It's Not Whether NSA Surveillance Helped Stop Any Plots, But Whether Or Not It Needed To Spy On Everyone To Do So
from the get-it-straight dept
Last week, NSA boss Keith Alexander insisted that the various NSA surveillance programs had stopped “dozens” of terrorist attacks. This apparently confused Senators Ron Wyden and Mark Udall — both on the Senate Intelligence Committee and privy to any such reports — who claimed that they’d seen no such evidence. Over the weekend, the NSA released no actual evidence, but rather just reiterated the claim that it had stopped “dozens of potential terror plots” in “more than 20 countries.”
Note, by the way, the use of the word “potential.” That gives the NSA an awful lot of wiggle room, and we’ve seen before that when you give the NSA wiggle room around some language choices, they take it.
But, the bigger issue is that without presenting any actual evidence on these situations, it’s impossible to know whether or not the NSA really needed this massive data collection to stop those “potential” plots. As we’ve already seen, in the one case where the NSA has said the programs were useful, it quickly became clear that they were not necessary, and traditional policework actually did the bulk of the effort in identifying the plot.
In the same release, the NSA also said that it had only “checked” 300 phone numbers last year against that giant database of every phone call that it collects. They released this tidbit of info to try to calm people’s fears that the program wasn’t targeting them. But, it seems like this datapoint completely works in the other direction. If the NSA only needs to check 300 phone numbers, no way should it have every phone call made by everyone in its database. Three hundred is a small enough number that it’s clearly not unduly burdensome to walk their lawyers down to court and show why each and every one of those numbers matters, and then go from there.