I'm Quitting my Job at the NSA Due to Donald Trump.07 Apr 2017
On November 7, 2016 I knew what the next 5 years of my life would be. I was going to graduate in May from the University of California, Berkeley with a double major in Computer Science and Arabic. I would get a masters in CS from Berkeley in May of 2018 and then return to the National Security Agency to work for the next 4 years. On November 8th, I had no idea what would happen.
I was a member of the Stokes Scholarship program for the NSA. The government paid the majority of my college tuition, and in exchange I spent my summers interning for the Agency and after graduation (and 1 year on leave without pay) I was obligated to work for the NSA for 4 years. The program was an incredible opportunity. I accepted the offer in May of 2013, just after the Snowden leaks began. At the age of 17, I committed the next 8 years of my life to an institution which was deemed a threat to civil liberties by people all around me. I decided to attend orientation at the Agency before determining if I would stay in the program or not.
I remained conflicted even after the orientation, but I was too fascinated to quit. The work was too interesting to leave, and I knew I would regret it if I never gave myself the opportunity to learn. So I stayed and interned for 3 summers. I loved the work. I loved studying computer security with some of the most elite minds in the field. I built software that mattered, that had the potential to save lives and livelioods. The ethics of my work weren’t black and white. I felt a lot of guilt for enjoying my job as much as I did. There are clear problems with the military industrial complex using bulk data collection to control and target individuals. The casual Islamophobia of my coworkers, people I thought of as friends, was sickening. This racism is not excusable because of the need for security. I believe reform of the Agency’s domestic surveillance (either advertantly or inadvertantly) should occur. I think the culture within the Agency needs to shift. But I also think there are violent threats, which often cannot be stopped without signals intelligence captured by the Agency. I think these benefits are more defensible than goinng to work in finance. I believed I was doing more good at the Agency than I could elsewhere.
In my third summer, I signed up to join the Computer Network Operations Development Program, an elite, 3-year training program for hackers and defenders. This had been my goal since my first summer, and I was thrilled to achieve it.
But after the election of Donald Trump, I cannot return. I’m terrified of the threat he presents and I am sickened at the thought of working under him. If Marco Rubio, or John Kasich, or Jeb Bush were elected I would have gritted my teeth as I passed their picture in the hallway, but I would have continued to do my job. Trump is categorically different. I’m scared that the vast powers of the NSA will shift to primarily and intentionally targeting Muslim Americans and illegal immigrants. Years from now I can’t tell my kids that I was working in the DOD during Trump’s tenure. I cannot serve him. I was good at my job and I loved the work. But because of President Trump, I cannot work at the NSA.
This essay was deemed UNCLASSIFIED and approved for public release by the NSA’s office of Pre-Publication Review on 11/16/2016 (PP 16-0742).