Photo: AP

Today, The Intercept began the process of making the archive of documents provided by National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden available to the wider public, beginning with the first three months of SIDtoday, an internal, top secret agency newsletter that began publishing 11 days after the U.S. invasion of Iraq. The files are available for download here.

The newsletter was launched in March 2003 by a team within the NSA’s Signals Intelligence Directorate, which spied on agency targets. Unlike more technical documents, the newsletters address agency activities in layman’s terms. The Intercept’s Peter Maass explains:

Functioning like a small-town newspaper, the staff of SIDtoday published question-and-answer articles with senior and mid-level officials who described their jobs and their motivations for doing them. Some articles were firsthand descriptions of important missions, as in the case of an NSA employee who went to Baghdad right after the Iraqi capital came under American control. “I rode the whole way in a five-ton truck, with easy access to thermite grenades that could be used to destroy our classified cargo in the event of an ambush,” he wrote at the end of 2003. Another story, by SID’s chief of staff, described how the agency helped with the rescue of Pfc. Jessica Lynch during the invasion (his article is included in the first batch of SIDtoday articles).

SIDtoday even assembled a stable of columnists over the course of its first nine years, contributors who wrote as a sideline to their day jobs at the agency. One column, called “Ask Zelda!,” was akin to “Dear Abby” for the intelligence community, written by a mid-level supervisor at the NSA who answered questions from readers, including one about what should be worn to the office on hot summer days. “Shorts and flip-flops don’t exactly convey the image of a fierce SIGINT warrior,” Zelda noted.

A language analyst wrote a column on the ethics of surveillance, called “SIGINT Philosopher.” (It must not have been very well written.) A very optimistic issue from June 2003 reflects on SIGINT’s shifting priorities “now that the situation in Iraq has entered the reconstruction phase.”

Under the headline “Can You Handle the Truth,” an October 2003 issue offered agency employees the “chance to get to GITMO for 90 days!” As an NSA liaison, or NSA LNO, one would be “responsible for interfacing with the DoD, CIA, and FBI interrogators on a daily basis in order to assess and exploit information sourced from detainees.”

One such liaison offered a glowing review of his trip, two months later. “The work can be extremely interesting, challenging, and fulfilling. “On a given week, the NSA LNO might pull together intelligence to support an upcoming interrogation, formulate questions and strategies for the interrogation, and observe or participate in the interrogation.”

“Outside work, fun awaits and opportunities abound. Water sports are outstanding: boating, paddling, fishing, water skiing and boarding, sailing, swimming, snorkeling, and SCUBA.” Also, there was a Tiki Bar. “Relaxing is easy,” he wrote.