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Critics Refute NSA Defense of 'Terrorist Thwarting' Spy Program

Analyst: "This suggests that the NSA surveillance programs are wide-ranging fishing expeditions with little to show for them"

Lauren McCauley, staff writer

As the Obama administration and the National Security Administration continue to defend their massive spy and data collection program by asserting that the information has been essential in preventing "dozens of terrorist attacks," new analysis reveals that these assertions are false, amounting to little more than "wide-ranging fishing expeditions with little to show for them."

Top intelligence officials, including NSA director Gen. Keith Alexander, speaking before Congress Wednesday said that the NSA secret spy program has helped thwart over 50 "potential terrorist events," including 10 within the United States.

A new examination of all incidents of "homegrown jihadist and non-jihadist terrorism" in the US since 9/11 by the nonprofit think-tank the New America Foundation along with Syracuse's Maxwell School found that "NSA surveillance yielded little of major value to prevent numerous attacks in the United States."

"This suggests that the NSA surveillance programs are wide-ranging fishing expeditions with little to show for them," writes Peter Bergen, CNN national security analyst and director at the New America Foundation.

Bergen continues:

Homegrown jihadist extremists have mounted 42 plots to conduct attacks within the United States since 2001. Of those plots, nine involved an actual terrorist act that was not prevented by any type of government action, such as the failed attempt by Faisal Shahzad to blow up a car bomb in Times Square on May 1, 2010.

Of the remaining 33 plots, the public record shows that at least 29 were uncovered by traditional law enforcement methods, such as the use of informants, reliance on community tips about suspicious activity and other standard policing practices.

"[W]e are...concerned that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Section 702 collection program [...] and the bulk phone records collection program operating under Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT ACT are being conflated in a way that exaggerates the value and usefulness of the bulk phone records collection program," said Senators Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Mark Udall (D-Colo.) in a statement released Wednesday.

"Based on the evidence that we have seen," continue the senators, "it appears that the bulk phone records collection program under section 215 of the USA Patriot Act played little or no role in most of these disruptions. Saying that 'these programs' have disrupted 'dozens of potential terrorist plots' is misleading if the bulk phone records collection program is actually providing little or no unique value."

The two Senators have consistently criticized their program, even prior to its leak to the public. As Udall told the Denver Post earlier this month, he knew that the NSA's actions were wrong. He added, “[I] did everything short of leaking classified information” to stop it.


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