Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman. This is The World. Many US officials are speaking up in defense of the National Security Agency, and there's a pattern to what they're saying. One common theme: NSA surveillance helps prevent terrorist attacks. Secretary of State John Kerry said as much yesterday, even as he admitted some of the spying had gone too far.
Well, it turns out the NSA issued a list of talking points for officials to use. Reporter Jason Leopard of Al Jazeera America obtained that list through the Freedom of Information Act. He says there are two main NSA talking points.
Jason Leopold: ...9/11 and connect the dots, and they were both sort of related to each other. The talking point said that, prior to 9/11, they were unable to connect the dots, they failed to connect the dots, so we need these programs because we can't have another 9/11. 9/11 is just sort of spread throughout these 27 pages as a justification for these widespread surveillance activities.
Werman: Now, this is kind of a formal list of talking points, but how long has the NSA been thinking about media spin, and talking about 9/11 and connecting the dots?
Leopold: Let's just say this: Prior to the revelations from the Guardian and the Washington Post, you'd be hard-pressed to get the NSA to make any sort of comment because they're highly classified. You know, when I filed this FOIA request, I did so because I knew that once these stories were published, that there must be some discussions taking place internally about how to respond to it. It seems that using 9/11, using this sort of fear to explain why these programs are being operated, I believe the thinking is the public will just accept that, but it's 12 years after 9/11. It's not that easy. I don't think the public is just willing to lap up whatever this agency says.
Werman: Ironically, John Kerry yesterday, while saying the NSA ought to dial back the scope of surveillance, also said this:
John Kerry: And then, of course, 9/11. The attack on the United States and the rise of radical extremism in the world events that is hell-bent determined to try to kill people and blow people up and attack governments.
Werman: So that's the Secretary of State, Jason Leopold, but also Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein used another NSA talking point, connect the dots, that you talked about, in a recent op-ed. I'm just wondering how far have these talking points traveled?
Leopold: I think it's clear that these same talking points that the NSA is using traveled to Congress, to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, that they're using the same phrases. So I think that it's the same type of material that our public figures-- excuse me, that our lawmakers are using to explain these programs.
Werman: Is it also a concern to you, Jason, that -- you're a member of the media -- the NSA appears to have a fairly sophisticated guide to dealing with the media and the message?
Leopold: Well, that's exactly why I filed this Freedom of Information Act request. I felt that it was something that the public needed to see so that they can kind of hold it up against what we're seeing in the media, that the NSA is being quoted in a New York Times report. Where did that statement come from? Here's the master media list talking points. It's already prepared for everyone. I think it just is a matter of kind of looking at it with-- being a bit more skeptical when looking up what they say.
Werman: Reporter Jason Leopold of Al Jazeera America has been telling us about a master list of NSA talking points that he obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. Jason, thanks a lot.