The NSA's shameful use of 9/11 to justify spying on you

There are some things about the 9/11 terrorist attacks that almost all of us can agree on -- the unvarnished evil of those who killed innocent secretaries and accountants to make some kind of political statement, our sadness for the nearly 3,000 who were lost and our never-ending sympathies for their families and friends. Most of us also agree that it is unseemly at best and immoral at worst when people use the raw emotions of the 2001 attacks to advance their own cause, often one that really has nothing to do with 9/11.

Sometime it's over-the-top and easy to single out -- like that golf course that offered the nine holes for $9.11 on the anniversary last year. Sometimes it's far more insidious -- most famously when the Bush administration played on lingering fears over the attack on America to justify an invasion of Iraq, a nation that had absolutely zero to do with 9/11/2001. Rudy Giuliani's presidential campaign and its overly eager invocation of Guiliani's terrorism response was destroyed in one phrase -- "a noun, a verb, and 9/11."

You would think that a dozen years later, shallow 9/11 "soundbites" as a way to play to voters' raw emotions rather than appeal with hard facts, and as a way to stifle legitimate dissent and questioning of the government's activities, would have died down.

Apparently not:

The National Security Agency advised its officials to cite the 9/11 attacks as justification for its mass surveillance activities, according to a master list of NSA talking points.

The document – obtained by Al Jazeera through a Freedom of Information Act request – contains talking points and suggested statements for NSA officials (PDF) responding to the fallout from media revelations that originated with former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

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.”

NSA head Gen. Keith Alexander used a slightly different version of that statement when he testified before Congress June 18 in defense of the agency’s surveillance programs.

I find NSA's belief that the death of 3,000 Americans can be used as "a sound bite that resonates " to be totally offensive. The spy agency has had a dozen years to prove to the public that its Constitutionally-dubious overreaches in spying on the phone calls and emails of both Americans and allies not suspected of terrorism actually does what it claims it does. They have failed to do so. As ProPublica recently reported, the NSA;s claim that its overcaffeinated spying has thwarted 54 terror plots is over-hyped at best and mostly bogus at the worst.

Did 9/11 cause the NSA to spy on the Vatican, or our ally Angela Merkel's personal cell phone, oir on your email headings or your contacts list? I kind of doubt that -- regardless of what they say. Some surveillance is justified, and we need to have a rigorous debate -- but an honest one. For the NSA to use 9/11 as a blanket excuse to shield itself from criticism is unconscionable.

Simply put, their morally offensive soundbite is not resonating with me -- not at all.