NSA Goes From Saying Bulk Metadata Collection 'Saves Lives' To 'Prevented 54 Attacks' To 'Well, It's A Nice Insurance Policy'

from the this-is-why-no-one-trusts-them dept

Want to know why no one trusts anything NSA officials and their defenders have to say any more? When the bulk metadata collection was first revealed, those defenders went on and on about how the program “saved countless lives” and was instrumental in stopping terrorist attacks. Some skeptics then asked what terrorist attacks, and we were told “around 50” though details weren’t forthcoming. Eventually, we were told that the real number was “54 terrorist events” (note: not attacks) and a review of them later revealed that basically none of them were legitimate. There was one “event” prevented via the program on US soil, and it was a taxi driver in San Diego sending some money to a terrorist group in Somalia, rather than an actual terrorist attack.

In fact, both judges and the intelligence task force seemed shocked at the lack of any actual evidence to support that these programs were useful.

And yet, the NSA and its defenders keep insisting that they’re necessary. Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, a few months ago, tried out a new spin, claiming that effectiveness wasn’t the right metric, but rather “peace of mind.” Of course, the obvious response to that is to point out that spying on everyone makes most of us fairly uneasy, and we’d have a lot more “peace of mind” if they dropped the program.

And, now, the NSA number 2 guy, who’s about to retire, John C. “Chris” Inglis, gave a long interview with NPR, in which he is now claiming that even if the program hasn’t been particularly useful in the past, that “it’s a good insurance policy.”

“I’m not going to give that insurance policy up, because it’s a necessary component to cover a seam that I can’t otherwise cover.”

Basically, we want to keep this information because we want that information, even if it’s not been shown to be at all useful. Of course, that’s the same logic one can use to defend just about any violation of the 4th Amendment. Putting a private drone with a camera and a recording device streaming everything it sees and hears while following around NSA deputy director Chris Inglis may not discover that he’s a corrupt bureaucrat willing to lie to the public, but it seems like a reasonable “insurance policy” to make sure he stays honest. After all, without that, the American public can’t prove that he’s not corrupt — so it seems like a reasonable “insurance policy to cover a seam we can’t otherwise cover.” At least, in the logic of Chris Inglis.

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Comments on “NSA Goes From Saying Bulk Metadata Collection 'Saves Lives' To 'Prevented 54 Attacks' To 'Well, It's A Nice Insurance Policy'”

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That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I imagine the ‘Murica part is still vehemently defending such programs(due to what I can only assume is extensive brain damage, which causes them to blindly assume the USG is the greatest thing on earth), the rest of us however, not so much.

Personally I agree with the idea at the end of the article, if ‘pre-crime’ actions like that are justified as ‘insurance’, let’s have all the top people in the NSA under constant, around the clock surveillance, available to the public, see how much of that they can stomach, given they’re always claiming it’s ‘no big deal’.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

and a large problem, and the reason this will keep going, is many people in ‘Murica are still to this day certain that the guy running the quickie mart is secretly a terrorist who would kill them if not for constant surveillance.
Xenophobia is an amazing human trait, and exploiting our fear of people we don’t know, refuse to get to know, and don’t want to get to know works time and time again.

I count in the circle of people I know people who were raised thinking I was a baby raping evil bastard. They were told this by their trusted leaders, that all gays are the same and all are evil. As they got to know me, they started to change their position. They saw that I am just another person in the world, with similar wants and desires as everyone else.

By keeping the terrorist threat alive and well, pointing out they could be your neighbor, people refuse to engage with them. The fear of the unknown terrorist feeds this safety at any cost mentality. More people die from drunk driving, but terrorism gets billions. More people die from suicide, but there is no money for mental health care. As a country we need to stop the insanity, admit that racism is alive and well behind these terrorist notions and deal with that issue.

As to this insurance policy, we are the regulator of their right to sell a policy. We need to point out how abusive it is, and how they have never paid a claim yet demand higher premiums.

Designerfx (profile) says:

Re: Re:

What impresses me the most about this is that you can replace NSA with almost anything here and there’s no way it doesn’t sound like a complete and total unsubstantiated waste. In addition to being completely intangible regarding something that shouldn’t be 100% intangible – security in any form is not nebulous.

Way to go NSA, way to go.


Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Remeber, NSA is part of DoD. Their sole role is to support Armed Forces in spying. Spying on Congressman Peter King via his webcam, while he goes on alcoholic drinking binge and masturbates to online gay porn is contradictory to NSA’ role.

At this point, it is evident they are lunatics, and need to be dismantled for their own good. An agency lean as Gisele Bundchen is needed instead.

That One Guy (profile) says:

That simplifies things

If it’s ‘just an insurance policy’, then I think pretty much everyone who knows anything about the program, aside from those personally benefiting from it, would agree: the price is too high, it has no proven upsides for the public while bringing a ton of downsides, and so it deserves to be scrapped and those responsible held accounting for their actions.

On the other hand, if they’re willing to say something like that, it sounds like they are really scraping the bottom of the barrel for excuses. From ‘countless lives saved and terrorists stopped’, now to ‘well it hasn’t done anything positive yet, but at some point it might, so we should keep it around’, it sounds like even they know their lies aren’t cutting it anymore.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: That simplifies things

It is an international ensurance program. The value of trading in this bulk meta data is through the roof after terrorism has made politicians around the world scared. Since the cold war ended the industry of secret horse-trading between the secret services has reached a worrying level, where the benefit of extending the programs are economically favourable in terms of trading values with foreign powers. It is extremely screwed up, but NSA has obligations towards foreign secret services and they need the more unique data to sustain the same level of trading in data since unique holds a lot more trading value than common, no matter how fringe the use of the unique data is…

scotts13 (profile) says:

So – If you’re career is or was largely dependent on the existence of a certain government program, regardless of what it is, would you come right out and say that program had no value? Preposterous. You’d promote, and quite probably rationalize in your own mind, ANY justification for it.

To make a banal comparison, when I was going through a divorce, my wife told a continuous steam of lies throughout the proceedings. Years later, she asked me incredulously, “Did you really expect me to tell the truth?”

Anonymous Coward says:

Maybe the programs are of dubious value and should be weighed in that context against issues such as privacy, cost, alternative means of surveillance, etc.

The problem as I see it here is that all of the reporting is laden with conclusions (Absolutely, 54. Absolutely, 0 proof of anything.) Actual facts with a degree of granularity such that they are capable of being considered in detail are missing.

I am not prepared to form an opinion as to which side holds the better argument given the absence of important and critical information, and believe that declarations one way or the other do seem a bit premature.

Brazenly Anonymous says:

Re: Re:

The problem is that both are technically correct, they are just using different filters to determine what is and what is not a valid incident. The 54 events exist, metadata played an important role in discovering 13 of them, only 1 of them was connected to the US and none of them consisted of attacks against the US.

This much information has been painstakingly pulled from NSA defenders who are steadfastly refusing to declassify this information. Note that the events in question were brought up in an attempt to prove that the metadata collection programs were valuable. Stating that you have evidence, but it can’t be shown, is effectively the same as having no evidence.

As such, given that a sufficient grace period has been allowed since evidence was requested to demonstrate the value of these programs, the only reasonable course is to act under the assumption that the programs don’t have any value. Any other course will neither force the revelation of such evidence nor resolve the clear and obvious issue that a lack of such evidence demonstrates.

Of course, even if these programs had significant value, there is still a question of whether it is worth the costs, including the opportunity cost for a more streamlined approach.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

You might be taking the neutral stance a bit too far there, there are facts, it’s just none of them are positive.

NSA actives have

Violated US and foreign citizen privacy on a massive, global scale…

Almost certainly violated the 4th amendment repeatedly and on a massive scale(the fact that they’re doing everything they can to make sure the issue never comes up, and can be ruled on in an independent court would strongly suggest they know this too)…

Been shown, repeatedly, to be far, far more extensive then they’ve claimed, showing that they have no problem at all lying to the people who are supposed to provide the ‘oversight’ that they are constantly claiming is there…

Intentionally weakened electronic security, increasing the likelihood that criminals and/or terrorist groups(you know, two of the groups the NSA is supposed to protect americans from?) can and will access sensitive systems that would have otherwise been secure…

Make a complete mockery of the entire court and law system, by setting up secret courts to rule on secret cases, based upon secret interpretations of secret laws.

Severely damaged foreign relations with other countries, as well as caused massive distrust of american companies, which is likely to lead to very noticeable economic repercussions within a few years…

On the other hand, NSA actives have not

Stopped a single terrorist or terrorist event.

Zakida Paul (profile) says:



An analysis by New America Foundation into 225 terrorist cases since 9/11 determines that surveillance had no discernible impact on preventing terror attacks.

Anonymous Coward says:

The spying program was started with good intentions: to find out if Usama Bin Ladin had any more secret gangs operating in the country who were planning additional operations designed to kill a lot of Americans.

But several years (and untold $billions) into the program, the NSA finally sees that it was all for naught: no terrorists to be found anywhere.

So should we expect the director to come forward and admit it was a humongous waste of tax money, that it’s not needed any longer, and recommend dismantling the agency and sending everyone home?

Well, we all know that’s not the way big government works. Once a government program grows to “critical mass” it then becomes virtually impossible to scale it back or abolish it, no matter how useless (or counterproductive) it turns out to be.

And as to honesty in government, the infamous ‘Downing Street Memo’ said it well: “The intelligence and facts will be fixed around the policy.”

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

The spying program was started with good intentions

I’m far from certain that this is the case. The program was originally called “Total Information Awareness” and when the DoD announced it, the backlash was so enormous that it was quickly “shut down” (meaning broken into parts and continued under other names).

This means that the government engaged in this with the complete knowledge that the majority of US citizens were adamantly opposed to it.

That’s not “good intentions”. That’s tyranny.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Worse, actually. Tyranny would probably be preferable to what’s likely the root problem, that of a group who honestly believe that everything they’re doing is ‘for the greater good’.

A tyrant’s greed will only take him so far, he’ll eventually be sated with what he gains, but for a ‘true believer’ in the ‘Greater Good’, there is no limit to what they’ll do, nothing too out of bounds, as long as they can convince themselves it’s serving the ‘Greater Good’.

Brazenly Anonymous says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

No tyrant can succeed but that which is able to convince a powerful group of people that their tyranny is for the greater good.

In slightly murkier territory, whenever an idealistic group gains a controlling influence on society, there is almost always a charismatic power-seeker, who is as often as not a false believer, at the helm. The reasons for this are somewhat complicated, involving the public image of the group, the redirection of energy from a singular cause to political dominance and the simple fulfillment of opportunity.

A cause sought for the “greater good” can cause a lot of damage, but usually generates a counter movement the moment that damage begins to be realized. When potential tyrants are involved, the counter movement is targeted by force and propaganda. The tyrant candidate attempts to ramp up these measures to the point where they will exorcise the counter movement. The counter movement uses this persecution to garner increasing support from the populace.

Eventually, should the tyrant succeed, they will be targeting everyone but the most zealous from the original movement and tyranny becomes fully realized. Alternatively, the counter movement is able to trigger a series of reforms through political pressures or revolution.

Brazenly Anonymous says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

In the classical age, perhaps that was true.

Cuba’s Fidel Castro lasted 32 years and was 82 when he transferred power to brother, who stills retains power. North Korea’s Kim Il-Sung lasted 46 years and was 82 when he died. His Grandson is currently in power.

I’m not sure what point you are driving at, but your argument is severely flawed. An appeal to authority is bad enough, but when you are relying on an authority from ancient history…

Pragmatic says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Thank you for explaining the war on women.

However, before the “You must be a liberal socialist” nonsense kicks in, I should point out that the Dems have their noses too deep in the trough to deal with this properly.

We need to let go of the idea that doing horrible things to people (or withholding things they need) “for the greater good” actually does any good. For the most part, it doesn’t.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

In all of the articles and comments I’ve read, you’re the first person who has astutely brought up Poindexter’s failed “Total Information Awareness” initiative.

It’s like Congress got together and said, “Well, we need to close this project down so that we appear like we care about privacy. We can approve version 2.0 behind close doors, under the guide of National Security.”

To date, I haven’t seen one politician who voted to close this program mention their change of heart.

Stranger in America says:

Defending the indefensible:

Orwell didn’t write How-To books. These yahoos defending spying on a level, of which the worst tyrants in world history could only dream about, are more dangerous to democracy than war itself or a president declaring himself emperor.

I can even see legislators being afraid to reign them in.
After all, total awareness of their whereabouts, conversations, etc., would make it very easy for a group of rogue intelligence and military officers to take them out.
Does the NSA even consider such scenarios? Or what about some religious group infiltrating the NSA in order to advance the “End of Days?” The possibilities are as endless as your imagination.

And these guys are calling near total surveillance an insurance policy? More likely it is a blue print for killing America.

Yet here we are on the cusp of the never ending nightmare of a complete tyranny.

Ninja (profile) says:

An insurance comes from the premise that the amount paid for it does not exceed the benefits it may bring. For instance it seems reasonable to pay 4-5% of the cost of your vehicle to be insured against natural disasters and theft. It may be reasonable to up the amount if the area is known for the criminality rates. But it seems very unreasonable if you have to pay 2x the price of the car per year when the chance of being robbed is thin to the point 99% of the people will never use such insurance. Because that’s what the Government is asking from the peopel: give up privacy, due process and Constitutional rights along with an insane amount of money and we’ll insure you against perils that won’t affect the overwhelming majority of the population if such things are never done.

The next answer to why keep those programs if they are worth nothing even as insurance will be “because”. And then totalitarianism.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: One more thing.

Yeah, but those failures tend to be bunched up into the same lots. I’ve purchased hundreds of hard drives over the years, I’ve only had one fail in the first year of usage.

Regardless, your point is correct — they’re going through a lot of hard drives. However, they’re probably disposing of them according to DoD guidelines, which are pretty damned good and rendering any data on them unrecoverable.

David says:

Too little, too late

Putting a private drone with a camera and a recording device streaming everything it sees and hears while following around NSA deputy director Chris Inglis may not discover that he’s a corrupt bureaucrat willing to lie to the public, but it seems like a reasonable “insurance policy” to make sure he stays honest.

That sounds like sending the National Guard to the Twin Towers on 2001/09/12 to make sure they stay upright.

Anonymous Coward says:

There are insurance policies and then there are insurance policies. Unlike the insurance industry, we the public don’t get to pick the coverage and we don’t get to pick the price. Some policies are too expensive for the coverage they provide.

This bulk metadata is much too expensive a cost in terms of privacy. The only reason this is being addressed at all from the NSA is they see a very real probability they’ll loose their precious. Congress is beginning to be pissed. Not only for lying to the Congressional Oversight committee but for the lack of any sort of hold back to what they wished to do.

It is my concern that once denied this collection data that they will dismantle the old programs and add bits and pieces of it to other programs but the whole will continue on the same. Since there is no one that gets real oversight, there is nothing preventing them from doing this and getting away with it until another Snowden occurs.

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