[Orin Kerr, January 17, 2006 at 9:30am] Trackbacks
The Effectiveness of the NSA Surveillance Progam:
The NYT has an interesting story on the questionable effectiveness of the NSA domestic surveillance program as seen by officials within the FBI. A few excerpts:
. . . More than a dozen current and former law enforcement and counterterrorism officials, including some in the small circle who knew of the secret program and how it played out at the F.B.I., said the torrent of tips led them to few potential terrorists inside the country they did not know of from other sources and diverted agents from counterterrorism work they viewed as more productive.This is an interesting story, although I'm not quite sure what to make of it. If the spying program led to the discovery of "a few terrorists," is the real story that the program only led to a few terrorists, or is it that the program successfully led to the discovery of terrorist cells inside the United States? The Times opts for the former, but it's not immediately obvious to me why they don't opt for the latter. Second, I'm a little bit skeptical of the sourcing for this article. Turf battles can create inter-agency friction, and a New York Times piece based on anonymous sources can provide excellent cover for fighting the battle over turf. I would want to know what kind of turf battles are going on within the government between the NSA and FBI before knowing how much to trust the views of anonymous FBI insiders about the work of the NSA. The story is helpful, and may be quite accurate, but I'm a bit cautious about this one.
. . . [T]he comments on the N.S.A. program from the law enforcement and counterterrorism officials, many of them high level, are the first indication that the program was viewed with skepticism by key figures at the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the agency responsible for disrupting plots and investigating terrorism on American soil. . . . .
Officials who were briefed on the N.S.A. program said the agency collected much of the data passed on to the F.B.I. as tips by tracing phone numbers in the United States called by suspects overseas, and then by following the domestic numbers to other numbers called. In other cases, lists of phone numbers appeared to result from the agency's computerized scanning of communications coming into and going out of the country for names and keywords that might be of interest. The deliberate blurring of the source of the tips caused some frustration among those who had to follow up.