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Just Doing Their Jobs: NSA Employees Don’t Question

People use the words, “I was just doing my job,” to justify all kinds of questionable behaviors.

Taken to the extreme, this mentality can lead to people commit unspeakable evil. We only need to look back to Nazi Germany where everyday people “just doing their jobs” gassed millions of Jews.

Institutions place constant social pressures on their members to conform. Leadership works hard to communicate the “institutional culture” and to encourage loyalty. Being social creatures, people generally “buy in.” Consider the loyalty many people show for the company they work for.

The buy-in becomes even more pronounced when you plug the mission of the institution into the power of “patriotism.”

We find ourselves bombarded with messages of patriotism from the time we become cognizant of the world around us. We pledge allegiance to the flag. We celebrate national holidays. We honor the troops. This makes it extremely difficult to speak out against the actions of America. Consider the treatment people get when they challenge U.S. military engagements or question “American exceptionalism.”

When you put people in a work environment that combines the power of institutional loyalty and patriotism, you place them in a position that makes it very difficult for them to challenge “their job.”

We see this dynamic play out at the NSA.

Recently, CNBC interviewed NSA recruiter Steven LaFountain. He brought up an interesting point about young recruits when asked if Snowden’s revelations have hindered bringing young talent into the agency, saying that many young people don’t really care much about the politics. Their interest lies in the opportunity to work with the rapidly developing cyber-technology field.

I don’t think it’s been damaging to our ability to recruit talent, in that many of the students that I talk to, anyway, that I interact with, they’re interested in the tech. Right. They’re not bothered by, let’s say, the politics of things like that. They’re interested in the technology. They want to get into cybersecurity. They want to learn what we do here.

But at some point, the newbies at the NSA get indoctrinated into the mission and completely buy in to what their superiors tell them. LaFountain said most don’t question things.

I’ve run across a few people in my career that sometimes might question things, but in general, no. I think everybody really firmly believes the mission we do and that we’re doing the right thing. We’re doing it within the authorities given to us by our laws and our government. And so we’re doing what is best for the nation.

Most people working at the NSA don’t question things.

That fact should chill you to the bone.

Seriously, in light of all the evidence revealed over the last year, how can anybody not question what the NSA does? How can anybody not recognize the inherent privacy violations in what the NSA does? How can anybody not at least raise their eyebrows at the demonstrable lies NSA leadership tells the American people. It has to make any rational person at least say, “Hmmmm.”

Yet NSA employees don’t question it.

They believe in the mission.

They are just doing their jobs.

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