In a hearing before the House Intelligence Committee today, NSA boss Keith Alexander once again claimed that the big NSA surveillance programs had stopped terrorist attacks. Rather than the "dozens" he stated last week, today it became "more than 50 potential terrorist events."
Of course, as is typical, both the questions (asked by NSA supporters) and the answers were pretty carefully choreographed. Digging in, you find out that Alexander was specifically referring to PRISM, and not the (much more worrisome) dragnet of all phone records. On that program, there doesn't appear to be any actual data on what it was used for. On top of that, when asked about whether or not these programs were essential
to stopping those attacks, as compared to other programs, no one
would say that they were necessary or essential.
The other careful choice of words was people would ask about whether or not phone calls had been recorded under these particular programs
, but not other programs. When Deputy Attorney General James Cole was specifically asked about other programs
, he responded that that was classified information
. Make of that what you will. Cole also claimed that the program to collect all phone numbers "is not a program that's off the books, that's been hidden away." Of course, if that were true, why are so many people -- including politicians who supposedly have oversight over the program -- so surprised about it? How come there has been no reporting on it? How come, when asked about it, Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper said "no" to whether or not information was collected on millions of Americans? It certainly sounds "hidden away."
Meanwhile, the really shameful performance came from Rep. Mike Rogers, who led the hearing, who again claimed that Ed Snowden both was lying and
that his revelations weakened American security by revealing secrets to enemies. And then he pulled out this whopper:
"It is at times like these when our enemies within become almost as damaging as the enemies on the outside. It is critically important to protect sources and methods so we aren't giving the enemy our playbook."
So, again, no one understands the programs revealed, because Snowden's leaked info is wrong... and now our enemies know what we're doing... and Snowden is "almost as damaging" as those who wish to attack us. None of that makes any sense at all.
In the end, though, it's more of the same. Even if we could say that these programs were useful in stopping a potential attack, what we don't know is if the program was necessary to do so. We don't know what sort of collateral damage was caused. We don't know if traditional methods of investigation would have worked just as well, with no violations of privacy for Americans. We're just being told on faith to "trust the NSA."