3 Questions About NSA Surveillance


Reason contributor and Ohio State political scientist John Mueller and Mark G. Stewart have a must-read piece up at the Chronicle of Higher Education. Read all of "3 Questions about NSA Surveillance." Here's a snippet related to one of two publicly discussed "successes" supposedly based on NSA data, the 2009 arrest of Najibullah Zazi:

Having NSA's megadata collection may have been helpful, but it seems scarcely to have been required. Actually, it is not clear that even the tip was necessary because the plotters foolishly called attention to themselves by using stolen credit cards to purchase large quantities of potential bomb material.

A set of case studies of the 53 post-9/11 plots by Islamist terrorists to damage targets in the United States suggests this is typical. Where the plots have been disrupted, as in the Zazi case, the task was accomplished by ordinary policing. The NSA programs scarcely come up at all.

When asked on Wednesday if the NSA's data-gathering programs had been "critical" or "crucial" to disrupting terrorist threats, the agency's head testified that in "dozens" of instances the database "helped" or was "contributing"—though he did seem to agree with the word "critical" at one point. He has promised to provide a list of those instances. The key issue for evaluating the programs, given their privacy implications, will be to determine not whether the huge database was helpful but whether it was necessary.

Whole thing here.

Check out that set of case studies linked above. It's a great document and source that cuts through a lot of the fog surrounding the issue of terrorism and surveillance.

Read my "Do the Zazi and Headley Arrests Prove the Power of NSA Total Surveillance?" from yesterday.

In 2011, Reason TV interviewed Mueller and Stewart (who teaches at Australia's University of Newcastle) about their book, Terror, Security, & Money: Balancing the Risks, Benefits, and Costs of Homeland Security."

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    Why won't you think about the CHILDREN.

  2. The link to the article is missing.

  3. Enter Rep. Steve Stockman (R-TX) who figured out away to insinuate White House involvement in the IRS targeting scandal and needle the president about the NSA spy scandal at the same time.

    Stockman sent a letter to Chairman Darrell Issa of the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee on Tuesday, asking him to subpoena all NSA records of phone calls between employees of the White House and the IRS.

    "Obama assures the public he only collected this information to uncover wrongdoing and protect civil liberties. Clearly he would want us to use it to investigate this case, because otherwise he'd be lying," said Stockman.

    "If Obama has nothing to hide he has nothing to fear," said Stockman.

    "This case must be investigated fully, given admitted wrongdoing by the IRS, its potentially criminal implications and revelations the White House has been less than honest about what they knew and when," said Stockman. "Obama says the PRISM program is perfectly legal, so there should be no problem whatsoever in providing the information on White House and IRS phone calls."

    "The only possible scenario in which the administration refuses to comply would be if it would reveal unconstitutional or illegal behavior," said Stockman.

    1. NOW it's getting fun.

    2. "If Obama has nothing to hide he has nothing to fear," said Stockman.

      Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.

    3. Oh yeah.

  4. Question for any legal scholars.

    If (when) one of the lawsuits makes it to the Supreme Court, wouldn't the government have to prove that not only does it have a compelling interest, but that it is using the "least restrictive means" to pursue it? Wouldn't that mean that they have to do this in a way that is the least invasive of privacy?

    What are the relevant legal precedents, and what are the likely arguments that will be made by both sides?

    1. You are confusing Amendments. That is not the standard for the 4th. The standard is "reasonable" whatever the hell that is.

    2. In my mind the big question is will the Supreme Court have the balls to destroy this stupid "State Secrets" privilege. It's manifestly unconstitutional.

      1. They would never do that. And you wouldn't want them to. Do you want the government releasing privacy data?

        1. The state secrets privilege is not generally invoked to keep PPI secret. It's used to hide programs or evidence that is material to cases embarassing to the govt.

          Congress hasn't authorized it via statute. It appears nowhere in the Constitution. A court that has any respect for the rule of law should have laughed it out of court long ago.

          I do agree it ain't going to happen. I think I have a higher chance of having Scalia direct that the losing party in some case give me a pony than ordering the government to stop arguing it.

          1. So if the government can't have secrets, how could it ever conduct a war? How could it ever have any kind of intelligence gathering? Hell, it couldn't do law enforcement.

            And further, most government documents were not available to the public for most of the country's history. FOIA was only passed in the 1970s. So I don't see how you can say the Constitution means the government can't have any secrets at all. Saying that it does is no different than liberals saying it guarantees health and education.

            1. Are there rules for what can and cannot be classified? Can the government just classify anything that might be embarrassing to itself? I think certain things such as troop movements can be classified but I worry that this can be a veil for misdeeds.

              1. There are rules but they are so vague as to be meaningless. And that is how this problem should be addressed. It ought to be very hard to classify something. As it is, it is very easy.

                1. I find that to be the most troubling aspect of the secret state. If we were in a legitimate war I think most libertarians don't mind secrets that are about sensitive information, but daily operations of government should be transparent if the governed are going to have an informed opinion abot their governors.

            2. John, I am not referring to military secrets.

              I am refering to incidents like a case involving the CIA where an unclassified memorandum on a personnel issue was confiscated from the plaintiff and the government refused to provide it to the court on the grounds that is was a secret.

              Rather than withholding specific documents, it's being used to prevent the government from answering to people it has harmed.

              Hell, even in the Reynolds case, it turned out that what the government was keeping secret by suppressing the accident report wasn't a military secret about the radar the plane was carrying but the aircraft's deficient material condition, which was fatal to their case.

              What's the word for a condition where the sovereign i not accountable for the harms it does? It's a T word.... typranny? trippitary? something like that.

              1. "What's the word for a condition where the sovereign i not accountable for the harms it does?"


            3. And further, most government documents were not available to the public for most of the country's history.


              Just because there wasn't a uniform statutory process for obtaining records doesn't mean they weren't available. It also ignores then recent exponential growth in the size of the federal government, the power it wields and the information it collects that led to FOIA being passed in 1966.

  5. "1. Why were the programs secret?
    2. What did the programs accomplish?
    3. How much do the programs cost?"

    What difference at this point does it make?

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