The NSA has lost the public opinion battle

English: NSA EMPLOYEES ONLY Français : NSA emp...

English: NSA EMPLOYEES ONLY Français : NSA employés seulement (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In recent testimony before Congress Director of National Intelligence James Clapper admitted that the NSA had to change and become more transparency. The Snowden leaks and revelations had done their job. The NSA has blinked.

They brought a knife to a gunfight.

The NSA fought the wrong battle. In the past, friendly briefings to friendly reporters would be enough to defeat the challenge from a leaker. Their considerable public relations and political connections did the rest. They had the law on their side and public opinion likes law and order. The Snowden situation blindsided them. The attack overwhelmed their defences.

“Peace has cost you your strength! Victory has defeated you!”

The NSA mistakenly believed that beltway politics and beltway methods were enough. They were unprepared for demagogic warfare. Their tactics were suited for combat where political rules and journalistic formalities are recognised and respected. Peace had defeated them. They have never had to fight for public opinion. Inside the beltway, their power, prestige, and mystique allowed them to dominate other actors on national security issues.  Except this is not national security this is public opinion and the same rules do not apply.

A dangerous ambition lurks behind the mask of zeal for the rights of the people

The opponent was not a leaker but demagogues masked as a journalists. They would not respect the journalistic formalities. They would use demagogic rhetoric and techniques to raise an army and fan the flames of fear. They unleashed the oldest rhetorical tools, tools as old as Athens and enhanced by social media, against an unsuspecting public unused to such rhetoric and fear. The demagogues hit the NSA at their weakest point: public opinion. This was not a journalistic exercise with a desire to inform with facts. This was not a philosophical exercise to find truth. This was a demagogic brawl. The goal was to convince public opinion that the NSA and the government were out of control, out of touch, and out to get them. Now converted, public opinion has become like a golem battering the government and the NSA.

Government officials are brushed aside as complicit, unaware or ineffective. Journalists have been bulldozed. Public opinion has dismissed them as government mouthpieces. When experts have counter attacked, they have been ignored, dismissed, or overrun by the demagogue’s army of converts. Public opinion has been convinced that the government, the NSA and their defenders are against privacy and freedom. The NSA’s arrogance, clumsiness, and heavy-handedness confirm the public’s fears and convert more recruits to the struggle. The ham-handed reference to “accomplices” exemplifies this weakness.

The NSA need to recognise the problem and fix it. They need someone as blunt as Joseph Stilwell.

“I claim we got a hell of a beating. We got run out of Burma and it is humiliating as hell. I think we ought to find out what caused it, go back and retake it.”.[1]

[1] Quoted from Glimpse of an Epic, Time Magazine, Monday, August 10, 1942

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About lawrence serewicz

An American living and working in the UK trying to understand the American idea and explain it to others. The views in this blog are my own for better or worse.
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One Response to The NSA has lost the public opinion battle

  1. Pingback: How the NSA is fighting to win the PR War | Media Meditations

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