Debate heats up between students and NSA recruiters

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Posted: Friday, July 5, 2013 -- 8:55pm

It's no secret the National Security Agency (NSA) has been under intense scrutiny, lately, after Edward Snowden exposed government surveillance programs to the world.

So when two NSA recruiters made a visit, this week, to UW Madison, it's no shock the focus remained more on Snowden and less on recruiting.

"They seemed to really not want to acknowledge it” says Madiha Tahir, a PhD student at Columbia in New York.

Tahir is in Madison for the summer, taking part in a language program. She was among the handfuls that attended the recruiting session.

"Frankly, I was just shocked that the NSA recruiters seemed entirely unprepared to deal with the revelations that Edward Snowden has released” says Tahir.

Tahir was far from shy when questioning the NSA. At one point she asked the recruiters: “So is this job for liars? Is this what you're saying? Because, clearly, you're not able to give us forthright answers.”

She also tweeted during the presentation, writing things like "NSA recruiter keeps referring to their clients as "customers.""

"These were not low-level people in the NSA. They told us that, together, they had 55 years in the NSA” says Tahir.

Things heated up quickly between Tahir and the recruiters, especially when the word adversary was brought up.

Take a look, below, at a transcript of the exchange.

Tahir: “You said earlier that the two tasks that you do: one is tracking down the communications of your adversaries and the other is protecting the communications of officials. So, do you consider Germany and the countries the us has been spying on to be adversaries or are you, right now, not speaking the truth?”

NSA, female recruiter: “I mean you know, you can define adversary as enemy and clearly, Germany is not our enemy"

Tahir: “So adversary -adversaries you actually mean anybody and everybody.”

NSA, female recruiter: “That is not correct.”

NSA, male recruiter: “If you wanna use the word adversary, you can, we might use the word 'target.'”

"The impression that I got is that they just built this professional culture where they're very much in a bubble” says Jesse Stavis, who also attended the presentation.

For Stavis, the most shocking part was when a recruiter said that "the globe is their playground.”

"I think that it's actually quite shocking not so much that they would think that, but that they would think that's something to say in front of an audience” says Stavis.

It was certainly an unforgettable experience for both Stavis and Tahir. That's also probably true for the recruiters. But when asked if they'd, now, ever consider working for the NSA, both had the same negative response.

To access the entire audio exchange between Tahir and the NSA recruiters, just head to: