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.