every fact one knows when telling a story. The key point, however, is that a truth teller makes a serious effort to overcome any biases or selfish interests that he might have and report the relevant facts in a fair-minded a way as he can. Deception, in contrast, is where an individual purposefully takes steps that are designed to prevent others from knowing the full truth–as that individual understand it– about a particular matter. The deliberate aim, in other words, is not to provide a straightforward or comprehensive description of events.

Irrespective of information such as this being held back because of national security interests, very recently three-letter agencies (TLAs) have been releasing even more formerly-classified documents to avoid blame. The TLAs have stated that they are doing so because the public interest is greater than the interests of security. Either way, these people in power are dictating what is important and what is not, and their language in these types of explanations are far from the public’s interest and far from the desired facts. The public is telling them to stop their activities and explain themselves, and both the White House and the TLAs respond with deception.

The content:

The primary information includes:

  • “NSA”
  • “Google”
  • “Yahoo”
  • “secret actions”
  • “data and information interception actions”

NSA has multiple authorities that it uses to accomplish its mission, which is centered on defending the nation.

Before I talk about each information string for this first sentence, I want to point out that this is so uninformative, that it is not actually information. It requires secondary information to understand adequately, which is a shame that the NSA would expect so much of its informees. Why would they want you to start out so uninformed?

  • primary-operational: “NSA has multiple authorities”

Two subsidiary organizations? or the NSA is controlled by two or more “authorities”, such as authoritative laws? High ambiguity increases the risk for deception. Authority is not defined (third or fourth tier information is missing), which forces the informee to speculate the facts. The worry here is that the NSA may be intentionally, subtly, shifting blame, since the informee is unable to produce accurate understanding. An informer should always avoid multiple meanings in order to produce high-quality information.

  • primary-operational: “…that it uses to accomplish its mission”

Does the NSA share mission responsibility with two or more authorities or is the NSA’s liability owned by two or more authorities? A problem with providing low-quality information is that latter information is even more confusing. Again, high ambiguity increases the risk for deception.

  • Primary-operational: “…which is centered on defending the nation.”

The ambiguity in this first sentence is kind of insane. It requires preexisting knowledge to auto-fill missing information, and in this case, the likely possibility that what they want you to auto-fill with is that the NSA does a good thing, in general, by protecting you. Of course, they don’t explain how. Trust them.

The NSA appears to be shifting responsibility around, or creating unnecessary complexity by avoiding detail or providing basic definitions, in order to avoid negative ownership, but attempts to claim positive ownership.

The bottom line for this first sentence, based on the above information strings, is that there are clear information strings that are missing. There is zero primary-derivative information which indicates a “take my word for it” approach.

The Washington Post’s assertion that we use Executive Order 12333 collection to get around the limitations imposed by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and FAA 702 is not true.

The exterior systems that are Executive Order 12333 and FISA directly describe the nature of the primary information. They are whole, independent systems in and of themselves. It is very specific and important information to have, for if it were not present, all of this content would be even more questionable.

Primary-meta-operational information in this response by the NSA would describe how the primary-meta information works according to the NSA, however, the NSA does not bother to describe how it actually utilizes them. Had they, this would contain higher-quality information. It remains very low.

  • Primary-operational-operational: “The Washington Post’s assertion…is not true”

The NSA is operationally describing (not true) the operational description of the NSA (the assertion(s)) made by the Washington Post. In order to provide higher quality information, there should be primary-derivative-operational-operational information, which might be the NSAs direct response to specific claims made by the Washington Post (the derivative information being the information contained in the Washington Post’s article, or the publicly released top-secret information).

The assertion that we collect vast quantities of US persons’ data from this type of collection is also not true.

  • Primary-operational: “we [do not] collect vast vast quantities of US persons’ data from this type of collection”
  • Primary-operational: “we collect vast quantities of US persons’ data”

This is interesting. There are two distinct yet same information strings in this sentence. For one, the NSA is arbitrarily stating that they do collect vast quantities of US persons’ data, just that in the manner that The Washington Post explicitly describes is false–which is not to say that the NSA does collect exactly and implicitly in this manner, just not in a wording that the NSA appreciates. It appears that because of the nature of this information game, the NSA was backed into a corner and had to attempt to sound direct even though they’re not being direct at all.

  • primary-derivative-operational-operational: “The assertion…is…not true”

The primary-derivative-operational-operational information that is “not true” has a very high probability of being disinformative. To state that someone is saying an explicit lie is to state something contrary to reality; however, to state that something is not true is to implicitly state that it is not in a specific interest’s (the NSA’s) reality. This is a substantial concern.

If it was my job to craft this sentence, I wouldn’t have made it at all. Unless, of course, the NSA is attempting to squash every allegation ever made against it with regard to… with regard to what? “[T]his type of collection” is insanely ambiguous, because the NSA wouldn’t dare define it and then be liable for explaining its direct opinion of what is drawn on that napkin.

To juxtapose (primary-secondary information), the Washington Post claimed: “By tapping [Google and Yahoo] links, the agency has positioned itself to collect at will from hundreds of millions of user accounts, many of them belonging to Americans.”

Te NSA could very well be denying the two words “at will” as if they, by choice, copy information from Google and Yahoo. It could be that the “will” is removed because of the automated nature of the NSAs system, which allows them to claim the entire content is “not true”.

In order to claim such a statement, in order to provide high quality information, and to re-establish trust, the NSA should explain why it is not true. But it does not.

NSA applies attorney general-approved processes to protect the privacy of US persons – minimizing the likelihood of their information in our targeting, collection, processing, exploitation, retention and dissemination.

  • Primary-operational: “NSA…protect[s] the privacy of US persons – minimizing the likelihood of their information…”

The NSA just agreed with the Washington Post here. The NSA does collect information on US persons, just that it is “minimized”. Primary-operational-operational information would be prudent here–like, quantifying “minimize”. The Washington Post claims “…many of them belonging to Americans.” So what is the NSA attempting to deny?

NSA is a foreign intelligence agency.

  • primary-operational

The NSA isn’t negating that it’s not a domestic intelligence agency, which it is known to work very closely, or even for, other domestic intelligence agencies including the US Secret Service and the FBI (primary-operational-secondary information: the NSA directly assists domestic intelligence agencies). The issue here is that the NSA is trying to lead the informee away from the idea that it has any interest in domestic affairs, which is known to be a matter of fact.

And we’re focused on discovering and developing intelligence about valid foreign intelligence targets only.

  • primary-operational: “…we’re focused on discovering…valid foreign intelligence targets only”

Again, the NSA is distancing themselves from domestic intelligence gathering. There are so many different types of information that the NSA could include here to legitimize their claims:

Primary-operational-operational: The NSA could describe how they leverage their Google and Yahoo hacking. They could describe what they do to focus on foreign versus domestic intelligence targets. They could describe how US person’s information gets caught up in their efforts. But they do not.

Primary-operational-derivative: The NSA could describe how other foreign intelligence agencies deal with this time of misuse. The could describe how domestic intelligence agencies leverage the type of information that Google or Yahoo generates. But they do not.

Final thoughts

Additionally, “Google”, “Yahoo”, and “secret actions” are all primary information yet they are completely absent from the NSAs information. Is it disinformation? There is a high probability that it is. The risk for concealment (deception) is high because a large majority of the primary information were not directly addressed. Not discussing primary information does not make it not-primary, for the slippery slope of information that started with Snowden, disseminated by the Washington Post, and responded to by the NSA, requires direct response to remain high-quality.

Disinformation is not actual information–it exists when an informer directs an informee away from the ideal, whole nature of the informational content. Disinformation exists when an informer performs some manner of deception, which can include lying, concealment, or spinning. It is very easy to conceal information by focusing on the ideal nature of your interests. Spinning, it seems, is more of an art than a science in order to detect. Lying is only detectable when you have an abundance of supporting, secondary information.

Due to the nature of the NSA, misinformation is not likely–an intelligence agency, priding itself on “knowing”, shouldn’t be mistaken to accidentally deceive. In tandem, is it wrong for the American public to expect the NSA to provide high-quality information in their responses? Snowden is responsible for shedding light on what is being perceived as unconstitutional actions by the NSA. This is a serious issue requiring serious responses from its stakeholders. High quality responses out of shear respect for your country takes priority, not pride in your faith for your work.


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