Ron Wyden Calls Bullshit on Mike Rogers’ Claims

Mike Rogers, in an effort to defend his efforts to approve and hide dragnet collection on all Americans for years, claimed today that the dragnet prevented a terrorist attack.

“Within the last few years, this program was used to stop a terrorist attack in the United States. We know that. It’s important. It fills in a little seam that we have,” Rogers told reporters Thursday. ”And it’s used to make sure that there is not an international nexus to any terrorism event if there may be one ongoing. So in that regard, it is a very valuable thing,” Rogers said.

When pressed later for more details, Rogers said the committee is “working on trying to get this declassified in a way that we can provide more information. We’re not there yet. But it was a significant case that happened within the last few years.”

Get this: Rogers’ defense argues it makes sense to conduct dragnet surveillance of 310 million Americans for 7 years (plus the 5 years Bush did so illegally), all to thwart one terrorist plot.

One. Plot.

21 million person-years of call data collected since 2006.

One plot.

In his statement, Ron Wyden is a lot more skeptical that this program is so valuable.

The American people have a right to know whether their government thinks that the sweeping, dragnet surveillance that has been alleged in this story is allowed under the law and whether it is actually being conducted. Furthermore, they have a right to know whether the program that has been described is actually of value in preventing attacks. Based on several years of oversight, I believe that its value and effectiveness remain unclear.

Hey, I’d say that one plot over 7 years — especially when you consider how many banksters have done trillions of damage while FBI and NSA have been fiddling with the call records of innocent people — is the definition of a waste of time and resources.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

13 replies
  1. GulfCoastPirate says:

    So what is the best guess as to what NSA is collecting from our Internet usage?

  2. Frank33 says:

    Embedded NSA shill Pete Williams received a “Leak”. Williams should be investigated. The Guardian and Glenzilla will be investigated in order to prosecute them to the full extent of the law.

    The words used are interesting. This release of a “sensitive” document “triggers” an investigation. Obviously, someone at Verizon or DOJ or the White House is doing the leaking.

    The Comedy Team of Williams and Todd are really not very funny.

    On MSNBC’s “Daily Rundown” later Thursday morning, Williams slightly walked back his earlier comments from certainty to near certainty. “It seems highly likely this will trigger a leak investigation,” he told host Chuck Todd.

    While no investigation is yet underway, Williams said, “It just seems very likely, given the sensitivity of this document, that there will be one.”

  3. lefty665 says:

    @GulfCoastPirate: All of it all the time, plus every electronic transaction, financial and otherwise.

    @JTMinIA You’re right on the number of people years, and…

    to get the scale of the collection gotta multiply by the average number of transactions per person per year .

    310mm x 7 x avg # transactions = xxTrillion

    That’s likely pretty expensive. Add to that our cost of killing people all over the world, (many civilians – women, old folks, children) that generates most of the terror and it adds up to real money. No wonder we need to sequester meals on wheels and pre school programs domestically.

  4. orionATL says:

    Well we already know what plot that was. I believe ew’s discussed it here – maybe on of the foiled airplane attacks’?

    Which ever one it was, the question is still why the hell do you need a bottom-dragging purse net to catch a few fish to fry?

    I wonder what what some really astute security specialists would say would be clever, effective tools to use.

  5. Greg Bean (@GregLBean) says:

    It’s time to call bullshit on the whole terror-attack-prevention industry.

    If one looks at the industry around terror-attack-prevention as insurance, the whole ‘terrorism’ thing becomes astonishing irrational.

    The chance is 1 in 40 million that you will die from a terrorist act, but 1 in 5,000 that you will die from automobile or gun.

    The amount of money being lavished on this terror-attack-prevention insurance is astonishing.

    Imagine being able to create a business that earns gazillions to ensure that you are protected against a 1 in 40 million chance. An industry that then does not have to pay out when it fails to do so. An industry that with each failure gets to increase the insurance premium by demanding increased efforts in terror-attack-prevention.

    That is insurance fraud of the highest order.

    And it’s based on an insurance-company-induced psychosis; they promote the fear.

    That’s the terror-attack-prevention industry in a nutshell.

    And then there is this angle:

  6. lefty665 says:

    Harry Reid: “Right now I think everyone should just calm down and understand this isn’t anything that’s brand new,”
    Feinstein: “It’s called protecting America.”
    Chambliss: “Every member of the United States Senate has been advised of this, and to my knowledge we have not had any citizen who has registered a complaint relative to the gathering of this information.”

    No wonder Holder sees nothing wrong with AP, Risen, Rosen, Drake, Kiriakau et al. The Administration, Congress and Judiciary have all been in on the joke.

    The American people didn’t know because they haven’t been paying attention and the press have mostly been bought and paid for presstitutes.

    Nothing to see here, please move along and go back to sleep sheep.

  7. phred says:

    @Greg Bean (@GregLBean): Do you happen to have a citation for the 1 in 40 million risk? I’ve looked but never managed to find a good one. I suspect the risk is even lower than that, but I don’t have a good data set to work out the numbers myself…

    This gets back to the axe I’ve been grinding for years about the TSA, the risk of a terrorist attack is so vanishingly small that the ridiculous (and unconstitutional) airline screening process cannot statistically signifcantly reduce the risk further.

    Austerity for useful things, infinite money for destructive things. Not only should Obama be impeached but the members of Congress and the judiciary who approved all of this as well. Sigh. I don’t have any faith left at all in the ability of the federal government to act in the public interest. Ever.

  8. Ben Franklin says:


    It’s more a gill-net capturing all species and having reckless disregard for the non-targeted fishies, while seeking that one coelacanth in the vast seas of data.

  9. Greg Bean (@GregLBean) says:

    @phred: Here is a report that puts it at 1 in 9 million.

    “According to the Council on Foreign Relations, 33 U.S. citizens were killed worldwide in 2008 from terrorism. There were 301,579,895 Americans living on U.S. soil in 2008, so the risk of dying from terrorist attacks in 2008 was 1 in 9,138,785.”

    I was using a a figure of 8 people per year, out of 320 million as 1 in 40 million. I cannot right now put my hand on the article but will keep looking. It covered a longer period, with many terror-death free years thus reducing the average from 33 per year to the 8 I used.

  10. phred says:

    @Greg Bean (@GregLBean): Thanks! There are different ways to go about calculating risk and for what it’s worth, I don’t particularly like the approach used to get the 1 in 9 million number.

    If you are going to use the base number as the number of Americans living on U.S. soil, then you need to know how many U.S. citizens were killed on U.S. soil by terrorism. The risk then would obviously be quite a bit smaller.

    Looks to me like the Council on Foreign Relations was trying to fluff their number.

  11. nonplussed says:

    @Greg Bean: It’s time to call bullshit on the whole terror-attack-prevention industry. Absolutely! My first thought, once I realized what was happening, was the fear of Government overreaction. Those fears certainly have been realized, far exceeding my unimaginative scenarios.

    As you say, the “Fear!” Industry has been an amazingly lucrative business for privileged insiders.

    @phred: I have always believed the Council on Foreign Relations will tailor their “facts” to meet situational requirements.

  12. Mungencakes says:

    Saw a tweet where a maths guy applied Baynes Theorem of probability to the internet dragnet. Being extremely generous with the rate of actual terrorists in the population, they would need to investigate 10,000 suspected bad guys to find 1. That is at least 9,999 false positives for every jag-off with a bomb.

    Could turn out to be expensive this way.

    The odds are a lot higher than that since it’s probable that serious terrorists don’t pepper their communications with phrases likely to cause suspicion.

    And if innocent people started intentionally putting such phrases in their email signatures (bomb, fuse, or Allahu Akbar for instance) the odds would be even higher.

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