Those who defend the actions of the National Security Agency in collecting domestic phone record in gigantic numbers, including Barack Obama, usually cite the 9/11/2001 terror attack to justify the Agency’s intrusiveness. But Obama came up blank on Friday when he was asked at a news conference if he could name one single case where the NSA program stopped a terrorist attack.
The revealing moment occurred when Reuters’s Mark Felsenthal asked:
As you review how to rein in the National Security Agency, a federal judge says that, for example, the government has failed to cite a single instance in which analysis of the NSA’s bulk metadata actually stopped an imminent attack. Are you able to identify any specific examples when it did so? Are you convinced that the collection of that data is useful to national security to continue as it is?
Obama evaded the question and answered instead:
What I’ve said in the past continues to be the case, which is that the NSA, in executing this program, believed, based on experiences from 9/11, that it was important for us to be able to track, if there was a phone number of a known terrorist outside of the United States calling into the United States, where that call might have gone and that having that data in one place and retained for a certain period of time allowed them to be confident in pursuing various investigations of terrorist threats.
Obamas still focuses on 9/11 without any evidence that the NSA program has justification from a foiled terror attack. He has to; there is no evidence whatsoever of an attack since then that’s been thwarted by the NSA program. As law professor Geoffrey Stone, who served on the presidential task force charged with reviewing NSA programs, told NBC News, the task force tried to find a single incident that would justify the NSA’s actions, but “found none.” The task force’s final report stated:
Our review suggests that the information contributed to terrorist investigations by the use of section 215 telephony meta-data was not essential to preventing attacks and could readily have been obtained in a timely manner using conventional section 215 orders.
Yet former acting CIA Director Michael Morell, appearing on CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday, lauded the NSA for playing a part in thwarting terrorist acts in the U.S. since 9/11. Later in the program Morell admitted that “the program to date has not played a significant role in stopping terrorist attacks in the United States.”