Cross-Posted from Washington’s Blog.
We’ve extensively documented that mass surveillance does NOT help prevent terror attacks.
Top experts have said that treating everyone like a potential terrorist WEAKENS our ability to protect America.
The former head of the NSA’s global intelligence gathering operations – William Binney – says that the current spying program not only violates Americans’ privacy, but sucks up so much data that it INTERFERES with the government’s ability to catch bad guys.
Binney told Washington’s Blog:
The zone of suspects was for us limited to two degrees (hops). Beyond that increases the problem exponentially. So, three hops is going much too far.
In the following brief excerpt from an interview by PBS NewsHour, Binney explains that over-the-top spying actually interfered with the government’s ability to stop the Boston bombing:
Judy Woodruff: You know the government says that it is only doing this to keep us safe. This is the only way we can have that information at our fingertips when we then have a reason to believe that someone would do this country or its people harm.
Binney: That in my mind has been nonsense from the beginning. Because we had zero problem tracking all of these terrorists all along. We had no difficulty doing that.
And I left those principles in place at the NSA when I retired there. One was to use the 2 degree principle for zones of suspicion. That is, if a terrorist called someone in the U.S., that was the first degree from the terrorist. And the second degree was who that terrorist called inside the United States.
So far, all of the testimony I’ve been listening to by people down in D.C. about this program – and they refer to different cases they’ve been talking about, in terms of terrorists – everyone one fit into that zone of suspicion. None of them were outside it.
The rest of it means they’re collecting more data, making the haystack so much bigger so that’s making it more difficult to find the needles. That’s why they’re missing people, like the bombers in Boston.
Similarly, Israeli-American terrorism expert Barry Rubins points out:
What is most important to understand about the revelations of massive message interception by the U.S. government is this:
In counterterrorist terms, it is a farce. Basically the NSA, as one of my readers suggested, is the digital equivalent of the TSA strip-searching an 80 year-old Minnesota grandmothers rather than profiling and focusing on the likely terrorists.
There is a fallacy behind the current intelligence strategy of the United States, the collection of massive amounts of phone calls, emails, and even credit card expenditures, up to 3 billion phone calls a day alone, not to mention the government spying on the mass media. It is this:
The more quantity of intelligence, the better it is for preventing terrorism.
In the real, practical world this is—though it might seem counterintuitive—untrue.
And isn’t it absurd that the United States can’t finish a simple border fence to keep out potential terrorists, can’t stop a would-be terrorist in the U.S. army who gives a power point presentation on why he is about to shoot people (Major Nadal Hassan), can’t follow up on Russian intelligence warnings about Chechen terrorist contacts (the Boston bombing), or a dozen similar incidents must now collect every telephone call in the country?
It is not the quantity of material that counts but the need to locate and correctly understand the most vital material.
If one looks at the great intelligence failures of the past, these two points quickly become obvious. Take for example the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. U.S. naval intelligence had broken Japanese codes. They had the information needed to conclude the attack would take place. Yet a focus on the key to the problem was not achieved. The important messages were not read and interpreted; the strategic mindset of the leadership was not in place.
So what needs to be in place, again, is to focus on the highest priority material, to analyze correctly what is available, to have leaders accept it, and to act.
If, however, the material is almost limitless, that actually weakens a focus on the most needed intelligence regarding the most likely terrorist threats. Imagine, for example, going through billions of telephone calls even with high-speed computers rather than, say, following up a tip from Russian intelligence on a young Chechen man in Boston who is in contact with terrorists or, for instance, the communications between a Yemeni al-Qaida leader and a U.S. army major who is assigned as a psychiatrist to Fort Hood.
That is why the old system of getting warrants, focusing on individual email addresses, or sites, or telephones makes sense, at least if it is only used properly. Then those people who are communicating with known terrorists can be traced further. There are no technological magic spells.