The National Security Agency (NSA), which monitors communications all over the world, has a very interesting weakness: the agency claims that it cannot even search its own employees’ email.
You read that correctly: NSA Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) officer Cindy Blacker told Justin Elliot of ProPublica, “There’s no central method to search an email at this time with the way our records are set up, unfortunately.” She added that the NSA system is “a little antiquated and archaic.”
Elliot had filed a request for emails that had passed between the NSA and National Geographic Channel employees because he was studying the National Geographic Channel’s marketing strategies. Blacker responded a few days later telling Elliot to make his request more specific because the FOIA could not search emails en masse, only “person by person.” This would take a fair amount of time; the NSA has 30,000 employees.
Eliiot persisted by contacting the NSA press office but there was no response.
Mark Caramanica of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press was befuddled, saying, “It’s just baffling. This is an agency that’s charged with monitoring millions of communications globally and they can’t even track their own internal communications in response to a FOIA request.”
Although Lucy Dalglish, dean of the journalism school at University of Maryland and an expert on the FOIA, asserted that federal agencies’ public records offices are quite often short of cash, she admitted, “If anybody is going to have the money to engage in evaluation of digital information, it’s the NSA, for heaven’s sake.”