If you needed more of a reason than the protection of civil liberties for limiting the NSA’s surveillance powers, would it sway you to know that the current program of data collection is largely ineffective? Don’t just take my word for it. In a leaked internal newsletter, an NSA analyst explains how he stumbled across a “goldmine” of information the NSA had collected in its undiscerning dragnet:
“By sheer luck, (and a ton of hard work) I discovered an important new access to an existing target and am working with TAO to leverage a new mission capability,” the analyst wrote to colleagues. TAO refers to Tailored Access Operations, an NSA hacking team which had collected the 900 usernames and passcodes. . . .
Matthew Green, a Johns Hopkins Information Security Institute professor, told The Intercept it was “interesting” that the analyst used the word “discovered” because it means that either the NSA “didn’t realize” it had been collecting PDVSA’s information or that, perhaps, there had been a bureaucratic miscommunication on the subject.
“They’re capturing so much information from their cable taps that even the NSA analysts don’t know what they’ve got,” Green said.
That is interesting. And it’s not the first time this has happened. Have you noticed how the NSA is able to reveal heaps of information about terrorists right after those terrorists strike? It’s because they already have the information. They just don’t know it’s significant until after an attack. Though the information might make for a more interesting biopsy of an already-accomplished act of terror, the fact is that the purported purpose of surveillance is to prevent terrorist actions. And under our formerly more restricted (more constitutional) guidelines, we could have easily collected the same pertinent information after an attack if we wanted it.
In other words, the currently expanded powers aren’t working. And it’s probably even worse than you think. Notice that this “goldmine” of information wasn’t on a possible terror suspect or organization. It was actually on a Venezuelan state oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela (also called PDVSA). And a 2010 document indicated that the NSA’s data collection on PDVSA had gone “stagnant.” Think about that. The NSA wanted access to more information on an important, prominent, national company. It actually had that information, and didn’t even know it. It took “sheer luck” to stumble across the pertinent info in the galaxy of mostly useless info the NSA had already collected. If it’s that bad for a fixed, national company, imagine how bad it is for a roving, individual terrorist. Just let it sink in: finding info on a company requires a ton of work and sheer luck when the NSA already has the information. Finding useful information on a single terror suspect is then far less like finding a needle in a haystack. It’s more like finding a needle buried in sand somewhere in the world’s oceans.
May we please end this expensive, useless, unconstitutional, liberty-destroying program yet? Sheesh.