The hits keep on coming from The New York Times on the intelligence and homeland security beat. The latest story today provides the FBI’s perspective on December’s revelations about the NSA: namely, that it was not an effective program in terms of law enforcement outcomes –
But the results of the program look very different to some officials charged with tracking terrorism in the United States. 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.
“We’d chase a number, find it’s a schoolteacher with no indication they’ve ever been involved in international terrorism – case closed,” said one former F.B.I. official, who was aware of the program and the data it generated for the bureau. “After you get a thousand numbers and not one is turning up anything, you get some frustration.”
The article notes how NSA was forced to disguise the source of its leads to such an extent that it hindered the FBI’s ability to discern how it should respond to leads. This is another data point in support of the key argument in my initial response to the NSA story: that fighting the war on terror by taking ‘short cuts’ or operating in a legal grey zone is ultimately the less effective strategy for combating the threats that we face. There’s something inherently wrong with a system where you can’t even trust the nation’s lead law enforcement agency with any context on collected intelligence.
There’s a wealth of additional detail in the piece that advances the NSA story; it’s definitely worth a read.