So here's what happens with that program. The program is essentially walled off within the NSA. There are limited numbers of people who have access to it. The only thing taken, as has been correctly expressed, is not content of a conversation, but the information that is generally on your telephone bill, which has been held not to be private personal property by the Supreme Court.This first statement actually appears to be false. According to the Edward Snowden, the whistleblower who leaked this information in the first place, all this data was quite accesible to a large number of people.
As Snowden told The Guardian in a videotaped interview: "When you're in positions of privileged access, like a systems administrator, for these sort of intelligence community agencies, you're exposed to a lot more information on a broader scale than the average employee ... Anybody in the positions of access with the technical capabilities that I had could, you know, suck out secrets."Let's remember, Edward Snowden is a 29 year old high school dropout, and he had access to all this classified information after just 3 months on the job with the defense contractor Booze Allen Hamilton. This is not intended as a criticism of Snowden, but merely to put the lie to Sen. Feinstein's comments about the limited access to this program. As Julian Sanchez put it:
Though, if you DO think Snowden is a traitorous criminal, shouldn't you be concerned about a system that gave him keys to the spy machine?Feinstein then goes on to discuss a few cases in which the program has been used:
— Julian Sanchez (@normative) June 10, 2013
So, the program has been used. Two cases have been declassified. One of them is the case of David Headley, who went to Mumbai, to the Taj hotel, and scoped it out for the terrorist attack.The case of David Headley is quite interesting and there are a few things worth noting. First, Headley was a DEA informant. Second, the Mumbai terrorist attacks Feinstein mentions were successful Thus, one example of the program in action was to track down a DEA informant who had slipped through the cracks to successfully commit a wide-scale terrorist attack in Mumbai. Needless to say, if the best example of this program in action is finding a former informants who went on to successfully commit acts of terror, I am unclear what benefit the program is supposed to serve. If it can't even be used to prevent an attack, I am not sure what the point of trading away my privacy was.
Feinstein's second example involves a terrorist plot to blow up the New York Subway. I won't go into to many details about this example, but there are definitely some suspicious aspects of this case.
Feinstein concludes her defense of this program with the ultimate Red Herring/Appeal to Emotion when she remarks:
Here is the point. And this is why this is so difficult. I flew over World Trade Center going to Senator Lautenberg's funeral, and in the distance was the Statue of Liberty. And I thought of those bodies jumping out of that building, hitting the canopy. Part of our obligation is keeping Americans safe. Human intelligence isn't going to do it, because you can't -- it's a different culture. It is a fanaticism that isn't going to come forward. And so, this kind of strict, strictly overseen -- it's overseen by the Justice Department, by inspectors general, by audits, by a 90-day review, by the court, is looked at as a method. I'm very happy if there's a better way, we will certainly look at it.This last argument is really quite shameful as Sen. Feinstein invokes the specter of 9/11 to justify this program. This strategy is ancient, and was one of the favorite techniques of the Bush administration. Whenever anyone raises questions about a policy, one simply repeats 9/11 over and over again as a way to shut down conversation. This is exactly what Feinstein is doing. If the best argument she can muster to defend this program is to get everyone worked up and frightened, this suggests that the program is probably indefensible.
h/t to Digby