Judge And Intelligence Task Force Both Seem Stunned By Lack Of Evidence That Bulk Phone Collection Program Stops Terrorists

from the complete-failure dept

For months now, NSA defenders have argued repeatedly that the bulk metadata programs were necessary to stop terrorist attacks. For a while they were throwing around the claim of "54 thwarted terrorist events" which some (falsely) pretended meant 54 thwarted attacks. However, the numbers have been debunked repeatedly by people looking into them. Multiple Senators have debunked the idea that the bulk metadata collection was useful. Senator Patrick Leahy said that his own review of a classified list of what the program was necessary for did not show that it was used to thwart terrorist attacks. Separately, Senators Ron Wyden, Mark Udall and Martin Heinrich went so far as to file an amicus brief stating that they've yet to see any evidence that the program has been useful.

So it's been pretty obvious to many of us that the claims of the necessity of this particular program have always been on shaky grounds -- but those calling bull on the program were widely seen as being already against those programs, and the NSA hadn't had it's "day in court" -- so to speak -- to defend the usefulness of the programs. That's partly why the two big moves against the NSA program from the past few days are so interesting. In both the district court ruling against the NSA and in the White House's own independent task force's proposals for reform, the US government had clear opportunities to defend the programs -- and in both cases, it appears that the court and the panel were shocked to find that the NSA basically had absolutely nothing to show to suggest the programs were actually useful.

In the ruling by Judge Richard Leon, there's a very telling footnote, number 65, where he notes the following:
The Government could have requested permission to present additional, potentially classified evidence in camera, but it chose not to do so. Although the Government has publicly asserted that the NSA's surveillance programs have prevented fifth-four terrorist attacks, no proof of that has been put before me.
The judge then points to multiple sources (including those that we mentioned earlier) debunking the claims.

But the response from the review panel -- which, again, included a recent former CIA director and anti-terorrism Czar in the White House -- was even more telling. It appears they fully expected some details on how these programs had been used to stop terrorists, but the fact that the NSA couldn't show any such evidence seemed to leave them flabbergasted. Here's panel member Geoffrey Stone explaining to NBC the shock the panel felt:
“It was, ‘Huh, hello? What are we doing here?’” said Geoffrey Stone, a University of Chicago law professor, in an interview with NBC News. “The results were very thin.”

While Stone said the mass collection of telephone call records was a “logical program” from the NSA’s perspective, one question the White House panel was seeking to answer was whether it had actually stopped “any [terror attacks] that might have been really big.”

“We found none,” said Stone.
Given all this, are NSA defenders like Rep. Mike Rogers, who has flung around the totally bogus 54 number, even directly in an appeal to block the defunding of the program, still going to lie to the American public in claiming this program is necessary? A court and an investigative panel, both of whom found that the claim is completely unsubstantiated.

Filed Under: evidence, nsa, richard leon, section 215, surveillance, task force


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Dec 2013 @ 10:08am

    I know convicts that lie less.

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