Richard Clarke Alludes to the Real Costs of the Dragnet

New America Foundation did a study of 225 terrorist plots to try to discern the source of the investigation. There are numerous obvious flaws to the study — many of which stem from the government’s own efforts to obscure the sources of what they do, some of which stem from a lack of awareness about how the government responded to other tips by collecting more NSA intelligence, some of which stem from ignoring the dragnet that existed in illegal form before the FISC-approved one.

With those caveats, NAF finds what has been reported for months: only the Basaaly Moalin’s provision of less than $10,000 to al-Shabaab stemmed from the phone dragnet.

Which provides the WaPo with another opportunity to report this as news. I’ll take it: any little bit helps!

WaPo and NAF also report what I reported 5 months ago: that the government delayed 2 months after identifying Moalin’s ties indirectly to Aden Ayro before wiretapping him. Remember, they say they need the dragnet to avoid delays in investigation.

Perhaps the most interesting part of WaPo’s report on this, though, are Richard Clarke’s comments. As a follow-up on the NSA Review Group’s comment on the risk to quality of life posed by the dragnet, Clarke claims the dragnet would still be too intrusive if it had contributed to every plot.

“Although we might be safer if the government had ready access to a massive storehouse of information about every detail of our lives, the impact of such a program on the quality of life and on individual freedom would simply be too great,” the group’s report said.

Said Clarke: “Even if NSA had solved every one of the [terrorist] cases based on” the phone collection, “we would still have proposed the changes.”

This is actually a fairly stunning comment (and not one, I suspect, Mike Morell, who is also quoted, would support). Even if the dragnet had identified every potential terrorist plot, Clarke says, it would still be too intrusive.

I think the dragnet is plenty intrusive — and I think plenty of the ways it infringes on privacy are those not accounted in NAF’s analysis (such as the use of the dragnet to pick targets for informants or conduct back door searches). Still: to suggest the dragnet would not be worth every single one of these leads?

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.

10 replies
  1. Greg Bean (@GregLBean) says:

    As a second thought, I don’t believe for a moment that anyone in power really gives a damn about death-from-terrorist-attack so their using that as a justification for the intrusion is a furphy.

    What they care about are the other benefits this intrusion provides;
    – elimination of ANY dissent or activism, especially environmental, due to the economic damage to major corporations that may result from such dissent / activism
    – economic gain through corporate espionage and unfair advantage.

    Either or both of these justify the intrusion and I am confident it is these two factors that most worry those who say they are defending intrusive surveillance because …. terror terror terror.

    It’s always been about the money.

    I do like the stat that says you are 8 times more likely to be killed by a policeman than a terrorist. That about sums it all up.

  2. pdaly says:

    Clarke sounds like Snowden, arguing for privacy protections for the population. Except Clarke had this to say about Snowden 1/05/2014:

    ““His supporters say he may have violated the law, but it can be forgiven,” said Richard A. Clarke, a former White House counterterrorism adviser who served on the panel. “I don’t think it can be. In any outcome here, he’s going to serve time. The only question here is how much.””
    http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/05/us/moves-to-curb-spying-help-drive-the-clemency-argument-for-snowden.html?_r=0

    Without Snowden’s actions, Clarke wouldn’t be in a position to be making recommendations on the task force.

  3. kris says:

    I think Clarke has made a much needed statement – a “reset”, if you will, of our thinking back to where it might have been pre-2001. The longer you read about terrorism and especially about plots and counter-terrorism activities, the more your thinking is dragged into their world without even realizing it. I think this is a valuable way to move the goal line back and remember what the larger conversation is really about.

  4. C says:

    @orionATL: Matt Taibbi came up with the catchy “Bubble City” which I think nicely emphasizes the fact that the inhabitants tend to view the rest of the world through a nice thick, and highly distorted piece of glass. And that people, once they are in, never really leave they just shuttle from gig to gig as if they know what they are doing.

  5. LeMoyne says:

    The Fourth Amendment is clear:

    The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated…

    There is no trade of privacy for security. The dragnet system trades everyone’s personal security now for putative potential benefits later. That’s beyond a bad trade – it is just a loss of personal security.

    One might indulge in hairsplitting about phone calls and emails not being on the list, but “papers” was clearly meant to include correspondence. “Effects” usually means tangible things, and yes, the legal sophistry behind these programs treats electronically stored phone metadata and emails as tangible things. They certainly are effects of human action and interaction. Clearly, phone calls and emails are the correspondence that the 4th was intended to protect.

    The 4th also makes no distinction between gov’t and corporation: the ‘right to be secure’ is absolute with the sole exception being for warrants which presumably only the government can exercise. The fact that the programs are implemented by secret arrangements where corporations actually do all the collection – to foment graft and preserve gov’t deniability – this creates such an obscene perversion of the Constitution that even national security hawks like Clarke can’t abide it.

  6. orionATL says:

    @C:

    :)

    your comment (and taibbi’s nomenclature) brought to mind one of those old snowflake paperweights with the denizens of follytown (happily) constrained forever inside that thick glass spere.

    “paperweight city” – in both meanings of the term :)

  7. bloodypitchfork says:

    @orionATL: Follyville. Population: Humans 0, Cockroaches Uncountable,
    @LeMoyne: quote”The 4th also makes no distinction between gov’t and corporation: the ‘right to be secure’ is absolute with the sole exception being for warrants which presumably only the government can exercise. The fact that the programs are implemented by secret arrangements where corporations actually do all the collection – to foment graft and preserve gov’t deniability – this creates such an obscene perversion of the Constitution that even national security hawks like Clarke can’t abide it.”unquote

    And the award for Best Cognitive Dissonance for 2014 goes to….. :)

    Now if we can only break the encryption of mass delusion in the Judicial branch.

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