The Washington Post has a front-page story on Sunday about NSA surveillance activities. It’s a lengthy, detailed story, but it’s also a bit convoluted and frustrating. It hints at the nature of the NSA’s activities without really revealing much more about them than what we already know.
The article is sympathetic in some respects to the administration’s defense of their activities. It highlights changes in technology since FISA, such as the growth in fiber-optic cable, that rendered the old methods of collection obsolete. But it also makes clear that the administration avoided pathways that could have shifted the NSA’s activities into a legally-vetted framework, with checks and balances, rather than leaving it in the shadows.
The last part of the article questions the whole idea that data analysis can play a useful role in counterterrorism-related intelligence. It discusses the limits of tools such as link analysis and pattern analysis, and looks at whether there might be new modes of analysis, such as decomposing the audio signal and analyzing peoples’ voices for deception, that might be useful.
Overall, no blockbuster revelations in the story – but it adds a few details and some good perspective to the NSA story, and is worth a read.