An analysis of 225 terrorism cases inside the United States since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks has concluded that the bulk collection of phone records by the National Security Agency “has had no discernible impact on preventing acts of terrorism.”* * *
The researchers at the New America Foundation found that the program provided evidence to initiate only one case, involving a San Diego cabdriver, Basaaly Moalin, who was convicted of sending money to a terrorist group in Somalia. Three co-conspirators were also convicted. The cases involved no threat of attack against the United States.The New America Foundation Report, which will be released tomorrow, corroborates the findings of the President's Review Group. That group has recommended the termination of bulk metadata collection directed towards American citizens.
Remember the one about how the 9/11 attacks would have been prevented if only the NSA had the ability back then to listen in on your phone calls and read your email? A Federal Judge bought that argument hook, line and sinker last month, apparently so eager to lap up what the NSA was dishing out he even made some curious errors in his footnotes.
You may recall that Judge Pauley of the United States District Court for the Southern District issued an opinion that opens like a teaser to "24."
The September 11th terrorist attacks revealed, in the starkest terms, just how dangerous and interconnected the world is. While Americans depended on technology for the conveniences of modernity, al-Qaeda plotted in a seventh-century milieu to use that technology against us. It was a bold jujitsu. And it succeeded because conventional intelligence gathering could not detect diffuse filaments connecting al-Qaeda.(emphasis supplied)
Prior to the September 11th attacks, the National Security Agency (“NSA”) intercepted seven calls made by hijacker Khalid al-Mihdhar, who was living in San Diego, California, to an al-Qaeda safe house in Yemen. The NSA intercepted those calls using overseas signals intelligence capabilities that could not capture al-Mihdhar’s telephone number identifier. Without that identifier, NSA analysts concluded mistakenly that al-Mihdhar was overseas and not in the United States. Telephony metadata would have furnished the missing information and might have permitted the NSA to notify the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”) of the fact that al-Mihdhar was calling the Yemeni safe house from inside the United States.
The Government learned from its mistake and adapted to confront a new enemy...
This is truly some bold writing that uses "seventh-century milieu," "jujitsu" and "diffuse filaments" in a single paragraph, but according to ProPublica, the Judge's cited source for that paragraph, the 9/11 Commission Report, doesn't support his rendition of the facts:
In his decision, Pauley writes: "The NSA intercepted those calls using overseas signals intelligence capabilities that could not capture al-Mihdhar's telephone number identifier. Without that identifier, NSA analysts concluded mistakenly that al-Mihdhar was overseas and not in the United States."It's not clear whether Judge Pauley simply cribbed his source from the NSA's brief or if he or (more likely) his law clerk were hallucinating when they made an attribution that doesn't exist to support the key emotional punchline in his opinion, but one thing is clear--the specter of "preventing another 9/11" hangs over every argument the NSA makes in support of its ever-expanding web of snooping. We have in recent weeks seen a concerted PR push by the NSA as well as officials from the President's Review Board claiming that the 9/11 terrorist attacks would have been preventable "if only." This theory has been debunked in the New Yorker and elsewhere, but it remains a demagogic favorite, and it manifests itself in statements like this:
As his source, the judge writes in a footnote, "See generally, The 9/11 Commission Report." In fact, the 9/11 Commission report does not detail the NSA's intercepts of calls between al-Mihdhar and Yemen. As the executive director of the commission told us over the summer, "We could not, because the information was so highly classified publicly detail the nature of or limits on NSA monitoring of telephone or email communications.”
In an opinion piece published after the release of the review group’s report, Michael Morell, a former acting CIA director and a member of the panel, said the program “needs to be successful only once to be invaluable.”The New America Foundation report, linked above, contains a backhanded comment that, perhaps unwittingly, sheds more light on the rationale behind the overweening emphasis on bulk data collection than any of the NSA's statements about terrorism; it suggests that emphasis may be an effort to compensate for structural limitations and inflexibility within the Agency itself:
“The overall problem for U.S. counterterrorism officials is not that they need vaster amounts of information from the bulk surveillance programs, but that they don’t sufficiently understand or widely share the information they already possess that was derived from conventional law enforcement and intelligence techniques,” said the report, whose principal author is Peter Bergen, director of the foundation’s National Security Program and an expert on terrorism.President Obama is expected to announce changes to the NSA and its surveillance programs this week.