Senator Leahy Calls Bulls**t On Claim That Metadata Collection Stopped Terrorist Attacks

from the good-for-him dept

One of the key claims that defenders of the NSA bulk data collection keep making is that the program was necessary to stop various terrorist “events” (note the careful choice of the word “events” rather than “attacks”). In fact, last week in arguing against the Amash Amendment, Rep. Mike Rogers directly claimed that “54 times this and the other program stopped and thwarted terrorist attacks.” Of course, as we pointed out, he carefully added the “and the other program” to make it seem like the bulk data collection program being debated was necessary. Amazingly, that claim of 54 terrorist “events” is significantly more than what intelligence officials have claimed. They say it’s more like 13. Yet, yesterday, Senators Ron Wyden and Mark Udall both said that there was no evidence to support this, and at this morning’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearings about the surveillance program, Senator Patrick Leahy was fairly direct in making it clear that what Rogers claimed last week was completely bogus:

“If this program is not effective, it has to end,” Leahy said, noting that a classified list of uses of the phone record program “does not reflect dozens or even several terrorist plots that Section 215 helped thwart or prevent, let alone 54 as some have suggested.”

Perhaps Rep. Mike Rogers’ staffers — rather than threatening me with bogus defamation claims — should focus on having their own boss not mislead Congress and the American public. Wouldn’t that be nice?

Much of the rest of the hearing suggested, yet again, that Congress simply doesn’t believe intelligence officials and the administration (and the dwindling number of defenders of this surveillance) any more, as multiple Senators discussed introducing bills to limit the surveillance, and noted various problems with the programs.

Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., raised the prospect of creating an independent counsel to consider surveillance requests presented to the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to guard against potential privacy violations.

“Don’t you think we have left the state relevance?” Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, asked, suggesting that the mass records collection was too large to be an effective counter-terrorism tool.

“How can one get one’s mind around the concept (of) that amount of data?” Lee said.

Said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.: “It appears this system is failing in maintaining the trust and credibility of the American people.”


“When you look at the reach of this (phone record collection) program, it envelopes a substantial number of Americans,” said Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill. “It seems to me that what is being described as a very narrow program is a very broad program.”

“There are going to be some proposals for changes to the law,” Leahy said.

Intelligence officials tried to defend the program, but it didn’t seem to win many people over. There was lots of talk of “connecting the dots” and “finding needles in haystacks,” but considering the lack of evidence that the program actually helps with either of those things, they didn’t make a very convincing case. Of course, the best response to all of this came, sarcastically, from Julian Sanchez’s commentary on the hearings:

The only people who spend THIS much time “looking for needles” are addicts…

So true. Time to get intelligence officials into rehab.

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Comments on “Senator Leahy Calls Bulls**t On Claim That Metadata Collection Stopped Terrorist Attacks”

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Anonymous Coward says:

One thing just occurred to me...

WTF is the FOREIGN Intelligence Surveillance Court doing making determinations about the authorization for domestic surveillance information anyway? Isn’t that outside of their mandate? Afterall aren’t they SUPPOSED to only deal with FOREIGN matters (hence the name of the court)?

out_of_the_blue says:

Oy! "Apparently Claim" by alleged "reporter" becomes "threatening"!

That’s YOUR title for the item.

So even if I agree with you HERE, your overnight inflation and myth-making right in front of my eyes totally undermines the little credibility gained by the piece.

Joe Dirt says:

Re: Oy! "Apparently Claim" by alleged "reporter" becomes "threatening"!

I get that OOTB is being reported because it’s OOTB, but this comment is actually correct. Mike wasn’t threatened, he was talking to a third party that told him about a conversation with Rogers’ staff. They did not directly threaten Mike. They didn’t even make a threat indirectly. They expressed an opinion that they COULD sue for defamation. “…according to this reporter, they said that they COULD sue me for defamation concerning things I’d said about Rogers.”

Let’s not be hypocritical, here. There are plenty of examples of TD commenters and writers tearing others apart for twisting what was actually said into something else for their own gain, or to make their own point.

Anonymous Coward says:

“Separately, Senate Intelligence Chairman Dianne Feinstein said senators are looking at potential changes to the surveillance programs, including a reduction in the time NSA can hold related records from five to two or three years.”

Well, as long as the NSA pinky swears to delete the metadata, then I guess that makes the unconstitutional seizure of that metadata constitutional.

Dianne Spystein logic at it’s finest.

Hephaestus (profile) says:

What really annoys me ...

From what I understand, each one of these things will get me put in the huge database the NSA has.

I email relatives overseas.

I email a ton of people outside the US without even knowing it. “” does not tell me what nation they are in.

About +25% of the people following me (46,000) on Google + are not US citizens and many comment on my posts.

Akari Mizunashi (profile) says:

While I do appreciate seeing a Congress finally waking up to the abuses they allowed lawful to begin with, my concern is billions have been spent building infrastructures which don’t just get “turned off” overnight.

Billions. What, do we just tear down these buildings and sell the petabyte storage units at a loss of pennies on the dollar?

Not going to happen, and this data collection won’t stop.

All the law will do is simply give power to corporations to say “No” on blanket requests.

Doesn’t mean the rest of our communications can’t be tapped between servers or cell towers.

PS: my two cents: when a government has a computer technology business who makes the world’s strongest mainframes, asking for “decryption keys” seems rather moot.

Ars Technica did a recent write up where a home grown system was used to parse 1000s of passwords and a good number of them were broken due to identifiable pattern recognition.

Don’t believe for a second the NSA didn’t read that article.

Hell, they probably downloaded it before Ars posted it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

What will happen is a law getting slammed down on the companies to store their own records instead of NSA having to store them. Afterwards they make xkeyscore able to search those databases as if they were one single database. Now NSA is no longer in posession of the surveillance data and they no longer have unrestricted access to the data since they are no longer inhouse…

It will change almost nothing except make unsatisfied agency workers even more unsatisfied and it will give the companies full responsibility when the data gets abused as opposed to today where agencies, government and higher politicians will hide it behind a “classified” sticker and dispense justice as they see fit…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Rather ironic, I remember back when I had my email had to be stopped because of EU retention policies. I do believe they allowed natural citizens to keep them, but ex-pats and fans were excluded. I wonder how far the US will go, and will it effect gmail, yahoo, etc… The more pressure that they push will probably dwindle the haystack they built.

Internet Zen Master (profile) says:

Re: Haaaaayyyyyyyy!

Actually, having more haystacks is a good thing (in theory anyway). By collecting “needles” about a person of interest from various the haystacks, the government (well, the NSA mostly) looks for “suspicious patterns” (‘suspicious’ being in the eye of the beholder and the “dots” mentioned) involving said person of interest. If the target generates enough red flags at the same time, the NSA “connects the dots” and comes to the conclusion that their target is actually a threat to the safety of the US.

So by increasing the number of haystacks available to them, the NSA gets a clearer picture of the subject’s activities, and (theoretically) decreases the probability that they might label an innocent person as a “terrorist suspect” by mistake. Which is actually a pretty good idea, except for the part where you have to violate everybody’s privacy in order to do it.

Of course this is just speculation I’m basing on the information that we’ve learned so far. Perhaps the NSA is just a paranoid, Benevolent Big Brother (BBB for short) trying to protect Americans the only way it knows how. However, the way it’s going about things now is doing more harm than good to America in the long run.

DSchneider (profile) says:

Re: Re: Haaaaayyyyyyyy!

In theory, yes, but that’s assuming you have a good search and sort mechanism in place to go through all that data, and that’s typically where the intelligence agencies fall down. 9/11 being prime example of this where they had all the information they needed to stop the attacks, but it was buried under all this other intelligence they had gathered (Gross oversimplification, but hopefully you get my point).
To use another bad analogy, if you know you lost your needle at the Mohammed farm, it doesn’t do you any good to collect the hay from the Smith, Johnson, Rodney, Andersen,…etc. Farms. Too much hay just makes it that much harder to find the needle.
It is admittedly a good thing to have an over abundance of data after the fact to figure out what happened, but one, our laws don’t allow for that and two the whole justification for these is the prevention of criminal acts.

Internet Zen Master (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Haaaaayyyyyyyy!

Pretty much.

The phrase “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” is rather applicable to the NSA right now.

Of course, this assumes that the organization is a “BBB and isn’t actually a completely malevolent group of assholes/control freaks out to try and secure more power for the organization, rights of the American populace be damned.

It’s probably a combination of both mentalities scattered throughout the entire NSA staff, now I think about it (pure speculation on my part though).

However, it still doesn’t justify the blatant invasions of people’s privacy by any stretch of the imagination.

Brandt (user link) says:


The dystopian fantasies of yesteryear are now a reality. We?ve allowed the coming of an age where the civil liberties our forefathers fought so hard for are being eroded by the day. Freedom of Press, Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Assembly are mere ghostly images of their original intent. We?ve woken up to an Orwellian Society of Fear where anyone is at the mercy of being labeled a terrorist for standing up for rights we took for granted just over a decade ago. Read about how we?re waging war against ourselves at

Linda R. Webster-Wright says:


I don’t understand why you seem to play ignorant about what they do to keep us secure. I have known for forty years. NSA only kept track of explosive words that can harm our country, not household words that we use on the phone or computer to communicate with our family and friends. Why would you take into consideration of a individual from Elkridge, Maryland who committed espionage. Mr. Edward’s should be tried for espionage not a whistle blower. We who live in Maryland knew what NSA was doing and that they were protecting us.

New Mexico Mark says:


Words I’d love to hear uttered to the NSA by someone powerful enough for it to make a difference…

“What may have escaped you, NSA, is that neither needles nor haystacks are people. However, your dehumanizing analogy may be revealing more about your underlying values than you intended.”

“More important, when your net searches and surveils U.S. citizens without due process, you are violating the U.S. Constitution, not playing with needles and haystacks. You may think this is a game, but last I checked, the Constitution is still the highest law in the land and you are sworn to uphold it, not dance around it with lies, word games, and obfuscation via classification.”

FM Hilton (profile) says:

You've got to be kidding me...

I don’t understand why you seem to play ignorant about what they do to keep us secure. I have known for forty years. NSA only kept track of explosive words that can harm our country, not household words that we use on the phone or computer to communicate with our family and friends. Why would you take into consideration of a individual from Elkridge, Maryland who committed espionage. Mr. Edward’s should be tried for espionage not a whistle blower. We who live in Maryland knew what NSA was doing and that they were protecting us.

Oh, please just tell me if you’re joking..because if you’re not, we’re truly fucked as a country, with people thinking this way about an out-of-control government.

Ninja (profile) says:

Time to get intelligence officials into rehab.

Nop, to the psychiatrist. This is not some addiction, it’s a full scale psychiatric disorder. We’ve discussed before on an article on an interview with one person responsible for filtering what the Chinese (was it?) can see, it takes a sick megalomaniac to believe they have the right to dictate what people read or do.

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