We Are Always Listening

For a year, Andrew Tider and I operated as (unofficial) NSA subcontractors, affixing tape recorders under tables in cafes, bars and restaurants in hopes of finding and thwarting terror plots. I wouldn’t normally introduce a project with a television news piece, but this does a pretty amazing job of wrapping up the story.



We presented ourselves as a project “brought to you by The NSA.” We subtly modified their logo by adorning the eagle with headphones and adding the Latin phrase for “We are always listening.”

Visit WeAreAlwaysListening.com



Visitors to WeAreAlwaysListening.com were greeted with this announcement, which included a link to the recordings section.


Each audio post was titled “We’re listening (as you do whatever it is you’re doing).” Like this one where “we’re listening as you discuss your most intimate moments.” Hear the audio here.


If this type of surveillance bothered anyone, they could click the “Angry?” link. This took them to an ACLU page where they could send an email to their government representatives urging them to end the type of data collection the Patriot Act allowed.


Some of the recorders used in the mission.


To launch We Are Always Listening, our agents sent a package to a Wired Magazine journalist containing a single piece of paper printed with “We’re listening as you read this,” and our web address. The package also contained one of the recorders and a flash drive with video of a recorder being affixed to a restaurant table.


We conducted all media interviews (like this one with CBC Radio) in character, as agents of a 3rd party contractor for the NSA, one operating on a freelance, pro-bono, and unsolicited basis. 

Russian television (English) interview. Again, in character (skip to :30)


Full Zeit article

Given the NSA had spied on Germany’s Chancellor and made inroads into private German companies, Berlin seemed like a natural first target as we expanded internationally. This garnered headlines in Germany’s biggest newspapers, bringing the NSA’s international actions into the public consciousness.


After a phone conversation with former NSA Senior Executive (turned whistleblower) Thomas Drake, we ended the project by “whistle blowing” on WAAL, calling the project out as supporting an “off the leash” surveillance organization.