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Last week, when James Clapper and Keith Alexander testified contra Snowden yet again, the question arose whether the NSA had “gone rogue”. That’s a term that comes to us from Jason Bourne, and many other intelligence thrillers. When an agent – or an assassin or some other asset – goes rogue, it means he breaks the rules. He becomes a renegade, a threat to the schemes of the mucky mucks at headquarters. He must be stopped.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper on the left, and NSA Director Keith Alexander on the right.

The interesting thing is, the NSA actually has gone rogue: it operates without effective oversight, and it constantly violates rules that prohibit warrantless search and seizure of information. On the other hand, it hasn’t gone rogue at all, especially in its own eyes, because it follows all the standard operating procedures that regulate and define modern surveillance activities. Moreover, the NSA staunchly claims, we keep the country safe. We are not a danger to it.

When Clapper and Alexander testify on the Hill, they want you to know, you are listening to the establishment. The director of national intelligence, after all, speaks for the president. The general who heads the NSA speaks for the director of national intelligence. And so on. You might say Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North ran a rogue operation while serving on the staff of the national security advisor. Clapper and Alexander, unlike Oliver North, have not been fired by the president. They speak for all that is right and good about our electronic and signals intelligence capabilities.

According to the mucky mucks, Snowden is the rogue, the outlaw, the spy. He must be destroyed. Snowden is Jason Bourne, and he will escape the lumbering, over-organized, criminal intelligence agencies every time. The anti-hero becomes a hero. You could not ask for a better thriller. You could not ask for better villains than Clapper and Alexander. They look like bureaucrats. They look like the shamed flunkies who go before those congressional panels at the end of the Bourne films, to lie and dissemble one more time.

What a come-down for the mucky mucks, what a humiliation: to defend yourself against a twirp like Edward Snowden. We were masters of the universe, and he pulled the curtain back while we were sitting on the crapper. The rest of us knew the NSA was dirty, but it looked sterile and we didn’t know how much it stank. Now we know in detail the kind of organization Keith Alexander leads. Now we know exactly what’s in James Clapper’s port-a-potty. We know because NSA functionaries bragged about it in their internal briefings, and their briefing slides made it out of the hole.