With President Obama set to announce changes to the NSA on Friday, a new study has concluded that the bulk of the phone records collected by the NSA “has had no discernible impact on preventing acts of terrorism.”
The study by the New America Foundation, a Washington-based nonprofit group, analyzed 225 terrorism cases inside the United States since the Sept. 11, 2001. The group concluded that in the majority of cases, it was traditional law enforcement and investigative methods that provided the tip or evidence to initiate the case.
The NSA counterterrorism program “was not essential to preventing attacks” and much of the evidence it did turn up “could readily have been obtained in a timely manner using conventional [court] orders,” the study said.
Since whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed that the NSA has been collecting metadata on the phone records of Americans, the White House has been under increasing pressure to squelch the program. Last month, U.S. District Judge Richard Leon ruled that the NSA’s data collection activities are likely unconstitutional, saying the bulk collection of phone records “certainly does violate a reasonable expectation of privacy.”
The White House has announced that Obama on Friday will reveal changes he will be instituting to the NSA’s data collection practices. Meanwhile, Republican Sen. John McCain has called for a congressional investigation into America’s “broken” National Security Agency.
McCain said Congress was probably going to need to pass legislation to implement Obama’s recommendations.
“Is there anybody believes that this system is not broken in many respects? I think not,” McCain said yesterday on CNN.
“There has been overreach, it seems to me,” he added. “Sometimes these agencies have done things just because they can. I think we need a select committee in Congress to go over this whole scenario, because it does overlap many committees.”
The White House has said the program is one tool that complements others in building a more complete picture of a terrorist plot or network. It has been valuable in killing rumors of plots against the U.S., which Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. calls the “peace of mind” metric.
Michael Morell, a former acting CIA director, said the program “needs to be successful only once to be invaluable.”
According to the New America Foundation, the program provided evidence to initiate only one case — San Diego cabdriver Basaaly Moalin was convicted of sending money to a terrorist group in Somalia, along with three co-conspirators were also convicted. But the group said the cases involved no threat of attack against the United States.
“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.