Please Stop Watching The Watchers, Say The Watchers

So here’s something hilarious, sad, ironic, tone deaf and just plain weird all at the same time.

The NSA (National Security Agency), a branch of the American government most famous for spying both legally and otherwise on the private communications of basically everyone on Earth, has its own internal Dear Abby style advice columnist.

No, I’m not joking.

She goes by the name Zelda, and her “Ask Zelda!” columns have proven to be quite popular among agency employees. She covers all sorts of workplace issues, everything from this dude I work with smells awful to somebody’s swiping my sodas from the fridge to…wait for it…we’re being spied on by our department head and it’s making us feel uncomfortable and unable to even make small talk with each other.

First of all, poor muffin. Did you read the sign when you walked into the office this morning? Do you forget what you do for a living?

But the icing on the cake is that Zelda, whoever she is, is shocked! Yes, shocked I say that this sort of inappropriate activity would be going on in this office. Unacceptable, she says.

Dear Silenced,

Wow, that takes “intelligence collection” in a whole new – and inappropriate – direction. …. We work in an Agency of secrets, but this kind of secrecy begets more secrecy and it becomes a downward spiral that destroys teamwork. What if you put an end to all the secrecy by bringing it out in the open?

You mean like Edward Snowden did?

You and your co-workers could ask [the supervisor] for a team meeting and lay out the issue as you see it: “We feel like you don’t trust us and we aren’t comfortable making small talk anymore for fear of having our desks moved if we’re seen as being too chummy.” (Leave out the part about the snitches.) Tell him how this is hampering collaboration and affecting the work, ask him if he has a problem with the team’s behavior, and see what he says. …. Stick to the facts and how you feel, rather than making it about him (“We’re uncomfortable” vs “You’re spying on us.”).

Dear NSA: I mean this in the nicest, most respectful way, but we need to talk. I feel uncomfortable with what you’re doing. Can you please not do it anymore?

I think we really came a long way today, you guys. Good talk.

If you are bothered by snitches in your office, whether of the unwilling or voluntary variety, the best solution is to keep your behavior above reproach. Be a good performer, watch what you say and do, lock your screen when you step away from your workstation, and keep fodder for wagging tongues (your Viagra stash, photos of your wild-and-crazy girls’ weekend in Atlantic City) at home or out of sight. If you are put in the “unwilling snitch” position, I would advise telling your boss that you’re not comfortable with the role and to please not ask that of you.

Ok Zelda, here’s a stumper for ya. How am I supposed to keep all the sketchy stuff out of sight when you guys kinda…how do I put this, routinely and indiscriminately collect and rummage through all of it whether I’d like you to or not?

I’d like to think that Zelda, whoever she is, is taking a few not so subtle jabs at the man with this answer. But I’ve been around long enough to know that out of control organizations like banks and governments often live in bubbles where things that are ridiculous to the rest of us are completely normal and justifiable. I’m not getting my hopes up, in other words.

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