NSA Data Mining Has Scant Impact on Preventing Terrorism: Study

Monday, 13 Jan 2014 08:50 PM

By Cynthia Fagen

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The NSA's controversial data mining surveillance program has had almost zero impact on preventing acts of terrorism, according to a study released Monday by New America Foundation, a non-partisan public policy institute.

"Our review of the government’s claims about the role that NSA 'bulk' surveillance of phone and email communications records has had in keeping the United States safe from terrorism shows that these claims are overblown and even misleading," the report said.

The Washington Post reported last month that the National Security Agency tracks the locations of nearly 5 billion cellphones every day overseas, including those belonging to Americans abroad.

The non-profit think-tank analyzed 225 al-Qaida or al-Qaida inspired terrorism cases since 9/11 and under section 215 of the Patriot Act, data mining initiated only 1.8 percent of these cases, "at most."

There is "no discernible impact on preventing acts of terrorism," the report stated.
The metadata collection includes calls made and received from Americans on their phones, includes time and date of those calls, but not their content.

The foundation said the NSA program involving the surveillance of non-U.S. citizens outside of the U.S. under the FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) played a role in only 4.4 percent of terrorism cases that were examined.

"Traditional investigative methods using informants, tips, and targeted intelligence operations provided the initial impetus for investigations in the majority of cases, while the NSA's bulk surveillance programs to these cases were minimal."

It added that telephone metadata did not expedite "the investigative process" in any of the cases they studied.

"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.

"This was true for two of the 9/11 hijackers who were known to be in the United States before the attacks on New York and Washington, as well as with the case of Chicago resident David Coleman Headley, who helped plan the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai," the report says.

"And it is the unfortunate pattern we have also seen in several other significant terrorism cases," the report said.

The Obama administration has been trying to do damage control since NSA leaker Edward Snowden revealed the extent of the NSA's surveillance programs.

Intelligence officials have insisted the bulk surveillance program has been essential in crushing at least 50 potential terrorist events.

President Obama is expected to announce changes to the National Security Agency's metadata surveillance program before he makes his State of the Union address on Jan. 28.

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