Sen. Feinstein Fails to Justify NSA Surveillance


Gawker does a good job tearing apart Sen. Dianne Feinstein's sad attempt to get her subjects to agree that NSA surveillance must be A-OK, said sad attempt appearing in the Wall Street Journal.


1) The NSA program could have stopped 9/11. It's right there in the story's subhed: "If today's call-records program had been in place in before 9/11, the terrorist attacks likely would have been prevented." Odd, since Feinstein includes this paragraph right up front:

In the summer of 2001, the CIA's then-director, George Tenet, painted a dire picture for members of the Senate Intelligence Committee when he testified about the terrorist threat posed by al Qaeda. As Mr. Tenet later told the 9/11 Commission, "the system was blinking red" and by late July of that year, it could not "get any worse."

Huh. So… the CIA did issue dire warnings prior to 9/11, although the NSA's program was not in place at that time. This directly contradicts Feinstein's point about the necessity of the NSA's phone spying…

2) The NSA itself says the program works.

Working in combination, the call-records database and other NSA programs have aided efforts by U.S. intelligence agencies to disrupt terrorism in the U.S. approximately a dozen times in recent years, according to the NSA. This summer, the agency disclosed that 54 terrorist events have been interrupted—including plots stopped and arrests made for support to terrorism…

The fact that all of these "terrorist events" that have been foiled by the NSA are sourced to the NSA itself renders the entire thing rather worthless for the purposes of public debate. What this really means is, "the NSA says the NSA's work works." Is that true? Maybe, maybe not. Can we verify it? No. Does the NSA have an established record of misleading self-justifying public statements? Yes…

3) Al Qaeda is scary. They are making "nonmetallic bombs," you see. Therefore, we must intercept every phone call in America.

Earlier this month, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testified that in the case of the AQAP threat this summer, there were a number of phone numbers or emails "that emerged from our collection overseas that pointed to the United States." Fortunately, the NSA call-records program was used to check those leads and determined that there was no domestic aspect to the plotting.

Not only is this justification sourced to James Clapper, a man who lied to Congress under oath about NSA surveillance activities, but it attempts to justify domestic spying with a case in which there "was no domestic aspect to the plotting." And this was presumably the best example that Feinstein could come up with….

I wondered back in 2006 where the terror threat was, post-9/11, and I can't see that much has changed.