NSA top "sound bite": Push 9/11

A FOIA'ed document reveals the spy agency explicitly pushed 9/11 as a talking point to justify mass surveillance

Published October 30, 2013 6:50PM (EDT)

General Keith Alexander             (Reuters/Yuri Gripas)
General Keith Alexander (Reuters/Yuri Gripas)

National Security Agency director Keith Alexander has not shied away from pulling the 9/11 card in recent weeks: a fierce rhetorical tool in silencing critics of the spy agencies' sprawling surveillance dragnets.

"How did we end up here? 9/11. Two-thousand nine-hundred and ninety-six people were killed on 9/11. We all distinctly remember that. What I remember most is those firemen running up the stairs to save people, and then lose their lives,” Alexander told the House Select Committee on Intelligence. But the spy chief wasn't just pressing the old nerve, all too often the grounds used to justify U.S. civil liberties and human rights abrogations since 2001. Alexander was bartering in official agency spin.

As an internal NSA document, obtained by Al Jazeera America via FOIA, notes, 9/11 is officially listed under "sound bites that resonate." Pushing 9/11 is, the memo shows, the public relations line the agency has advised its officials to toe. As AJAM's Jason Leopold reported:

Invoking the events of 9/11 to justify the controversial NSA programs, which have caused major diplomatic fallout around the world, was the top item on the talking points agency officials were encouraged to use.

Under the sub-heading, “Sound Bites that Resonate,” the document suggests the statement: “I much prefer to be here today explaining these programs, than explaining another 9/11 event that we were not able to prevent.”

9/11-as-justification is nothing new to our political context, but to see mention of the attack explicitly referred to in agency print as a "sound bite" gives unnerving insight into national security spin in its most predictable, fear-mongering form.

By Natasha Lennard

Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email nlennard@salon.com.

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9/11 Foia Keith Alexander Nsa Soundbite Spin Spying Surveillance Terrorism World Trade Center