NSA Tries, Fails to Improve Its Reputation With Damage Control ‘Interview’

You may have heard that the National Security Agency is currently one of the least popular organizations in both the United States and Germany, because for some reason Angela Merkel doesn’t like people tapping her phones.

Somebody within the group thought it might be a good idea to offer the public some clarity on the “data collection” issue by sitting director general Keith Alexander in front of a camera and letting him say whatever came to mind under the pretext of answering questions written by a Pentagon employee. It gets a little weird.

The video is more than thirty minutes long, so allow us (with the help of MSNBC’s Adam Serwer) to give you some takeaways:

“People say they’re spying programs and they’re absolutely wrong. We are going after terrorists…it has been successful.”

OK, we’ve heard that one before. But Alexander goes on to compare the current state of surveillance to the bath that kids never want to take: we have to do it because it’s good for us even if we’re kicking and screaming the whole time. He also compares the data in question to a hornet’s nest, saying that the NSA holds it because no one else wants to risk getting stung. So he missed the spinach metaphor, but he’s two for three.

Beyond the awkward language, this story is sad because in a perfect world every American would understand what the NSA does and why they do it enough to make informed decisions on the matter. We’d like to think it’s possible to accomplish this goal without compromising secret intelligence or putting anyone in danger.

Unfortunately for General Alexander, he’s already lost the argument among the general public. Yes, the NSA needs to communicate its points more effectively—but this is definitely not the best way to do it.

Maybe someone in PR could help…