NSA's Biggest Fans Are Young Americans

April 6, 2015
By Lewis Shepherd


Stereotypes are trounced by reality.


Every now and then a poll result pops up that surprises me. Results sometimes are counter-intuitive, or at least counter-narrative from what we're led to believe in major media coverage.

Case in point: An early 2015 poll shows that after nearly two years of a negative spotlight on the U.S. intelligence community, and particularly on the National Security Agency (NSA) and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the American people still have a positive view of the NSA and CIA. More startlingly, young Americans have more favorable views of NSA and CIA than older Americans!

The CIA's negative coverage was mostly on less-sexy topics such as the agency's ongoing spat with Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and on continuing drone policies. But the NSA's negative coverage was driven by a long series of front-page stories covering Edward Snowden's leaked documents, including their impact on technology giants such as Facebook, Apple, Google and others. Many pundits have opined that young American millennials are horrified by the revelations and angry at the NSA for "domestic spying."

Yet the 2015 national survey by the respected Pew Research Center asked specifically about the NSA, and it reveals that, "Young people are more likely than older Americans to view the intelligence agency positively. About six in 10 (61 percent) of those under 30 view the NSA favorably, compared with 40 percent of those 65 and older."

I did a bit of informal field research myself last week to determine whether the findings are representative of real students I could speak with in depth. I was invited to speak at a conference at the Intelligence Community Center of Academic Excellence (IC-CAE) at the University of Central Florida (UCF). The conference theme was "Cyber Security and the Internet," and I spoke on foreseeable technological, business and policy changes that we can expect to see over the next decade through 2025.

But beyond speaking, I did a lot of listening—in the sessions, the question-and-answer periods and over lunch with students in the IC-CAE program. I learned that students at UCF—now the nation's second-largest university—reflect the Pew poll findings, and on balance hold a positive view of the intelligence community and its efforts in the national interest. They admire our nation's intelligence professionals, and they're supportive of a robust foreign-intelligence collection program. I'm not surprised; in fact I was happy at the discussions and the energetic curiosity about intelligence among bright young computer scientists, social scientists and humanities students.

The IC-CAE program appears to be fulfilling its congressionally approved function of "helping prepare the workforce for the intelligence community of the future" with advanced curricula in national intelligence and security for undergraduate and graduate students. Perhaps we'll see fewer stories about "millennial anger" and a bit more attention on the positive contributions this great next generation can and will make to our national security.

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