Confronting The NSA On Camera

ImportantCool associate Andy Beale puts an NSA recruiter on camera and on the spot, prompting an aggressive response

l Z" speaks with IC associate Andy Beale at the University of New Mexico careers fair on 17 September, 2014, before accosting his colleague.

“Neal Z” speaks with IC associate Andy Beale at the University of New Mexico careers fair on 17 September, 2014, before accosting his colleague.

I had a rather intense encounter with the NSA the other day.

On Wednesday 17 September, I decided to pay a visit to a University of New Mexico careers fair to have a chat with the NSA representative in attendance. Two videos, shot from different angles and featured on The Intercept, show an NSA employee identified only by his name tag as “Neal Z” becoming increasingly angry at having some basic facts about what the NSA does pointed out to him. He proceeds to attempt to steal a phone being used to record him before angrily storming off to call security.

The videos blew up on the Internet, garnering over 20,000 views each in under 24 hours. I wasn’t expecting that kind of national exposure, but there it is. Seems there are a lot of people that really don’t like the NSA.

I’ve also received a lot of criticism from individuals commenting online, so I’m gonna take this opportunity to set the record straight. First, yeah, I was pretty unprepared. That’s a valid criticism. In the video, I fail to remember the name of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLO), for example. We learned late that the NSA was coming to campus and didn’t have a lot of time to get our ducks in a row, which is unfortunate, ‘cuz it really looks dumb to be trying to come up with the name of the thing you’re trying to cite.

Still, the PCLO board is a real thing, and they really did find that metadata collection is illegal and unconstitutional. According to the NSA’s own internal documents, the agency collects all the metadata from every major United States phone company on an “ongoing, daily basis.” And according to a panel convened by the very same U.S. government, it’s illegal. It’s also clearly unconstitutional in the U.S., violating the fourth amendment to the U.S. constitution’s protections against unreasonable search and seizure and violating the first amendment by creating a chilling effect on free speech in the country.

You can also note the blatant lies told by this recruiter. The most obvious (and hilarious, depending on your sense of humour) is Neal Z’s claim that he didn’t touch the phone he’s trying to steal — while his hand is literally still on the phone!  You couldn’t ask for a better demonstration of their obsessive need to lie to the public.


But listen closer and you can find another glaring lie. At first he claims the NSA doesn’t collect any kind of data at all on any U.S. citizens, but later when I ask him why he believes it’s legal to collect data on all U.S. citizens, he replies, “You don’t understand what that collection is about!” — an obvious admission that they do, in fact, collect data on all U.S. citizens; which they damn sure fucking do, the rat-bastards. They absolutely do collect “all call-detail records or ‘telephony metadata'” from every major U.S. phone company. Which means if you live in the U.S. and use a phone, as freakin’ everyone does, they’ve collected data on you.

The first NSA recruiter I confronted was clearly aware of this, and uncomfortable when asked about it, but at least she stopped short of physical aggression.

NSA metadata collection, as well as NSA programs such as PRISM, which gives the agency backdoor access to emails and social-media accounts, are also illegal under international law. My American readers may not have even heard of international law, since our schools and our media damn sure don’t ever mention it, but it’s a real thing and it’s important. The NSA is blatantly in violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, committing serious crimes against millions of people on a daily basis.

This leads me to why I decided to confront an NSA recruiter. They have absolutely no fucking right to recruit anywhere, let alone on a college campus. The NSA is a criminal organization. Period. They’ve committed crimes against me and they’ve committed crimes against you, and they’ve done it today and every day for years now. We wouldn’t let Los Zetas or ISIS recruit on campus. Why the fuck should these assholes be allowed to do it?

Another issue that’s been brought up a lot is the “claim” that the NSA recruiter assaulted my friend and fellow cameraman Sean Potter. There’s something more than a little Orwellian about calling this a “claim” when the whole event is caught on two cameras.

Under New Mexico law, one of three possible actions that constitute assault is: “Threatening or displaying menacing conduct which causes the alleged victim to reasonably believe they will be subject to battery.” Battery is defined as: “unlawful, intentional touching or application of force to the person of another, when done in a rude, insolent or angry manner.”

Sean and I both believed he was going to hit Sean when Neal Z accosted him. If you watch closely in the video, you can see I move toward them as Mr. Z comes out from behind his desk to approach Sean. I did this because I believed the recruiter was going to hit my friend and I was ready to intervene. Luckily, Neal Z did not hit Sean, but his actions still constitute battery. I’m not sure how the courts would define “insolent” but the manner in which he touched Sean was definitely rude and angry, and damn sure intentional.

Which leads me to the next fucked-up detail in this story. We waited patiently for UNM police to show up, without any further incident or interaction with the NSA rep. When they arrived, we showed the video to an officer who informed us it couldn’t possibly have been an assault, because if it was, we would’ve felt threatened and left. The fact that we stayed around to file a police report means the police can’t do anything about it. Orwell meets Kafka. However we insisted and I’m waiting on the police report from UNMPD, and when I get it, it’ll go up here.

UPDATE 25 SEPTEMBER: Who’s an embarrassment?

An anonymous Craigslist poster with a tone suspiciously similar to Neal Z’s weighed in on the controversy. Dear poster: feel free to contact us if you’d like to set up a time to deck me in my ugly fucking face, I’ve got plenty of friends who would be happy to film that for use in court. And don’t forget to become a patron!

Captura de pantalla 2014-09-25 a la(s) 1.23.17 p.m.



“Neal Z” has been identified the NSA staffer as Neal Ziring – Technical Director, Information Assurance Directorate.




(September 19, 2014)
Summary: We totally would’ve just left Neal Z alone if he’d done the same thing. Related Comments commentsImportant and Cool Associates
Categories: AB20SEPT2014



Andy is a journalist living and working in Albuquerque, New Mexico, the home of Walter White and the world capital of nuclear weapons. He has reported first-hand from conflict zones around the world, ranging from occupied Palestine to drug-war-ravaged Mexico. He's covered diverse issues such as the struggle for transgender rights in Istanbul, violations of the Geneva Convention in the Israeli prison system, and of course, the collective psychosis of his hometown's world-famous police department.

He began his career writing for the University of New Mexico's student newspaper, one of the U.S.’s only daily student publications. He then went on to freelance for the Alibi, an Albuquerque-based alt weekly, covering immigration, the drug war, and the Occupy Movement. In 2011 Andy received an invitation to attend the School of Authentic Journalism in Mexico, where he was invited by another course participant to move to and work in the Occupied West Bank. He lived there for nearly two years writing investigative reports on Israeli crimes as well as colorful features on Palestinian arts and culture. Following Israel’s 2012 assault on the Gaza Strip, Andy gained access to the embattled enclave for a feature on the experience of medical professionals in the strip during Israel's eight-day bombing campaign.

Andy has contributed to the Electronic Intifada and VICE magazine on couchsurfing in the Israeli settlements; the Albuquerque Police Department's ill-advised "Police Shooting Contest"; and the ongoing eviction of 40,000 Bedouin residents of the Naqab desert.

2 responses to “Confronting The NSA On Camera”

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