Keith Alexander Tells Senators He Can't Think Of Any Other Way To Keep The US Safe Other Than Bulk Metadata Collections
from the oh,-he-knows-other-ways...-he-just-doesn't-like-them dept
NSA head Gen. Alexander once again appeared before the Senate to defend his agency's actions and to deliver the talking points in an effort to head off a number of pieces of legislation aimed at rolling back the NSA's powers.
If the NSA has a chance to hold off what now appears to be near inevitable, it will need to update its rhetorical ploys. Alexander offered nothing much in the way of new arguments, which is only going to hurt the agency's position. It looks as though the old stuff isn't really working anymore. His assertion that the Section 215 program has led to 50+ terrorist attacks averted has disintegrated. Sen. Leahy raised additional questions about the efficiency of the 702 program (internet metadata) in the hunting terrorists. No answer was forthcoming but the agency head implied it would take much longer than next Wednesday's hearing to come up with an answer.
No surprises here either, as Gen. Alexander almost literally played the 9/11 card.
"Metadata is a way of knowing where those books are in the library, and a way of focusing our collection... to knowing, where are the bad books," Alexander says.Might have been. Except it wasn't. Sen. Leahy called Alexander out for using this tired ploy.
He holds up an index card – it's meant to be an old-style card-catalog card (sorry, millennials) – on which are listed the categories of information encompassed by "metadata": time, date, duration, contact numbers.
Then he returns to the 9/11 attacks and says, as he always does, that the attack might have been stopped by a metadata collection program like the USA has now.
Leahy jumps in and says the failure to prevent the 9/11 attacks also has been put down to a failure to communicate within the intelligence community. US agents had the info they needed, they just failed to share it with one another.There's no tread left on those tires, General. The Guardian points out this is the first time Alexander has been interrupted while deploying the "could have prevented 9/11" argument.
This wasn't the only used-up rhetoric Alexander deployed. He defended the bulk collections by claiming he "didn't know" a "better" way to protect Americans from terrorism.
"I don't know a better way to do it,” he said. "It's like holding onto a hornets' nest. We're getting stung. You've asked us to do this for the good of the nation … nobody's thought of a better way. We can't let the nation down."That was Alexander's justification. There's no other way but a bulk, untargeted metadata collection containing millions of records of non-suspects.
But when Alexander says there's no other way to keep Americans safe, he's (no surprise) lying. There is another way and Alexander knows it because the NSA was forced (by the FISA court) to accomplish the task of fighting terrorism without being given access to millions of non-relevant phone records. FISA Judge Walton's orders, which followed on the heels of the admission of widespread abuse of the Section 215 collections, forced the NSA to seek court approval just to search what had previously been collected.
Since the March 5, 2009 FISA Court order, the Court's approval has been required for each selector before it is tasked for BR FISA metadata analysis. On Mar 21 NSA resumed manual access to BR FISA metadata, allowing chaining [redacted] of FISA Court-approved selectors associated with [redacted] following multiple operational and technical reviews to ensure compliance.As Judge Walton noted then, the collection itself seemed to be overkill and prone to abuse.
The minimization procedures… have been so frequently and systemically violated that it can fairly be said that this critical element of the overall BR regime has never functioned effectively.So, there are other ways to accomplish this and the agency has had to work within stricter limitations in the past. The multiple flaws in Alexander's assertions are highlighted in this statement. Most of what's collected isn't pertinent to investigations and is, in fact, bordering on illegal. The only thing saving Alexander's favorite collection is some very favorable readings of the Third Party Doctrine and secret interpretations of the laws governing these data hauls.
Nearly all of the call detail records collected pertain to communications of non-US persons who are not the subject of an FBI investigation… [or] are communications of US persons who are not the subject of an FBI investigation… and are data that otherwise could not be legally captured in bulk by the government.
Legislative efforts being made aim to roll back some of this power, something Alexander can't bear to see happen. If nothing else, a neutral storage site that can only be accessed by court-aprroved RAS selectors would be a start. But according to the chief spy, these limitations would lead to another 9/11. He wants it all and he wants unfettered access. There are other ways of compiling and searching metadata. Alexander knows this, but he has no interest in a more targeted approach.
This is Alexander's "hornet nest." Any stings he collects while handling it are solely his fault. If he doesn't like the pain associated with handling the hornet's nest, maybe he shouldn't have fought so hard to keep holding it.