Senators Wyden And Udall Say They've Seen No Evidence That NSA Surveillance Stopped Dozens Of Terrorist Attacks

from the because-it-probably-didn't dept

During a cybersecurity hearing yesterday in the Senate, NSA boss General Keith Alexander was asked a bunch of questions about the NSA surveillance scandal. At one point, he claimed that he didn’t have an exact number of cases in which the dragnet of information collected had stopped terrorist activity, but that it was “dozens” and that he would provide more info in a classified session (held today). However, Senators Ron Wyden and Mark Udall — both on the Senate Intelligence Committee, and both paying close attention to these issues — have put out a statement today saying that they’ve seen no evidence of this and they’d like General Alexander to clarify.

“We have not yet seen any evidence showing that the NSA’s dragnet collection of Americans’ phone records has produced any uniquely valuable intelligence. Gen. Alexander’s testimony yesterday suggested that the NSA’s bulk phone records collection program helped thwart ‘dozens’ of terrorist attacks, but all of the plots that he mentioned appear to have been identified using other collection methods. The public deserves a clear explanation,” Udall and Wyden said. “We look forward to reviewing the analysis that the general has promised to provide showing how the intelligence community arrived at these numbers. In our view, a key measure of the effectiveness of the bulk collection program will be whether it provided any intelligence that couldn’t be obtained through other methods.”

There’s a big distinction in there that many defenders of the program — both politicians and press — keep glossing over. The question is not whether the data itself was ever used in terrorist investigations, but whether or not this particular dragnet program was necessary to obtain that information. Law enforcement has had legal means of getting specific information for decades without having to resort to collecting all information to sift through later.

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Comments on “Senators Wyden And Udall Say They've Seen No Evidence That NSA Surveillance Stopped Dozens Of Terrorist Attacks”

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27 Comments
Arthur Treacher says:

Re: Ron Wyden for President?

Forget President. Wyden’s been a thorn in the “intelligence communities” side for some years. I bet that he gets a primary challenge, a really well-funded Republican challenger should he win the Dem primary, and lots and lots of “non-profits” will spend lots and lots of money against him in the state wide election. Naturally, the “non-profits” won’t disclose their funding, but it won’t really matter because of stuff like this: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/modern-art-was-cia-weapon-1578808.html Yes, that’s right, the CIA shoveled money into promoting mid-century Modern Art. If they’ve got money to do that, they can fund Wyden (and Udall’s) oppnent(s), easy. Also, maybe expect a lot of weird dirt to come out about Wyden and/or Udall. “Stellar Wind” tapped everyone, after all.

Anonymous Coward says:

Bingo

in our view, a key measure of the effectiveness of the bulk collection program will be whether it provided any intelligence that couldn?t be obtained through other methods.

That’s the key question. How would obtaining a warrant and fetching select information from the phone company not be sufficient in any of the ‘dozens’ of cases where 215 supposedly helped.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: 215 [was Bingo]

? 215 ?

As most of us begin to get more familiar with the material being discussed, we’re starting to see shorthand like “215” used in comments. But some Techdirt readers, however, may not know exactly what “215” refers to.

So, here’s the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism (USA PATRIOT ACT) Act of 2001 (Enrolled Bill [Final as Passed Both House and Senate] – ENR).

Following that URL, and scrolling down the linked table of contents a little bit, under “Title II — Enhanced Surveillance Procedures”, we find:

SEC. 215. ACCESS TO RECORDS AND OTHER ITEMS UNDER THE FOREIGN INTELLIGENCE SURVEILLANCE ACT.

That ? 215 begins:

Title V of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (50 U.S.C. 1861 et seq.) is amended by striking sections 501 through 503 and inserting the following: ?.?.?.?.

And you immediately see the reference to 50 U.S.C. ? 1861, which, you will note, has different text today ?due to subsequent amendments? than the text of the 2001 Enrolled USA PATRIOT Act.

( Bonus points: During today’s Judiciary Committee FBI Oversight Hearing, iirc, one of the representatives referred to “Section 501”. Director Mueller didn’t catch the reference. But for your bonus, you spot Section 501. )

Hope this helps.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Before or after Classified Hearing?

?the CLASSIFIED hearing.?

When you say ?the classified hearing?, I presume you’re referring to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence “Closed Briefing: Intelligence Matters” which is scheduled for 2:30 PM today, June 13, according to that committee’s website.

But you see, there have been a number of closed sessions, including some following the public hearings.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Before or after Classified Hearing?

Thanks for the clarification. This statement was then before the hearing where General Alexander promised to tell the Senators about dozens of cases where this abortion of a policy actually worked.

I can’t wait for his next statement (which I hope will be along the lines of):

“Still haven’t seen any proof!”

Anonymous Coward says:

It does help ... to avoid oversight

A few years back, they got shamed for getting phone records without following proper procedure (http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20100119/0339467809.shtml ). Having it in-house avoids having the world see how many times it breaks the rules.

When Mom busts you for sneaking cookies from the cookie jar without asking permission, the clear solution, in the FBI brain, is to move the entire jar to your own bedroom, where Mom can’t see what you do with it.

I think it’s a pattern they like to follow, whenever they get told to stop doing wrong, they often start doing something worse and just try harder to cover their tracks.

Anonymous Coward says:

There is a disconnect:

NSA –> Congress –> people

Congress cannot make intelligent assessments without knowing what NSA knows, and people cannot do that without knowing what Congress knows.

If some Senators just keep denying that they know enough or agree with anything, even though NSA has testified secretly to them — if they keep harping on this point over and over, saying the evidence has been presented, but it doesn’t make the case, or doesn’t make sense — they will create enough smoke and confusion in Congress that the public will get curious about just what Congress knows, purely in order to be able to act as arbiter. This will put pressure on Congress to reveal more and more information in order to be able to defend themselves effectively.

I think this is what Udall and Wyden are doing.

It is also ripe for parody like never before. The Daily Show only scratched the surface. We are talking comedy of Swiftian proportions, bringing us back almost to the start of the Age of Reason, to the first modern dissidents in an era of religious and aristocratic privilege.

Funnily enough my wife gave a lecture just today in this very building (!)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peace_Palace
on one of these early thinkers (Hugo Grotius), which is probably why it’s on my mind at the moment.

And the issue is enough to make me vote Republican, if the Republican happens to be on the right side of this issue, as could easily happen since it appears there’s no monopoly here. Thus breaking a 100 year tradition in the family.

Anonymous Coward says:

considering the out and out lies about the number of terrorist plots that have been stopped by the FBI, for example, because they managed to con a group of OAPs into some sort of sting, i dont doubt for one second that there hasn’t been a single plot stopped by any law enforcement agency. this is just bull shit to try to justify what has been going on. in fact, no amount of bull shit can justify what has been going on! it was wrong, it is wrong and it will always be wrong!

RD says:

Re: Re:

Yes, one the greatest breaches of the privacy of the citizens of America by it’s government, which lied, covered up and denied it was happening, which violated the constitutional foundation of the nation itself, should not be discussed or examined or questioned. To do so is “milking it” and not a major backlash by the very citizenry that was violated and lied to.

You aren’t even a human being at this point.

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