Wyden: We Proved that “Unique” and “Vital” Information Wasn’t in 2011

I should have some analysis on the documents James Clapper released yesterday.

But it’s worth pointing to Ron Wyden’s analysis. He notes that the two documents on bulk collection programs — one from 2009 and one from 2011, both of which covered the Internet and phone metadata programs — both boasted of how unique and valuable the information was.

The briefing documents that were provided to Congress in December 2009 and February 2011 clearly stated that both the bulk email records and bulk phone records collection programs were “unique in that they can produce intelligence not otherwise available to NSA.” The 2009 briefing document went on to state that the two programs “provide a vital capability to the Intelligence Community,” and the 2011 briefing document stated that they provided “an important capability.”

The problem is, by the end of 2011, Wyden and Mark Udall had been able to prove that the Intelligence Community had oversold the value of the Internet metadata program, which led to its termination.

Senator Mark Udall and I have long been concerned about the impact of bulk collection on Americans’ privacy and civil liberties, and we spent a significant portion of 2011 pressing the Intelligence Community to provide evidence to support the claims that they had made about the bulk email records program. They were unable to do so, and the program was shut down due to a lack of operational value, as senior intelligence officials have now publicly confirmed.

This experience demonstrated that intelligence agencies’ assessments of the usefulness of particular collection programs – even significant ones – are not always accurate.

So while the government thought these documents would prove how controlled these programs are (aspects of them don’t), Wyden demonstrates that they show the IC lies about the usefulness of programs when they talk to Congress about them.

Which is, Patrick Leahy suggested in yesterday’s hearing, what the IC appears to be doing when invoking 54 plots to justify the 215 phone dragnet, which has only been tied to 12 plots.

Which is an interesting dynamic to proceed today’s meeting between Obama, Wyden, Udall, Dianne Feinstein, Saxby Chambliss, Bob Goodlatte, James Sensenbrenner, Dutch Ruppersberger, and Mike Rogers.

The presence of Sensenbrenner is key: to the extent they still exist, he’s a mainstream Republican. And he’s furious about the 215 program that he himself shepherded through Congress in 2006. So I would assume today’s meeting is an effort to develop the White House’s plan to phase out the dragnet.

All that said, Obama has clearly gamed the results, by inviting more of the surveillance champions than he did critics (and apparently House Democrats don’t count anymore).

Obama probably won’t see this through his bubble, but the day before this meeting Wyden demonstrated that the basis for the rosy tales DiFi and the other Gang of Four members are telling are claims from the IC that have since been discredited.

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

    Thought this tweet about summed it up:

    Julian Sanchez ‏@normative 31 Jul

    “I did not have sexual relations with that woman. Under this program. Today.” #clapperstyle

  2. Clark Hilldale says:

    Ellen Nakashima in this morning’s WaPo says that it was not 54, nor 12, but one plot that was thwarted. And that one is probably looking really shaky.

    To what extent are Americans expected to believe the lies, misrepresentations, etc. from the IC? Does their credibility ever become tarnished? Five O’Clock Follies, Iraq WMD, et al. are not exactly trivial matters.

    Also, in light of the fact that many experts – including the ACLU/NYCLU in their SDNY complaint against Clapper, Alexander, Hagel, Holder and Mueller (in their official capacities) – are making credible declarations that the “mass call program” is a violation of Section 215 and the First and Fourth Amendments, shouldn’t the proper media framing of Edward Snowden be not “traitor”, “whistleblower”, or “hero”, but “a witness to crimes”?

    A witness who is being intimidated by the perpetrators of the crimes.

  3. Mindrayge says:

    Considering the people in that meeting I expect that the intent is the opposite. That this will be an attempt to get Wyden, Udall, and Sensenbrenner on board with creating “sensible protections that balance privacy with national security”.

  4. JThomason says:

    For some time I have wondered about consequences being so patently absent in the context of illegal action taken in the context of DC politics and now in the larger field of neo-imperial military deployments. The arising of the presence of a corporate shield in criminal prosecutions is questionable in the same light, though I am not sure this holds as strongly as the culture of denial in Washington.

    I have wondered how it came about, hmm, lets say “historically”. Perhaps the Clinton impeachment was the move that raised the DC stakes in a shot across the bow of the ship of state that awakened a kind of realization that politically the players were locked into an approach of the specter of an escalating willingness to engage in a tedious species of “mutually assured destruction” and that the traditional DC fire walls in the post Watergate milieu were vulnerable to scorched earth retaliations. I can’t help but think that the imperial theorists that emerged in the ’60s who provided the ideological foundation for Neo-Con politics and the agenda of the New American Century pressed this breach of comity in governance which had maintained a bright line Constitutional sense of legality that framed the results that the Watergate scandal embodied. Or maybe the change I am noting is a consequence of information fluorescence which contributes to the possibility of this kind of framing now that the machinations in Europe post 1945 are coming to light. See for example Savage Continent by Lowe and the comment about the culture of access by JohnJ a couple of threads ago. http://www.emptywheel.net/2013/07/31/is-this-what-wyden-meant-by-allowing-the-nsa-to-deliberately-search-for-records-of-particular-americans/#comment-577524

    Truth has always been a volatile commodity in governance. The capacity of “the People” to insist on governance based on truth is the Constitutional challenge in the context of democracy. I wonder how the Constitutional reforms in Iceland are progressing?

  5. thatvisionthing says:

    The presence of Sensenbrenner is key: to the extent they still exist, he’s a mainstream Republican. And he’s furious about the 215 program that he himself shepherded through Congress in 2006.

    Real furious or kabuki furious?

  6. klynn says:

    Furious because how will he politically recover? He can try furious and bait the ” righteous anger” facade but it still makes him look inept to voters.

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