Shortly after the National Security Agency’s broad surveillance of Americans became public knowledge, the Obama Administration and intelligence officials quickly sought to mitigate the damage by telling the public that the collection of phone records helped foil more than 50 terrorist plots.
But during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing last week, NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander admitted that the Obama Administration lied to the public about the number of terrorist attacks that had been prevented by the snooping (emphasis added):
During Wednesday’s hearing, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy pushed Alexander to admit that plot numbers had been fudged in a revealing interchange:
“There is no evidence that [bulk] phone records collection helped to thwart dozens or even several terrorist plots,” said Leahy. The Vermont Democrat then asked the NSA chief to admit that only 13 out of a previously cited 54 cases of foiled plots were genuinely the fruits of the government’s vast dragnet surveillance systems:
“These weren’t all plots, and they weren’t all foiled,” Leahy said, asking Alexander, “Would you agree with that, yes or no?”
“Yes,” replied Alexander.
It has been suspected that the Obama Administration lied about the number of foiled terrorist plots related to bulk data collection. Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Mark Udall (D-CO) acknowledged that some plots had been foiled, according to the Washington Post, but disputed the claim made by the administration, adding that the “bulk phone-records collection is actually providing little or no unique value.”
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) are seeking to end the NSA’s bulk data collection, according to the Washington Times, which would force intelligence agencies “to show that the data it is seeking are relevant to an authorized investigation and involve a foreign agent.”
Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act allows intelligence agencies to seize records related to an actual investigation into terrorist activity. The NSA has claimed that they can collect phone and Internet metadata of virtually all Americans, even if they’re not the subject of an investigation.
Sensenbrenner, the primary author and sponsor of the PATRIOT Act, has been a critic of the NSA’s use of Section 215, calling it “excessive and un-American.” He has since supported measures to rein in the NSA and reform the PATRIOT Act.