Terrorist Hobgoblins Bite the Intelligence Community in Its Efficacy Ass

I just finished watching the House Intelligence Committee hearing on the NSA programs revealed by Edward Snowden. I’ll have a lot more to say about the content of the revelations in the next few days. But first, a general observation.

Since the initial Snowden revelations, the Intelligence Community and other Administration surrogates have been trying to minimize our understanding of the scope of their surveillance and use traditional fearmongering to justify the programs by focusing on the importance of the Section 702 collection to stopping terrorism. While James Clapper’s office has made it clear that Section 702 goes beyond counterterrorism by revealing that its  successes include counterproliferation and cybersecurity successes, as well as counterterrorism ones, the focus has nevertheless been on TERROR TERROR TERROR.

Today’s hearing was really the culmination of that process, when Keith Alexander boasted up upwards of 50 terrorist plots — about 40 of which were overseas — that Section 702 has prevented.

Of the four plots the government has revealed — David Headley, Najibullah Zazi, as well as these two today

Mr. Joyce described a plot to blow up the New York Stock Exchange by a Kansas City man, whom the agency was able to identify because he was in contact with “an extremist” in Yemen who was under surveillance. Mr. Joyce also talked about a San Diego man who planned to send financial support to a terrorist group in Somalia, and who was identified because the N.S.A. flagged his phone number as suspicious through its database of all domestic phone call logs, which was brought to light by Mr. Snowden’s disclosures.

… the government has either overblown the importance of these programs and their success or are fairly minor plots.

None of the four may be as uniquely worthwhile as the cyberattack described by Clapper’s office a week ago, which it has not, however, fleshed out.

Communications collected under Section 702 have provided significant and unique intelligence regarding potential cyber threats to the United States, including specific potential network computer attacks. This insight has led to successful efforts to mitigate these threats.

That is, the government might–might!–be able to make a far better case for the value of these programs in discussing their role in preventing cyberattacks rather than preventing terrorist plots.

And yet it hasn’t done so, even as it pushes one after another attempt to legislate internet access in the name of protecting Intellectual Property and critical infrastructure.

Given the increasing focus on cybersecurity — and the already dishonest claims people like Mike Rogers have made about the means to accomplish that focus — this is the discussion we need to be having, rather than digging up terror plots first developed in 2004 that never happened. But in the same way the government shied away from conducting an honest discussion with us in 2001 and again in 2006 about these programs, it is refusing to conduct an honest discussion about cybersecurity today.

And, ironically, that refusal is preventing them from describing the value of a program that surely contributes more to countering cyberattacks than terror attacks at this point.

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Emptywheel Twitterverse
JimWhiteGNV RT @AP_Sports: Why does A's pitcher Pat Venditte need this odd-looking glove? http://t.co/gNUb3AkVPZ (@JanieMcCAP) http://t.co/YWYy5Zcu9q
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emptywheel @remesdh That's why this should be general rule. Both parties do it. No reason we should be surveilled if they're not.
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emptywheel @remesdh It was never proven but I'm fairly sure they went back and doctored emails on Plame outing, destroyed several days.
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emptywheel I blame @joshgerstein for Hillary's email failures. If he weren't so damned insistent on reading Bill's emails, she might have followed law
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emptywheel Good thing Hillary didn't preside over agency that had 250,000 poorly secured emails stole--oh wait. She did?!?!
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emptywheel Oh wait?!?! That's too extreme? Well, consider it fire insurance for transparency. My house has never burned, but I have insurance anyway.
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emptywheel All govt agencies, all pols, will have email retained by NSA in a "lock box" with a "golden key" for 30 years (FBI retention term).
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emptywheel My new approach to surveillance activism is gonna be to require retention fr pols they demand of mere proles.
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emptywheel RT @johnjcook: we've known for two years that hillary conducted state business on an off-the-books email acct http://t.co/Xph2vpvePK
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emptywheel When multiple people simultaneously use the same dorky word in online twips about propaganda.
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emptywheel Guess there's no way to arrange for both Menendez and Rice to lose in a battle bt two of them AND to have GOP net loss? #AskingForAFriend
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