Even people who work for an elite spy agency with a $10.3 billion budget don't like to overpay for fried eggs, grilled chicken, or soda.
Some NSA employees have complained about price increases at the agency's cafeteria in the last three years—sometimes going as far as questioning a price increase of 6 cents, according to documents obtained through a Freedom of Information request.
For example, an anonymous NSA employee complained that the cafeteria was charging "everyone" 12 percent sales tax. "I noticed an increase in my prices for a salad and a drink which is normally $9.01 and today it was $9.07," he wrote in an email.
The emails were obtained by Emily Crose, a FOIA researcher who published the FOIA response she got on Monday on her Twitter account. These emailed complaints show how life at one of the world's premiere spy agencies can be incredibly mundane.
Another employee responded a few minutes later, saying the problem wasn't the sales tax, referring to what they heard from someone who worked at the register.
"The prices weren't increased based on what was being charged. The sales tax was increased," wrote the employee, in response to another email. "This morning for example someone bought a soda for $1.95 and wasn't charged sales-tax, and then this afternoon was charged $2.07 and it showed a 12% sales tax for the same soda."
"I got a salad and soda and it was the same prices as stated on the signs and other places but I was charges [sic] 6 cents more," one NSA employee, whose name was redacted byt the agency, wrote in an email on February 13, 2019.
"The registers are going down weekly and people have to wait for them to reboot," they continued.
"With all the problems going on with the [REDACTED] cafeteria an increase in pricing should be the last thing they are worried about," the employee concluded.
Have you ever been at the NSA cafeteria? We’d love to hear from you. You can contact Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai securely on Signal at +1 917 257 1382, OTR chat at email@example.com, or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Another employee, who also complained about the prices, wasn't happy about having to pay more for fried eggs.
"The cafe menu items and pricing are out of control! Weighing the food to get more money, the scales are not properly adjusted, ripping us off," one complained. "They stopped serving fried eggs at the OPS1 breakfast bar because it's faster and cheaper to get them. Now if you go to the grill the price is inflated. What's the difference between the grilled chicken at the grill and the grilled chick at the chicken shack?"
Finally, another employee complained that the cafeteria's furniture was upgraded after the cafeteria was renovated "just a few years ago."
"Why are we wasting money again so soon for new furniture? In my current office we are packed in old spaces with very little room to even have ample space to store our classified burn bag," he wrote, referring to spook's lingo for a bag that holds sensitive or classified documents that need to be destroyed after a certain amount of time.
"We are told our organization doesn't have the money to renovate our spaces. So why is there always money for the cafeteria to revamp?" they continued. "I could be wrong but it seems to me like fraud, waste and abuse."
Crose told Motherboard that some of these complaints "sound familiar," and that "even spies have complaints about the food in their cafeteria, because at the end of the day they're still humans."
An employee who works at Cafeterias and Civilian Welfare Fund—or CWF—a service that "provides many events and services for the benefit of the Government employees and their families," as its website states, responded to the complaint above.
In 1972, the charter for the CWF described it as "essential for the … morale and efficiency of the civilian employees of the Agency," according to a previous FOIA response.
The employee wrote that the "select items approved for increase went into effect on Monday. There should not be a 12% sales tax but rather slight increases on certain items," based on a proposal to increase them by Sodexo, a French company that is the contractor that ran the cafeteria. Sodexo apparently gives employees "room to move around to other parts of the NSA," according to a company Glassdoor review.
A person who used to work in the intelligence community told that they could confirm that the NSA cafeteria is “depressingly bad.”,
“Maybe not the worst cafeteria I’ve ever eaten in but worse than the time I ate at US run military base mess hall,” they said, asking to remain anonymous. “For comparison the equivalent cafeteria in Australia was much better (but not exciting) and the Canadian one was somehow worse (though that might just be because I ate there so many more times).”
The NSA declined to comment. Sodexo did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Subscribe to our cybersecurity podcast CYBER, here.