Don't Forget What NSA's Mission Is

By and large, I think the discussions coming out of the Snowden leaks have been good. And while the HeartBleed vulnerability isn't related to Snowden, I don't think the media's attention about what the NSA knew and when did they know it would be a topic today without the Snowden leaks.

Having said that, I wish journalists would, at the beginning of their articles, acknowledge that the NSA is a spy agency focusing on signals intelligence (i.e., spying on computer and telephone traffic). That is their mission. From their mission statement:

The National Security Agency/Central Security Service (NSA/CSS) leads the U.S. Government in cryptology that encompasses both Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) and Information Assurance (IA) products and services, and enables Computer Network Operations (CNO) in order to gain a decision advantage for the Nation and our allies under all circumstances.

Furthermore, NSA's page on Signals Intelligence says:

The National Security Agency is responsible for providing foreign Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) to our nation's policy-makers and military forces. SIGINT plays a vital role in our national security by providing America's leaders with critical information they need to defend our country, save lives, and advance U.S. goals and alliances globally.

Developing intelligence based on intercepting and analyzing electronic communications is what the NSA does. Discussing limits on what they can do (e.g., rules of engagement) is perfectly fine. Being surprised or offended that they do these things is nuts.

I am reminded that when I was first developing tools and performing network-based intrusion detection in the early 1990s, I was told that I might be doing something illegal.