This week, we learned that millions of Americans have had their email address books and contact lists gobbled up by NSA bulk digital surveillance. This comes on the heels of NSA director Keith Alexander admitting that he lied to Congress about the principal justification for the NSA's ability to engage in bulk surveillance: stopping terror plots.
In June, Alexander sat before a congressional committee and claimed, without evidence, that 54 terror plots had been thwarted by bulk phone surveillance, that such surveillance had been critical in "unravel[ing] the threat stream." This bold statement, which many members treated with incredulity, came at a time in which Snowden's revelations were putting intense pressure on the Obama administration.
Now, Alexander has admitted that he boldly lied in June about the efficacy of bulk surveillance, and that a mere one or two plots were affected by the monitoring of Americans' communications.
Senator Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, did not take Alexander's admittance lightly:
“We’re told we have to [conduct mass phone surveillance] to protect us, and the statistics are rolled out that they’re not accurate...It doesn’t have the credibility here in the Congress, it doesn’t have the credibility with this chairman and it doesn’t have the credibility with the country.”While Leahy didn't call Alexander dishonest explicitly, he plainly couched the accusation in his railing about the inaccuracy of "statistics."
The question is now this: why does Alexander still have a job? Or, more importantly, this: why is the NSA still engaging in intensive bulk surveillance if its efficacy is so poor?
I fear the answer.
David Harris-Gershon is author of the memoir What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?, just out from Oneworld Publications.