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Claim on “Attacks Thwarted” by NSA Spreads Despite Lack of Evidence

The agency, President Obama, and members of Congress have all said NSA spying programs have thwarted more than 50 terrorist plots. But there’s no evidence the claim is true.

During Keith Alexander’s presentation in Las Vegas, two slides read simply “54 ATTACKS THWARTED.” The NSA, President Obama, and members of Congress have all said NSA spying programs have thwarted more than 50 terrorist plots. But there’s no evidence the claim is true.

UPDATE Dec. 17, 2013: In a new ruling that calls the NSA's phone metadata surveillance likely unconstitutional, U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon cited this article in his assessment of the agency's claims about thwarted terrorist attacks. Read the ruling here

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Two weeks after Edward Snowden’s first revelations about sweeping government surveillance, President Obama shot back. “We know of at least 50 threats that have been averted because of this information not just in the United States, but, in some cases, threats here in Germany,” Obama said during a visit to Berlin in June. “So lives have been saved.”

In the months since, intelligence officials, media outlets, and members of Congress from both parties all repeated versions of the claim that NSA surveillance has stopped more than 50 terrorist attacks. The figure has become a key talking point in the debate around the spying programs.

“Fifty-four times this and the other program stopped and thwarted terrorist attacks both here and in Europe — saving real lives,” Rep. Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, said on the House floor in July, referring to programs authorized by a pair of post-9/11 laws. “This isn’t a game. This is real.”

But there's no evidence that the oft-cited figure is accurate.

The NSA itself has been inconsistent on how many plots it has helped prevent and what role the surveillance programs played. The agency has often made hedged statements that avoid any sweeping assertions about attacks thwarted.

A chart declassified by the agency in July, for example, says that intelligence from the programs on 54 occasions “has contributed to the [U.S. government’s] understanding of terrorism activities and, in many cases, has enabled the disruption of potential terrorist events at home and abroad” — a much different claim than asserting that the programs have been responsible for thwarting 54 attacks.

NSA officials have mostly repeated versions of this wording.

When NSA chief Gen. Keith Alexander spoke at a Las Vegas security conference in July, for instance, he referred to “54 different terrorist-related activities,” 42 of which were plots and 12 of which were cases in which individuals provided “material support” to terrorism.

But the NSA has not always been so careful.

During Alexander’s speech in Las Vegas, a slide in an accompanying slideshow read simply “54 ATTACKS THWARTED.”

And in a recent letter to NSA employees, Alexander and John Inglis, the NSA’s deputy director, wrote that the agency has “contributed to keeping the U.S. and its allies safe from 54 terrorist plots.” (The letter was obtained by reporter Kevin Gosztola from a source with ties to the intelligence community. The NSA did not respond when asked to authenticate it.)

Asked for clarification of the surveillance programs' record, the NSA declined to comment.

Earlier this month, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., pressed Alexander on the issue at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.

“Would you agree that the 54 cases that keep getting cited by the administration were not all plots, and of the 54, only 13 had some nexus to the U.S.?” Leahy said at the hearing. “Would you agree with that, yes or no?”

“Yes,” Alexander replied, without elaborating.

It's impossible to assess the role NSA surveillance played in the 54 cases because, while the agency has provided a full list to Congress, it remains classified.

Officials have openly discussed only a few of the cases (see below), and the agency has identified only one — involving a San Diego man convicted of sending $8,500 to Somalia to support the militant group Al Shabab — in which NSA surveillance played a dominant role.

The surveillance programs at issue fall into two categories: The collection of metadata on all American phone calls under the Patriot Act, and the snooping of electronic communications targeted at foreigners under a 2007 surveillance law. Alexander has said that surveillance authorized by the latter law provided “the initial tip” in roughly half of the 54 cases. The NSA has not released examples of such cases.

After reading the full classified list, Leahy concluded the NSA’s surveillance has some value but still questioned the agency’s figures.

“We've heard over and over again the assertion that 54 terrorist plots were thwarted ... That's plainly wrong, but we still get it in letters to members of Congress, we get it in statements.”

— Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.

“We've heard over and over again the assertion that 54 terrorist plots were thwarted” by the two programs, Leahy told Alexander at the Judiciary Committee hearing this month. “That's plainly wrong, but we still get it in letters to members of Congress, we get it in statements. These weren't all plots and they weren't all thwarted. The American people are getting left with the inaccurate impression of the effectiveness of NSA programs.”

The origins of the “54” figure go back to a House Intelligence Committee hearing on June 18, less than two weeks after the Guardian’s publication of the first story based on documents leaked by Snowden.

At that hearing, Alexander said, “The information gathered from these programs provided the U.S. government with critical leads to help prevent over 50 potential terrorist events in more than 20 countries around the world.” He didn’t specify what “events” meant. Pressed by Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., Alexander said the NSA would send a more detailed breakdown to the committee.

Speaking in Baltimore the next week, Alexander gave an exact figure: 54 cases “in which these programs contributed to our understanding, and in many cases, helped enable the disruption of terrorist plots in the U.S. and in over 20 countries throughout the world.”

But members of Congress have repeatedly ignored the distinctions and hedges.

The websites of the Republicans and Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee include pages titled, “54 Attacks in 20 Countries Thwarted By NSA Collection.”

And individual congressmen have frequently cited the figure in debates around NSA surveillance.

  • Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, R-Ga., who is also on the House Intelligence Committee, released a statement in July referring to “54 terrorist plots that have been foiled by the NSA programs.” Asked about the figure, Westmoreland spokeswoman Leslie Shedd told ProPublica that “he was citing declassified information directly from the National Security Agency.”
  • Rep. Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio, issued a statement in July saying “the programs in question have thwarted 54 specific plots, many targeting Americans on American soil.”
  • Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., issued his own statement the next day: “The Amash amendment would have eliminated Section 215 of the Patriot Act which we know has thwarted 54 terrorist plots against the US (and counting).” (The amendment, which aimed to bar collection of Americans’ phone records, was narrowly defeated in the House.)
  • Mike Rogers, the Intelligence Committee chairman who credited the surveillance programs with thwarting 54 attacks on the House floor, repeated the claim to Bob Schieffer on CBS’ “Face the Nation” in July.“You just heard what he said, senator,” Schieffer said, turning to Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., an NSA critic. “Fifty-six terror plots here and abroad have been thwarted by the NSA program. So what’s wrong with it, then, if it’s managed to stop 56 terrorist attacks? That sounds like a pretty good record.”

    Asked about Rogers’ remarks, House Intelligence Committee spokeswoman Susan Phalen said in a statement: “In 54 specific cases provided by the NSA, the programs stopped actual plots or put terrorists in jail before they could effectuate further terrorist plotting.  These programs save lives by disrupting attacks. Sometimes the information is found early in the planning, and sometimes very late in the planning. But in all those cases these people intended to kill innocent men and women through the use of terror.”
  • Rep. James Lankford, R-Okla., went even further in a town hall meeting in August. Responding to a question about the NSA vacuuming up Americans’ phone records, he said the program had “been used 54 times to be able to interrupt 54 different terrorist plots here in the United States that had originated from overseas in the past eight years. That’s documented.”
  • The same day, Rep. Jim Langevin, D-R.I., who sits on the Intelligence Committee, defended the NSA at a town hall meeting with constituents in Cranston, R.I. “I know that these programs have been directly effective in thwarting and derailing 54 terrorist attacks,” he said.

    Asked about Langevin’s comments, spokeswoman Meg Fraser said in an email, “The committee was given information from NSA on August 1 that clearly indicated they considered the programs in question to have been used to help disrupt 54 terrorist events. That is the information the Congressman relied on when characterizing the programs at his town hall.”

Wenstrup, Heck and Lankford did not respond to requests for comment.

The claims have also appeared in the media. ABC News, CNN and the New York Times have all repeated versions of the claim that more than 50 plots have been thwarted by the programs.

The NSA has publicly identified four of the 54 cases. They are:

  • The case of Basaaly Moalin, the San Diego man convicted of sending $8,500 to Somalia to support Al Shabab, the terrorist group that has taken responsibility for the attack on a Kenyan mall last month. The NSA has said its collection of American phone records allowed it to determine that a U.S. phone was in contact with a Shabab figure, which in turn led them to Moalin. NSA critic Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., has argued that the NSA could have gotten a court order to get the phone records in question and that the case does not justify the bulk collection of Americans' phone records.
  • The case of Najibullah Zazi, who in 2009 plotted to bomb the New York subway system. The NSA has said that an email it intercepted to an account of a known Al Qaeda figure in Pakistan allowed authorities to identify and ultimately capture Zazi. But an Associated Press examination of the case concluded that, again, the NSA's account of the case did not show the need for the new warrantless powers at issue in the current debate. “Even before the surveillance laws of 2007 and 2008, the FBI had the authority to — and did, regularly — monitor email accounts linked to terrorists,” the AP reported.
  • A case involving David Coleman Headley, the Chicago man who helped plan the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attack. Intelligence officials have said that NSA surveillance helped thwart a subsequent plot involving Headley to attack a Danish newspaper. A ProPublica examination of that episode concluded that it was a tip from British intelligence, rather than NSA surveillance, that led authorities to Headley.
  • A case involving a purported plot to attack the New York Stock Exchange. This convoluted episode involves three Americans, including Khalid Ouazzani of Kansas City, Mo., who pleaded guilty in 2010 to bank fraud, money laundering, and conspiracy to provide material support to Al Qaeda. An FBI official said in June that NSA surveillance helped in the case “to detect a nascent plotting to bomb the New York Stock Exchange." But no one has been charged with crimes related to that or any other planned attack. (Ouazzani was sentenced to 14 years last month.)

    The Kansas City Star reported that one of the men in the case had “pulled together a short report with the kind of public information easily available from Google Earth, tourist maps and brochures” and that his contact in Yemen “tore up the report, 'threw it in the street' and never showed it to anyone.”

    Court records also suggest that the men in Yemen that Ouazzani sent over $20,000 to may have been scamming him and spent some of the money on personal expenses.

For more from ProPublica on the NSA, read about the agency's campaign to crack Internet security, a look at the surveillance reforms Obama supported before he was president, and a fact-check on claims about the NSA and Sept. 11.

Photo of Sen. Patrick Leahy by Win McNamee/Getty Images.

It is amazing and horrifying how simply repeating something over and over again eventually convinces people it is true. And the PowerPoint slides the government uses are so juvenile it’s embarrassing. Anyone who has even heard of the NSA needs to read this article.

Gordon Wagner

Oct. 23, 2013, 9:51 a.m.

Did *any* of these purported terrorist attacks involve anything on the scale of 9/11/01? No? Then maybe we ought to be examining the details of 9/11/01, since so many evil deeds hinge on the lies told that day.

Patrick Daugherty

Oct. 23, 2013, 10:13 a.m.

The “terrorism” that the NSA claims to have prevented is neither impressive nor persuasive—it’s probably not even true—and in no way can it justify suspending even a single portion of the Constitution.  A far greater threat lies in what a shiftless and secretive agency like the NSA has done and will do in the future with all that information at their fingertips.  This is just the beginning.

Regardless of the number of attacks that were stopped on U.S. soil; (this is a misdirection to the initial argument) the real question is still if this action is constitutional or not?

Only 50-54 attacks thwarted and you are paid hundreds of thousands to exist? Sounds like a bad deal to me!

Richard Harris

Oct. 23, 2013, 11:26 a.m.

Why on earth would you expect NSA to disclose any operational events? Why would you want it…because you can download for free any James Brown track you want?
You are not supposed to know that we broke the purple code of the Japanese communication in WW2..until it is a moot point to know that it happened.
What is the reasoning of the new generation of people who think that when sensitive covert information is posted online, only you and I, being responsible citizen whistleblowers humanists are the only ones this affects? That we are going to use this information responsibly? That in-the-field work of thousands of agents isn’t compromised? The depth of ignorance about the most basic premise of security is amazing.

Where is the new information? The is just a rehashed article.

They act like this is some gotcha momment.

“Would you agree that the 54 cases that keep getting cited by the administration were not all plots, and of the 54, only 13 had some nexus to the U.S.?” Leahy said at the hearing. “Would you agree with that, yes or no?”

“Yes,” Alexander replied, without elaborating.

How is it not consistent?

“Fifty-four times this and the other program stopped and thwarted terrorist attacks both here and in Europe — saving real lives,

Salon has a nice pair of quotes from a recent exchange of views before the Judiciary Committee:

“These weren’t all plots, and they weren’t all foiled,” Leahy said, asking Alexander, “Would you agree with that, yes or no?”

“Yes,” replied Alexander.

http://www.salon.com/2013/10/02/nsa_director_admits_to_misleading_public_on_terror_plots/singleton/

You two don’t read so good, do you (Harris & Parsons) -

54 cases “in which these programs contributed to our understanding, and in many cases, helped enable the disruption of terrorist plots in the U.S. and in over 20 countries throughout the world.”

“Contribute to our understanding ” is a hedge. “in many cases” is a hedge. “helped enable” is a mushy hedge.  They are just covering their ass and protecting their budgets. 

All the constant surveillance we have on us now is justified in your eyes to ultimately foil a few attacks in other countries.  I guess your fine with the CERTAIN missuse of this on the average american by the corporations that are in bed with the Defense departments for a trade off in minimal security.  God how did we survive until now without it? 

Fools or knaves all of you.

alarew

911 was one plot. Americans work for the NSA not some evil robots. Glad we are focusing on existential threats though. We could be working on healthcare, education and our economy.

So what - Americans work for NSA. Does that make them judgement free? You would say, they are doing their job right?  Thats not the point. But whatever. My point is you cannot begin to imagine the repercussions of all this surveillance on the average man when it leaks down to the level of corporations, which it already has.  That visit you made to the doctor about that small cancerous mole on your arm - your insurance company noticed and is uping your premiums and also placing you on a cancer watch drop-list .  There are many other reasons to fear this surveillance and it will take a concerted push back to slow it down.  Terrorists are the least threat to the American safety in the group of many threats.

I completely agree with you. Business are the ones that are in a position to use this information, not our government. We can vote those people out. Once a business has a monopoly we are stuck with them, and they can keep buy officials to keep it that way.

I am wondering if any of these purported 54 cases involve those people in the U. S., some who were mentally challenged, who were entrapped by the FBI to commit terrorist attacks.  The FBI trained the people in question, gave them the supposed explosives, the detonators, and also helped plant the supposed explosives.  All the supposed terrorist had to do was to push the button, probably under the urging of the FBI agents.

Hitler understood the use of the Big Lie.  Repeating something over and over usually persuades the ignorant, the unthinking, the too-busy, the ill-informed, the indifferent, of whatever the government wants to put out.

Notice they don’t put out a steady drumbeat of “news” about the innocent civilians killed by drones.  Is it incompetence? Indifference? Ignorance?

Whatever—these innocents leave bereaved families who have no recourse against death from the sky.

Larry Parsons

Oct. 23, 2013, 1:26 p.m.

It’s so sad that all these journalists and activists make it seem like we are just evil human beings.

Their salaries rely on your outrage. Get with it people. Journalists are not objective. They want to make money. They have to have a story or they are out of a job.

Do you think Greenpeace or Peta is just going to disband itself one day and say job well done. Do you think once the world is peaceful place investigative journalists will do the same. No way.

You can’t trust people who’s living relies on finding something for you to be outraged about everyday.

“But there’s no evidence that the oft-cited figure is accurate.”

How myopic can ProPublica be? Are they training us to be myopic?

If they didn’t see it, it doesn’t exist?

Have you heard of “parallel construction”? Isn’t that somewhere in the Snowden docs, too? Agencies act on secretly gathered evidence, then create parallel means whereby the case could have - or was - developed to avoid exposing confidential sources or methods.

DEA does it all the time - and long before the post 9/11 laws. They acted on military intel in domestic situations, then helped local agencies develop cases based on anonymous tips or random traffic stops.

I agree that “You can’t trust people who’s living relies on finding something for you to be outraged about everyday.”

Can’t even trust one’s own sense of outrage when it’s constantly manipulated in mass communication for political and person gain.

Ah but Larry; what do you think the NSA is doing as “Their salaries rely on your outrage.”  Except this is not on the scale of a few pennies a click-through, but trillions of $$$ of our money to spy on US - you, me, and everyone else we have ever known.

Look at a picture of the NSA complex with thousands of workers, and apparently, unlimited sums of money to build things like a state-of-the-art Data Center to process the data collected about US.

None of the listed “events” warrants these violations of the fourth Amendment.  Even the death from 9/11 accounts for a small fraction of the deaths that occur annually from the things that occur day-to-day in our society that are preventable.  Do you think we could make progress on cancer or heart disease with trillions of billions in research?  How about universal health care for all American?  Hell, with the NSA funding we could do both.  Yet they roll out that they busted a person who gave $8,500 to some group that did something in another country. 

When did we become the World Police?

Our bridges are collapsing on Americans, and our health care is, what, something like 37th in the world.  Yet, we hear from the Tea Party that we are broke.  It appears only with respect to helping our society remain functional.  NSA, CIA, FBI, Military appear unchecked to any real extent.

Why were none of these resources brought to bear on the Banks who brought our economy to the brink of collapse with no criminal charges.  That involved 100’s of billions, not $8,500.

Who’s salary relies on outrage again?

Larry Parsons

Oct. 23, 2013, 3:14 p.m.

Mike

Ask yourself why the bills currently written up only deal with the metadata provisions. None of them are doing away with the old programs.

Sam

Reuters wrote that article on the DEA. Snowden didn’t leak anything about that. We haven’t heard anything since.

These journalists are shady. I’m telling you.

... “This isn’t a game .. This is real!”.. “..We’re talking about REAL lives saved…” (As opposed to phony lives or what?)
  Besides the other distracting bullshit with the ACA and the Drones, these guys are exemplary at what they do. That’s by and how they are where they are and keep doing what they"re doing. Money Talks, Bullshit walks

50-54 all a marketing ploy to make the NSA surveillance look good.

To bad that all of this surveillance couldn’t stop the Boston bombing.

Larry Parsons

Oct. 23, 2013, 3:38 p.m.

Sam if you read the FISA amendments act under which the NSA operaties. It’s illegal to conduct surveillance on Americans. So we wouldn’t have been able to stop the Boston bomber.

The most interesting NSA story actually isn’t this, any more.  It’s that Feinstein painted herself and the NSA into a corner:

techdirt.com/articles/20131017/18381624923/dianne-feinsteins-bragging-about-nsa-surveillance-program-may-finally-result-it-being-declared-unconstitutional.shtml

If you don’t have time to read it, you’re missing out, but the short version is that the program is Constitutional at the moment because, the government’s lawyer argued, any defendants in cases where NSA data was used would be informed, so that they have an opportunity to challenge the Constitutionality.  That’s as opposed to the ACLU’s case, where they couldn’t prove standing.

However, Feinstein described cases where “this program” led to arrests and, unfortunately, the lawyers for the two cases she mentioned by name happened to hear about it, and were not informed of the provenance of the evidence against their clients.

Not only that, but the government’s lawyer is ticked, because he claims he was lied to and tricked into lying to the Supreme Court.  Meanwhile, Feinstein claims that by “this program,” she actually meant something totally different while trying to convince people to renew the surveillance meal ticket.

This bit of discredited propaganda is worth reminding people about, of course, but it’s also worth keeping in the context of the NYPD claiming to have stopped the underwear bomber.  Their definition of “stop” is apparently very different than mine, but hey…

Too bad all that surveillance could not prevent a senior WH official from tweeting classified information for two f-ing years.

Like the crazy neocons who tried to tell us the CIA would confirm that Valerie Plame was a covert agent if that was true, you insult my intelligence for suggesting our most secret intelligence agency should publish details of their successes and further compromise our national security. That’s utterly ridiculous.

I certainly hope our enemies are as stupid as you, Justin and Theodoric.

“Did *any* of these purported terrorist attacks involve anything on the scale of 9/11/01?”

Because if they’re smaller than that, they’re not worth stopping or something?

The NYTs has estimated 9/11 has cost us $3.3 Trillion and counting, not to mention our soldiers lives.

http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2011/09/08/us/sept-11-reckoning/cost-graphic.html?_r=0

We can’t afford to drop our defenses because those who are unaware of how much of their public and private information resides in the cloud. Don’t blame government, the private sector has developed these intrusive databases and technologies. All of us are guilty of signing up for credit cards, bank accounts, social networks and email accounts, for instance, and allowing huge corporations to use our private information as well as our public metadata for a myriad of purposes. Now the uninformed want to put the genie back in the bottle, but they don’t want to cut their dependence to technology. If the NSA were to disband their programs altogether, that would still leave the intelligence apparatus of more than 30 advanced nations using electronic surveillance. Good luck with that.

Larry Parsons

Oct. 23, 2013, 5:13 p.m.

John

That article is completely false.

” Prosecutors plan to inform the defendant about the monitoring in the next two weeks, a law enforcement official said. The move comes after an internal Justice Department debate in which Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. argued that there was no legal basis for a previous practice of not disclosing links to such surveillance, several Obama administration officials familiar with the deliberations said.

Meanwhile, the department’s National Security Division is combing active and closed case files to identify other defendants who faced evidence resulting from the 2008 wiretapping law. It permits eavesdropping without warrants on Americans’ cross-border phone calls and e-mails so long as the surveillance is “targeted” at foreigners abroad.

It is not yet clear how many other such cases there are, nor whether prosecutors will notify convicts whose cases are already over. Such a decision could set off attempts to reopen those cases. “


http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/17/us/politics/us-legal-shift-may-open-door-for-challenge-to-secret-wiretaps.html?_r=0

Christina Gideon

Oct. 23, 2013, 5:53 p.m.

@Richard Harris, 11:26 am today -

Thank you. sir.  I do not understand why so many people don’t see these aspects of the situation.

John Henry Bicycle Lucas

Oct. 23, 2013, 7:56 p.m.

Billions and billions served. Dollars of course, not happy meals. This is a fine example of justifying a government operation through your tax dollars.

The boogy man is around every corner, trying to blow us up!

Finestien is a useful idiot, just like Pelosi, and they are extremely weathy by merely being members of our government that is supposed to be representing us through a republic. Clapper, Alexander, all of the high burners up there need some Molly McGuires to show them what the real world is about. The world many of us function in every day.

Puerto Rican nationals set a bomb off in congress inside the capital building back in the late 1950s. We didn’t need all of this surveilance state after that, so, why now? (Oh yeah, they are protecting us)

Since the fall of the USSR, we needed another boogyman, and Al Quiada seemed to fit the bill perfectly. Especially since we financed the main leadership during USSR’s attempt to tame Afganistain.

We have a bunch of opprotunists in DC and working all throughout the government, on the gravy train. Guess who pays for the track? Since my name sake is a great American hero, even he couldn’t drive enough spikes to repair the breaks in the track behind this express train to Hades.

RE: NSA and classified information
According to General Keith Alexander when testifying before Congress, there have been one to two cases where the telephone metadata actually played a crucial role in identifying “terrorist activity” inside of the US, one of them being the taxi driver mentioned in the article. Now, tell me, what purpose would classifying the success rate of the program serve?

Unless the information is constantly pinged, there is no information of value to terrorists in that statement. So there are three possible reasons to lie about it. Inflate to justify over-expenditure. Inflate to scare terrorists away from useful tools. Deflate to entice terrorists into the net. Now, if the deflation strategy was being used, throwing around the much higher claim except when under adversarial pressure is counter to the aim of the obfuscation.

So, the only possible reasons the NSA could have for being deceptive about this information would be in order to inflate the number. Thus, the minimum claimed number is the maximum that might exist as if there were more it would represent a deflation strategy. That minimum is one and we have one example.

Does stopping a taxi driver from sending less than a year’s wages to his tribal people who also happen to be a group that engages in terrorist practices really justify the sheer cost of these massive data grubbing programs in money or privacy?

Does a little bit of aid to foreign intelligence services generate substantial diplomatic goodwill to counter annoying their entire populations?

real name not desirable in a comments post

Oct. 24, 2013, 6:29 a.m.

Thanks for a good overview of the substance of these claims. However, one thing that never seems to be mentioned in this debatte is the theoretical basis on which the USA spends $75 billion a year to counter terror: Is data-mining the right tool with which to identify potential terrorists? The answer is No.

In 2006, Jonas and Harper published Effective Counter-terrorism and the Limited Role of Predictive Data Mining.[1] The two experts, one a senior engineer, the other an academic, show beyond a doubt that “collect it all” not only makes inevitable an unacceptable level of intrusion into the lives of innocent individuals, it does not work to find likely terrorist attackers and is even counterproductive with respect to wasted resources that could be spent on traditional intelligence work.

The kernel of their argument is that there are so few instances of attacks, and those that occur are so various in their circumstances, that it is theoretically impossible to construct a testable algorithm ̶ that is, a set of pieces of evidence that when found in searching data about someone will lead to his or her correct identification as someone planning a terrorist act. They further show that what is done in practice actually amounts to identification for investigation purposes on the basis of people being perceived as social outsiders or members of unfavored groups. Their evidence is incontrovertible, and it undercuts the entire basis for the collection for data-mining on which trillions of dollars are being worse than wasted.

[1] Jonas, Jeff, and Jim Harper. Effective Counterterrorism and the Limited Role of Predictive Data Mining. Cato Institute, December 11, 2006. http://object.cato.org/sites/cato.org/files/pubs/pdf/pa584.pdf.

Mr. SHAHISLAM

Oct. 24, 2013, 7:31 a.m.

Through modifying the old sets of outdated laws and sacrificing needless national & individual privacy, declassification of security Information etc. we have no alternative in this digital age but to let the global-public, not only Americans, know -The real facts and the identities of master planners and politicians behind all those ‘look like real’ but fabricated stories colorfully designed by “Let happen” -events like 9/11s and free the world from evil manipulation of super wealthy & oil-rich Warlords in noble, royal etc. type disguises.

Small change in the processes of foreign policy & law making, primarily in favor of International trading of comfortable and constructive items instead of Nukes, Guns, Bombs etc. by “Still to remain almighty” -USA or United North-America shall change the brutal ways of old royal model global politics, where public media used to be dishonestly abused by ‘dumb, wealthy-thugs in disguise’ to cause wars between mainly belief-blind religious groups or in short: scattered human races of disconnected, less-civilized world.

Above possible model will be the coming global generation’s more humanitarian and less-violent politics.

reports show the numbers and activity of the organs of intelligence in order to prevent attacks on innocent people, and how well said article signed by Messrs, FBI has and must have such prerogatives. But the ends justify the means? So I could use me illicit means to combat illegal activity? What then of the criminal activity in relation to allied countries where ALL, as a rule, have asked for explanations and attitudes of the American gov for the surveillance remain within international law and respect for human rights and sovereign nations? It is concluded that the No 54 is just a smokescreen to change the focus of what really matters: has NSA respected the law and the right of individuals / organizations to privacy? No answer, no comments.

John Henry Bicycle Lucas

Oct. 24, 2013, 8:18 a.m.

So, Mr ShahIslam, I guess you vote for shari-law?

Forget it. While you still have breath in your body, you need to confess to who the real Son of God is.

James M. Fitzsimmons

Oct. 24, 2013, 8:42 a.m.

Nidal Hassan’s (Fort Hood) email messages connecting him to a radical Islamist, Al Awlaki, were picked up by NSA but responsible agencies failed to follow-up on the intelligence. A self described Islamist then commits an act of terror, to wit, mass murder of soldiers at Fort Hood and this terrorist event is described by the Administration as “workplace violence”. We need the NSA program with appropriate safeguards but we also need to eliminate obstacles to adequate follow-up. The number of lives saved and terrorist plots/terrorist organizations disrupted, dismantled or destroyed would no doubt be higher than 54.

@realname- I think you misconstrue the argument Jonas and Harper made in their 2006 article. Their conclusion was, “So how should one find bad guys? The most efficient, effective approach—and the one that protects civil liberties—is the one suggested by 9/11: pulling the strings that connect bad guys to other plotters.”

That is precisely what is done when the NSA identifies a target, a node that is in communication with known terrorists. It must be done with human intel at that point, but to say that datamining is not the best source for traffic analysis would be stupid. There are no other technologies that come close.

Up to the point where the NSA finds this target, they are working with metadata. They do not know any personal information. They don’t need it. It would be superfluous to their needs.

You should also know that these technologies have changed a lot in the past 7 years since the article was published. And, as has often been the case recently, Jonas and Harper offer no alternative methods for successful surveillance. None. You would think that scientists who understand the dangers of abandoning our best chance at locating terrorists and stopping future attacks would at the very least have some better methods, but they didn’t. It makes me wonder if they’re advocates of terrorism.

I don’t believe a word of it! It’s a damned shame but I just DON’T have enough confidence in our politicians to believe anything coming out of Washington, DC, and no; nothing that has been claimed do I believe.

They are so accustomed to lying to the people of this country and anybody anywhere else in the world who’ll stop long enough to hear them, so adept, so accomplished, at lying, with no conscience at all for doing so, until they can do so without thinking or even blinking an eye. LIARS and deceivers. Thieves, too!

John Henry Bicycle Lucas

Oct. 24, 2013, 7:59 p.m.

We always joke about lawyers and we keep electing them to offices that turn us in to a _______ ________ government. I have no clue to what you could call it, but from the looks of the news, I don’t approve of it.

Why is it that we need to finance and protect people from other nations, in their own countries?

Why, if our NSA is so grand and CIA is so effective, did it take so long to make an arrest? Only one, at that in the Bengazi terrorists attacks on our embassy there. Oh yeah, I forgot, these were phony scandals…

It’s eery how this *declassified* map comes to substantiate such NSA claims.  The NSA has used maps to substantiate its surveillance, investing it with legality as a way to serve national interests, despite the little utility that metadata has created in allowing us to track or map the “national enemies” whose location it seeks to reveal.  Such maps serve to justify warrantless surveillance and interception of messages from other countries, as well as targeting “terrorists” posing danger to the United States (see http://wp.me/p36T6t-15u).  The maps used to justify warrantless surveillance recall other means by which NSA seeks to intercept calls and metadata to target and locate “terrorism” or suspected targets, and to override any objections to the illegality of national sovereignty in the case of drone attacks.  I’ve discussed some in my post, http://wp.me/p36T6t-15u

@daniel- The article you reference simply notes the mapping that comes from the targeting criteria in the FISA law. Then you say “warrantless wiretaps” which are outside the bounds of the NSA surveillance programs. The US modified the Patriot Act and FISA law to eliminate warrantless surveillance many years ago. I’m not saying there aren’t rogue employees breaking the law and doing this. It illegal, though.

Think about what you are saying. How would it be possible for the NSA to follow a lead generate with public metadata, which is to say just numbers, without considering the specific identifiers like the IP address to guess at where the node is? It is already impossible due to the fact that there are services, of course, that sell country-specific IP addresses to mislead anyone checking on them. Which is why a warrant and human intelligence is a couple of levels up the investigation.

One more thought for you. The NSA’s real strength is decoding encrypted communications, so good luck to those who are using discreet internet service providers and encryption. I would bet 25 years from now, we’ll learn that they may as well have published their plans on the front page of the New York Times. If you are a supporter or Julian Assange, though, you should applaud that. He doesn’t believe anyone has a right to privacy except himself.

I went too far in calling metadata surveillance “warrantless” in my comment, when interception of messages occurs without warrants.  This is an important distinction, which I don’t want to blur.  But the expansion of email communications and metadata has, I think, gone beyond acceptable standards and the map (for all its bizarreness) is a justification for the need for the interception of both metadata and other communications.  I’m not a supporter of Assange, but am alarmed by the lack of respecting standards of international law in intercepting email for surveillance, and how maps based on these IP addresses may be used to target individuals.  In my post, referenced in the comment, I note the ability to retrace encoded messages to their point of origin by IP addresses have been patented by the NSA—although I don’t know how effective it is, NSA appears to trust it enough to use it.  Unlike the exception made for collecting metadata, such surveillance would, I believe, extend beyond the level of surveillance tha is sanctioned by the law.

John Henry Bicycle Lucas

Oct. 26, 2013, 9:45 a.m.

Mr.ShahIslam:
  I visited your website a long time ago and even posted there, once.

Z54:
  I agree!!!

Seattle Guy:
  While we agree on some points, I do not understand why you are so much an advocate of someone that will eventually take every right you think they have given you.

@bicycle- The government is NOT taking any rights from you. You are just imagining that. Let me help. Go ahead and list the rights you have lost. Good luck.

John Henry Bicycle Lucas

Oct. 27, 2013, 8:30 a.m.

SeattleGuy, go ahead the government will supply all your needs.

Nothing to see here folks, move along.

@bicycle- Can’t articulate any rights that you’ve lost? Didn’t even try?


Sorry, I see no reason for the paranoia the NSA critics offer. Nothing there but fear, conjecture, speculation, uncertainty, skepticism, innuendo,  and suspicion, for example. No evidence of wrongdoing, though. None.

Snowden revealed that our government spies on enemies and friends as well. BFD. All advanced nations have done that for decades.

He’s just trying to find some way for his 15-minutes of fame and fortune. He’s now trying to sell his story which is mostly known. His use-by date has passed. Only fools continue to believe him. He is damaging our nation’s national security. He will live out his life in infamy.

John Henry Bicycle Lucas

Oct. 27, 2013, 10:01 p.m.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ibpdwFjPMWE

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TbNIU2KEz4g


The second video is shorter, and makes it simple to understand what is in store for us if we continue on our current course as a nation.

This article is part of an ongoing investigation:
Surveillance

Surveillance

ProPublica investigates the threats to privacy in an era of cellphones, data mining and cyberwar.

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