In which the NSA and I freak each other out on LinkedIn

Jeff Elder
3 min readSep 6, 2013

One of the things I enjoy about LinkedIn is the ability to see who’s viewed your profile. Imagine if you could do that with Facebook. (In fact, there are many scams purporting to show you just that on Facebook.)

The other day when I took a spin through LinkedIn on my daily rounds I saw something chilling:

Who’s viewed your profile:


Deputy director, National Security Agency

You might have heard of them.

It appeared that the federal magnifying glass had turned its fearsome gaze on me.

(A quick aside, if you are unconvinced the NSA has in fact launched a massive, coordinated and state-run assault on privacy, read this.)

So I clicked on the person who had clicked on me. And she was a spook:

No photo. No education. One job: The NSA. One mission: To look at me?

I was one click away from contacting her. This age is about personal connection more than anything else. I’ve pinged on social media with the famous and infamous. Did I dare to reach out?

I sent her an InMail, the LinkedIn message you can send someone who’s not connected with you:

Just curious why you were looking at my profile. The NSA is so much in the news regarding privacy. Do you mind telling me?

Thanks very much,


Who knows, I thought. Maybe she’ll answer.

She did:

I was looking at yours because linked in said that you had reviewed mine — why were you reviewing mine?

What? The spook was spooked? She was worried that I was looking at her?

When? Why?

Then I remembered: A while back I did leaf through LinkedIn profiles of members of the NSA – and FTC and FBI. I was curious about best practices on social media: How much do those officials show? (Not much, as I mentioned.)

An NSA deputy director noticed, cared, worried enough to take a peek at who had been checking her out.

And now she was asking me what all this was about. An NSA officer wanted to know why I was looking at her stuff online.

The shadow of doubt rustled like a night breeze, revealing to me just a glimpse of the self inside the stealth, the face behind the surveil.

Even if I couldn’t see her picture or where she went to college, I could read her whisper of curiosity … and fear?

The NSA might have almost singlehandedly re-introduced into American culture for the first time since the Cold War a gauzy apparition: Suspicion.

There has been little to be suspicious of lately. We seem to know too much. Secrecy has fallen like a new Berlin Wall. Divulgence is what we do now.

So I, the social media guy, ever effusive, asked the spymaster a question:

I cover social media, and a while back I was curious about the privacy of NSA workers’ social media accounts, so I looked at a few. That must have been it.

Curious: Do you have a best practices for how much the staff shows? Like, tutorials that advise how much you show?

Nice to connect. Thanks for answering my InMail.

But then, the line went dead. No reply. She was gone.

Then another LinkedIn user checked me out, but this time, the user hid their identity. And then, another masked user looked at me. And then…

Who is reading this right now? Who will see the tweets sent out about it? If someone comments, or recommends it, a note will float across the dark cloud of interception into my Gmail. How many will scan that, make a judgment about the threats posed by my character, and glide impassively onward, with the unblinking eye of a shark, ever into the cold and deep.

I will never know, wonder always.

Jeff Elder

Former WSJ reporter and syndicated columnist now writing crypto and cybersecurity. The Paris Review praised my Johnny Cash post.