Wednesday, January 15, 2014

How Effective is NSA's Massive Data Surveillance?

The Los Angeles Times raised some questions yesterday, "Could data collection have stopped 9/11? White House thinks so":
WASHINGTON — Many of President Obama's closest advisors have embraced a controversial assessment of one of the National Security Agency's major data collection programs — the belief that the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks could have been prevented had government then possessed the sort of vast trove of Americans' telephone records it holds now.

Critics of the NSA program, and some scholars of America's deadliest terrorist attack, strenuously dispute the view that the collection of phone data would necessarily have made a difference or that the possibility justifies the program now. The presidential task force that reviewed surveillance operations concluded last month that the program "was not essential" to preventing terrorist attacks.

But as the president finalizes plans for a speech on Friday announcing his proposals to change intelligence operations and oversight, the widespread agreement at the most senior levels of the White House about the program's value appears to be driving policy. As a result, the administration seems likely to modify, but not stop, the gathering of billions of phone call logs.

In recent White House meetings, Obama has accepted the "9/11" justification, aides say, expressing the belief that domestic phone records might have helped authorities identify some of the skyjackers who later crashed passenger jets in New York, the Washington area and Pennsylvania, killing nearly 3,000 people.

He believes the main problem with the program is one of perception: Many Americans don't trust the NSA, one of the most secretive of spy agencies, to respect civil liberties.
Keep reading.

And then check Peter Bergen et al., at the New America Foundation, "Do NSA's Bulk Surveillance Programs Stop Terrorists?":
On June 5, 2013, the Guardian broke the first story in what would become a flood of revelations regarding the extent and nature of the NSA’s surveillance programs. Facing an uproar over the threat such programs posed to privacy, the Obama administration scrambled to defend them as legal and essential to U.S. national security and counterterrorism. Two weeks after the first leaks by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden were published, 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.”

However, our review of the government’s claims about the role that NSA “bulk” surveillance of phone and email communications records has had in keeping the United States safe from terrorism shows that these claims are overblown and even misleading. An in-depth analysis of 225 individuals recruited by al-Qaeda or a like-minded group or inspired by al-Qaeda’s ideology, and charged in the United States with an act of terrorism since 9/11, demonstrates that traditional investigative methods, such as the use of informants, tips from local communities, and targeted intelligence operations, provided the initial impetus for investigations in the majority of cases, while the contribution of NSA’s bulk surveillance programs to these cases was minimal. Indeed, the controversial bulk collection of American telephone metadata, which includes the telephone numbers that originate and receive calls, as well as the time and date of those calls but not their content, under Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act, appears to have played an identifiable role in initiating, at most, 1.8 percent of these cases. NSA programs involving the surveillance of non-U.S. persons outside of the United States under Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act played a role in 4.4 percent of the terrorism cases we examined, and NSA surveillance under an unidentified authority played a role in 1.3 percent of the cases we examined.
Keep reading.

Well, I love how this whole thing's gotten the administration all jammed up. And personally, I'd lean on the greater security side (rather than the greater liberty side). Most of all, though, screw the so-called "whistleblowers" and their enablers, who are cyberterrorists and traitors. People will die because of their actions, no doubt.