Last week, Josh Gerstein explained how the information control freaks at the National Security Agency conducted secret "seminars" for reporters—basically, little classes on how and when the government would like them to keep their mouths shut about top-secret and not-so-secret information. What's funny is that no one seems to remember the sessions, which went down at NSA headquarters between 2002 and 2004. Maureen Baginski, who was listed as a presenter at the seminars, said she had no recollection of being present. Why would she? She was only the FBI's "intelligence czar" back in 2004, before she left to work for SPARTA, an employee-owned defense contractor of utmost secret-government-like creepiness. Likewise? Not a single reporter has yet come forward to claim attendance.
"We need your help and the nation needs your help," is how the NSA came on to the media-types. And what the reporters got was: Audio-visuals, presentations by historians and a bit of "Top Gun," all while being encouraged to do "innocuous rewrites" of juicy stories in order to protect classified information.
"They had to get permission from the General Counsel to show a segment from the movie," Gerstein told us. "If that doesn't tell you what a button-downed agency this is."
Tom Cruise's pre-Thetan grin was used, according to the course outline, as "a casual demonstration of the multi-faceted global communication structure NSA has charted to collect from." Riiiiiight. No word on whether the tone-deaf agency also provided story time, but we do know the journos had snack: tea and cookies.
"The best way to a reporter's head is through their stomach," Gerstein said. "You wonder what the NSA's budget is for catering; it doesn't look like they even got lunch."
The NSA sees things differently than the average reporter. For instance! As we found with the furor over the New York Times NSA wiretapping stories, they seem to think that terrorists might not already suspect that the U.S. government is observing them?
"The government is convinced that when reporters write a story... that says we intercepted Osama Bin Laden's calls, that we've then let Bin Laden knows that we're listening," said Gerstein. "I mean, [Al Qaeda et al aren't] idiots; they can carry out an operation. There may be some dumb terrorists who don't know that we're trying to listen to them, but it seems like me if you're a terrorist, it would be a pretty good idea to be paranoid."
Individual reporters attending the sessions were not named in the NSA's documents and Gerstein was unable to confirm who attended, or even whether those reporters were forced to sign confidentiality agreements in order to participate. The resounding silence—so far!—would suggest that they did.
Would Gerstein, who was an ABC White House correspondent before going to work for the Sun, have considered accepting an invitation to spend an afternoon with a bunch of spooks so they could tell him how to do his job? "If the Director of the NSA would sit down with me for 15 minutes on the record, I'd go out and see them for two or three hours on background, sure," he said. "My general rule is that officials who are totally secret... I'm not the kind of person who has a great problem with taking them behind the scenes. But the President should never be off the record. It shouldn't be the case that top-ranking officials are able to influence the news if they're then just going to say 'Oh, that's classified! That's classified!' when you ask them a question on the record."