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ProPublica, without question, one of the most reliable sources for solid news anywhere on the planet, IMHO, is a little late to the table on this round of the NSA-surveillance-state stories. But, I’ve learned to never underestimate that organization, especially when they’re running on all eight cylinders and on top of a story. And, I’m certain that’ll be the case in coming days. In the meantime, they’re now putting serious resources into this effort, as a quick review of their website will confirm.  

For the moment, and as reporter Justin Elliott just reminded us in the past hour (Elliott should have had a chat with ProPublica colleague Jeff Larson to get the skinny on this absurdity; since Larson just went through the same drill), they’re re-learning the day-to-day hurdles and obfuscation efforts that are ever-present as they attempt, once again, to obtain information from No Such Agency the National Security Agency.

This would actually be funny (granted, I can practically hear Elliott laughing as he typed this) if the massive backstory wasn’t so twisted from the get-go…

NSA Says It Can’t Search Its Own Emails
by Justin Elliott
ProPublica, July 23, 2013, 12:39 p.m.

The NSA is a "supercomputing powerhouse" with machines so powerful their speed is measured in thousands of trillions of operations per second. The agency turns its giant machine brains to the task of sifting through unimaginably large troves of data its surveillance programs capture.

But ask the NSA, as part of a freedom of information request, to do a seemingly simple search of its own employees' email? The agency says it doesn’t have the technology.

"There's no central method to search an email at this time with the way our records are set up, unfortunately," NSA Freedom of Information Act officer Cindy Blacker told me last week.

The system is “a little antiquated and archaic," she added...

Elliott tells us how he filed a FOIA request “…last week for emails between NSA employees and employees of the National Geographic Channel over a specific time period. The TV station had aired a friendly documentary on the NSA and I want to better understand the agency's public-relations efforts.”

A few days after that, Ms. Blacker called him and asked that he “narrow” his “…request since the FOIA office can search emails only 'person by person,' rather than in bulk.”

He then reminds readers the NSA has more than 30,000 employees.  But, apparently, even though he attempted to contact the NSA press office for more info, he didn’t receive a response.

…“It’s just baffling,” says Mark Caramanica of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. “This is an agency that’s charged with monitoring millions of communications globally and they can’t even tracktheir own internal communications in response to a FOIA request…”
If Elliott had reached out to ProPublica colleague Jeff Larson, this is what he would have learned, per Findlaw’s Brett Snider…
NSA's Reply to Man's FOIA Request: No Comment
By Brett Snider, Esq. on July 7, 2013 8:41 AM

If you want to know whether the NSA is spying on you, making a FOIA request sounds like a smart idea. But it doesn't mean the super-secret agency has to give you a definitive answer.

ProPublica's Jeff Larson submitted a request for any data the National Security Agency had on him, under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). But he received a decidedly vague letter in response, claiming that telling him one way or another would aid "our adversaries."

The NSA may send you a similar response if you ask them about what information they have on you…

Snider notes that responses—if and when a citizen actually receives one, and that’s by no means a given—may take “years.”

Here’s ProPublica’s Jeff Larson reporting on his dealings with the NSA, just a few weeks ago…

NSA: Responding to this FOIA Would Help “Our Adversaries.”
by Jeff Larson
June 25, 2013, 2:57 p.m.

Shortly after the Guardian and Washington Post published their Verizon and PRISM stories, I filed a freedom of information request with the NSA seeking any personal data the agency has about me. I didn't expect an answer, but yesterday I received a letter signed by Pamela Phillips, the Chief FOIA Officer at the agency (which really freaked out my wife when she picked up our mail).

The letter, a denial, includes what is known as a Glomar response -- neither a confirmation nor a denial that the agency has my metadata. It also warns that any response would help “our adversaries”:

Any positive or negative response on a request-by-request basis would allow our adversaries to accumulate information and draw conclusions about the NSA's technical capabilities, sources, and methods.

Our adversaries are likely to evaluate all public responses related to these programs.

Were we to provide positive or negative responses to requests such as yours, our adversaries' compilation of the information provided would reasonably be expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to the national security…"

Ya’ gotta’ love "transparency"

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Originally posted to on Tue Jul 23, 2013 at 11:18 AM PDT.

Also republished by The First and The Fourth.

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