NSA

NSA Bulk Collection of Americans' Phone Data Had "No Discernible Impact" on Preventing Terrorism, Says New Study

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NSA spying
EFF

The national security researchers at the Washington, D.C.-based New America Foundation have combed through data on 225 individuals identified as posing possible terrorist threats to the United States. The analysts sought to uncover data that suggests that the National Security Agency's unconstitutional bulk collection of the phone records of essentially all Americans significantly helped in any of those investigations.

The NAF analysts begin by pointing out after the revelations of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden were first published the agency's abettors countered by claiming that their extensive spying on Americans had averted several terrorist attacks. As the NAF reminds us:

President Obama defended the NSA surveillance programs during a visit to Berlin, saying: "We know of at least 50 threats that have been averted because of this information not just in the United States, but, in some cases, threats here in Germany. So lives have been saved."  Gen. Keith Alexander, the director of the NSA, testified before Congress that: "the information gathered from these programs provided the U.S. government with critical leads to help prevent over 50 potential terrorist events in more than 20 countries around the world."  Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said on the House floor in July that "54 times [the NSA programs] stopped and thwarted terrorist attacks both here and in Europe – saving real lives." 

The new NAF report finds that these claims are almost entirely specious:

Surveillance of American phone metadata has had no discernible impact on preventing acts of terrorism and only the most marginal of impacts on preventing terrorist-related activity, such as fundraising for a terrorist group. Furthermore, our examination of the role of the database of U.S. citizens' telephone metadata in the single plot the government uses to justify the importance of the program – that of Basaaly Moalin, a San Diego cabdriver who in 2007 and 2008 provided $8,500 to al-Shabaab, al-Qaeda's affiliate in Somalia – calls into question the necessity of the Section 215 bulk collection program.  According to the government, the database of American phone metadata allows intelligence authorities to quickly circumvent the traditional burden of proof associated with criminal warrants, thus allowing them to "connect the dots" faster and prevent future 9/11-scale attacks. Yet in the Moalin case, after using the NSA's phone database to link a number in Somalia to Moalin, the FBI waited two months to begin an investigation and wiretap his phone. Although it's unclear why there was a delay between the NSA tip and the FBI wiretapping, court documents show there was a two-month period in which the FBI was not monitoring Moalin's calls, despite official statements that the bureau had Moalin's phone number and had identified him. ,  This undercuts the government's theory that the database of Americans' telephone metadata is necessary to expedite the investigative process, since it clearly didn't expedite the process in the single case the government uses to extol its virtues. 

Additionally, a careful review of three of the key terrorism cases the government has cited to defend NSA bulk surveillance programs reveals that government officials have exaggerated the role of the NSA in the cases against David Coleman Headley and Najibullah Zazi, and the significance of the threat posed by a notional plot to bomb the New York Stock Exchange.

Go here to read the full report.

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33 responses to “NSA Bulk Collection of Americans' Phone Data Had "No Discernible Impact" on Preventing Terrorism, Says New Study

  1. the National Security Agency’s unconstitutional bulk collection of the phone records of essentially all Americans significantly helped in any of those investigations.

    Of course they didn’t, that was not their purpose.

  2. The whole argument reminds me of something that comes up all the time with, wait for it, small businesses.

    Which almost without exception keep two sets of books (effectively). They skim off cash and much of the net earnings “off the books” for purposes of the IRS. Then, when it comes time to sell the business, they want to sell all that net cash flow they have no record of.

    Kinda like the NSA wanting to both ways. On the one hand, they want the benefits of secrecy, until they don’t.

  3. But they totally super double promised us it is vital! And that it’s never abused!

  4. …New America Foundation have combed through data on 225 individuals identified as posing possible terrorist threats to the United States.

    How did their analysts get access to this data?

    Anyway, as has been pointed out many times, there is no clause to the 4th Amendment that nullifies it just because state agents claim doing so would protect American lives from attack. Probable cause must be shown and warrants must be obtained.

    1. wait for some asshat prog to remind us of the “safety exemption” of the 4th amendment….in regards to DUI checkpoints and the Supreme Court.

  5. The question is has it made terrorism worse. Thats really the standard you must go by when discussing anything tge government does.

  6. I appreciate that the NSA hasn’t been especially effective in preventing terrorism, but just for the record, I’d like to point out that some of us would still support the Fourth Amendment–rather than the NSA,–even if the NSA were effective in preventing terrorism.

    It’s a qualitative preference for freedom, really, and it’s not so unusual. Many of us prefer jury trials, innocent until proven guilty, the Fifth Amendment, the reading of Miranda rights, etc.–even if keeping all that stuff means child murderers sometimes go free.

    I hope learning that the NSA was ineffective changes some peoples’ minds, but I also wish our courage as a nation were more apparent and people were more comfortable talking about these things. Only being in favor of the Fourth Amendment if the NSA is ineffective makes us look like cowards and probably encourages more terrorism.

    1. Can you name one political figure, not in the Libertarian Party, who would have the guts to state this preference?
      They would be quickly demonized and marginalized. So we have to find ways to make such preferences known in a non-political venue.

      1. Yeah, we’re gonna have to lead from the bottom-up on that. I think it will require us to start using the word “coward” more often.

        One of the worst things the Bush Administration did was make a virtue out of cowardice. Being scared of terrorism somehow became manly for a while.

        And yet I’m sure the overwhelming majority of Americans support the 5th Amendment, trial by jury, Miranda rights, etc. I see stats saying there were almost 18,000 drunk driving deaths in 2006, and yet there’s no major assault on drinking…

        I think a lot of it is just marketing. We tend to react harshly to what’s new, the terrorists supplied some spectacles that played well in the media, and the anti-terrorists had the bully pulpit for use in effective advertising.

        1. You hit the nail on the head with this post. Being cowardly is now a preferred trait. But watch them spin it to somehow prove that WE are the owardly ones.

          1. watch them spin it to somehow prove that WE are the owardly ones.

            The only reason to oppose this is because you have something to hide. What are you afraid of the government finding out, huh?

            1. And yet — just *try* walking down the street naked.

        2. I said this on 9/12/01.

          A real leader would have said, tomorrow, the USA will be open for business. Go out there, get on planes and show these rat fuckers we will not cower.

          I know it’s not horribly libertarian, but I’d have dumped enough money to rebuild the WTCs (EXACTLY AS THEY WERE) and have it done by 9/11 of the following year.

          Instead he chose to lead through fear.

          Pretty fucking sad actually.

          1. Instead he chose to lead through fear.

            It was only through fear that the statist asshats in charge of this country could get the soft tyranny they always wanted. Remember, most of the provisions of the PATRIOT Act had been written long before 9/11, but they couldn’t have pushed it through without the fear induced by that event.

            My fear is that the next time something happens, we’ll end up getting hard tyrrany (and getting it good and hard, whether we want it or not). Hell, they already did just that on a small scale in Boston after the marathon bombing. The lockdown of the city was pretty much a marshal law trial run. And people accepted it because TEH TERRORIZM!!!!11!!!… BOSTON STRONG!!!!1!!!!11!!! Fucking pathetic.

          2. No shit. The threat of air terrorism ended on 9/11 in the fourth plane when the passengers realized it was up to them to stop the terrorists. Not sit down, shut up, and let the bad guys do what they want like TOP.MEN. said they should.

        3. Being scared of terrorism somehow became manly for a while.

          The fact that so many were so willing to give up much of their freedom because of what a bunch of 3rd world, barely litterate apes on the other side of the planet might do would be comical if it weren’t for the fact that the rest of us had to give up all of our freedoms too just so they could feel “safe.”

      2. We have come a long way from the likes of Patrick Henry.

        “Is live so dear, or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me Liberty, or give me Death!”

        He must be ashamed of our country today.

    2. Well here, yeah. But most of the country is still in “it’s okay if it keeps us safe!” mode. And this is the only kind of argument to use against them that might actually work.

      1. Yeah, and I hope it does work. I hope people see this, and it makes their support for the NSA violating the Fourth Amendment slip.

        I’d just like to add that it’s important to point out to people that cowardice is cowardly, too. That being frightened is unmanly and isn’t something to be proud of.

        Back during the Bush Administration, the sell was that if you didn’t support whatever the president wanted to do to our rights, then you weren’t sufficiently frightened.

        One of the things he wanted to do was go to war, so he did everything he could to scare the hell out of people–and it worked!

        http://usatoday30.usatoday.com…..iraq_x.htm

        You used to see it here in the comments section at Hit & Run. The site would periodically fill up with people who were so proud of being afraid of Muslims and terrorism that they’d support just about anything the president wanted to do.

        And if you just weren’t frightened enough to support what he was doing, they’d call you a traitor, a terrorist sympathizer, etc. because you didn’t express that “virtue” of fear.

        We’re still suffering from some of that. That’s still what support for the NSA is about.

        1. I got stuck a Nellis AFB during 9/11. What was it? Almost a week before the airlines reopened.

          I remember being in McCarran and literally seething at what was going on. Going through bags…people being frisked… I mean I was fucking irate. I mentioned it and had several passengers literally tell me to shut the fuck up, what the hell is wrong with you…

          It was then I knew we were fucked.

  7. trading freedom something something for security something something and winding up with blah blah blah. So, this data was useless. And America collectively yawns.

    1. I suspect it’s always been such. I read somewhere that roughly 1/3 of the Colonists actually supported the Revolution. The other 2/3 either didn’t care one way or the other or were outright loyalists.

      So, after being pushed for years, only a third actually gave a shit about liberty. Luckily they were the ones who drafted the Constitution.

      Most people aren’t brave. Most are cowering little shitmonkeys who’d rather be safe than free. Freedom requires too much work.

      1. I didn’t become a cowering little shitmonkey until I found myself with a family that would be totally screwed if I ended up dead or in prison.

  8. Governments collect information because it gives them power. That is all.

  9. I cannot count the number of terroristical activities that were saved or created by the treasonous revelations of the NSA’s holy patriotic mission. God Bless America.

  10. President Obama defended the NSA surveillance programs during a visit to Berlin, saying: “We know of at least 50 threats that have been averted because of this information not just in the United States, but, in some cases, threats here in Germany. So lives have been saved.”

    I must have missed the “unless lives are saved” clause in the Constitution. Of course, I just skimmed it.

    1. That’s on the back in special invisible ink.

      “All of the preceding is to be considered null and void if necessary for any of the following purposes:

      1. To keep people safe/ save people’s lives.
      2. ‘For the children.’
      3. Because interstate commerce.
      4. Because Fuck You, That’s Why.”

  11. Taxi cartels support terrorism.

  12. “‘A matter of internal security.’ The age-old cry of an oppressor.” – Captain Jean-Luc Picard

  13. Never forget, that while the NSA claims to only have access to metadata, their agents are known to have listened in to phone-sex calls by US soldiers stationed overseas.

    1. Different. In using a government phone you lose your right to privacy. It says all calls can be monitored right on the phone.

      I think it’s bullshit, but at least it’s not being done without the caller’s knowledge.

  14. Google is worse than the NSA. Period. So here’s my list of alternatives:

    DuckDuckGo
    Ravetree
    HushMail
    ?

    Let me know of others you may have found. I’m on a mission to spread the word about good privacy-based websites/apps.

  15. Google is worse than the NSA. Period. So here’s my list of alternatives:

    DuckDuckGo
    Ravetree
    HushMail
    ?

    Let me know of others you may have found. I’m on a mission to spread the word about good privacy-based websites/apps.

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