One of the key claims that defenders of the NSA bulk data collection keep making is that the program was necessary to stop various terrorist “events” (note the careful choice of the word “events” rather than “attacks”). In fact, last week in arguing against the Amash Amendment, Rep. Mike Rogers directly claimed that “54 times this and the other program stopped and thwarted terrorist attacks.” Of course, as we pointed out, he carefully added the “and the other program” to make it seem like the bulk data collection program being debated was necessary. Amazingly, that claim of 54 terrorist “events” is significantly more than what intelligence officials have claimed. They say it’s more like 13. Yet, yesterday, Senators Ron Wyden and Mark Udall both said that there was no evidence to support this, and at this morning’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearings about the surveillance program, Senator Patrick Leahy was fairly direct in making it clear that what Rogers claimed last week was completely bogus:
“If this program is not effective, it has to end,” Leahy said, noting that a classified list of uses of the phone record program “does not reflect dozens or even several terrorist plots that Section 215 helped thwart or prevent, let alone 54 as some have suggested.”
Perhaps Rep. Mike Rogers’ staffers — rather than threatening me with bogus defamation claims — should focus on having their own boss not mislead Congress and the American public. Wouldn’t that be nice?
Much of the rest of the hearing suggested, yet again, that Congress simply doesn’t believe intelligence officials and the administration (and the dwindling number of defenders of this surveillance) any more, as multiple Senators discussed introducing bills to limit the surveillance, and noted various problems with the programs.
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., raised the prospect of creating an independent counsel to consider surveillance requests presented to the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to guard against potential privacy violations.
“Don’t you think we have left the state relevance?” Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, asked, suggesting that the mass records collection was too large to be an effective counter-terrorism tool.
“How can one get one’s mind around the concept (of) that amount of data?” Lee said.
Said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.: “It appears this system is failing in maintaining the trust and credibility of the American people.”
“When you look at the reach of this (phone record collection) program, it envelopes a substantial number of Americans,” said Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill. “It seems to me that what is being described as a very narrow program is a very broad program.”
“There are going to be some proposals for changes to the law,” Leahy said.
Intelligence officials tried to defend the program, but it didn’t seem to win many people over. There was lots of talk of “connecting the dots” and “finding needles in haystacks,” but considering the lack of evidence that the program actually helps with either of those things, they didn’t make a very convincing case. Of course, the best response to all of this came, sarcastically, from Julian Sanchez’s commentary on the hearings:
The only people who spend THIS much time “looking for needles” are addicts…
So true. Time to get intelligence officials into rehab.