The NSA admitted in Congressional testimony this week that they were deliberately “collect[ing] data about ordinary Americans’ cellphone locations,” in a test program that lasted from 2010 to 2011.
Collecting data about the cellphone locations of ordinary Americans. The NSA targeted ordinary Americans. This is quite a departure from what the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has repeatedly insisted, that data about ordinary Americans may get inadvertently swept up in the process of targeting terrorists or foreigners.
In an interview after his testimony, NSA chief Gen. Keith Alexander told the Washington Post that they discontinued the program because “we couldn’t find…operational value out of it.”
Did you get that? They didn’t shut down the program because it, say, violated the privacy rights of American citizens. They didn’t do it out of conscience. No, they shut it down because it wasn’t as useful as they thought it would be.
But Alexander wants you to know, as he said in testimony, “This may be something that may be a future requirement for the country, but it is not right now…”
Well, I feel better.
After all that has been revealed since Edward Snowden’s heroic leaks, Americans have little reason to be surprised about each new NSA revelation, no matter how much more egregious it makes the previous one seem. But this confession comes just days after another NSA program, also begun in 2010, was revealed. In this program, which is still ongoing, the NSA “has been exploiting its huge collections of data to create sophisticated graphs of some Americans’ social connections that can identify their associates, their locations at certain times, their traveling companions and other personal information,” as reported by James Risen and Laura Poitras in the New York Times.
The agency can augment the communications data with material from public, commercial and other sources, including bank codes, insurance information, Facebook profiles, passenger manifests, voter registration rolls and GPS location information, as well as property records and unspecified tax data, according to the documents. They do not indicate any restrictions on the use of such “enrichment” data, and several former senior Obama administration officials said the agency drew on it for both Americans and foreigners.
N.S.A. officials declined to say how many Americans have been caught up in the effort, including people involved in no wrongdoing.
This program still exists, so I suppose it proved “valuable” in spying on Americans.
The proportions of the NSA’s unconstitutional domestic surveillance apparatus are wider and grander than almost anybody conceived prior to these disclosures. And yet, the “real story,” as Sen. Ron Wyden put it, is still being hidden from us.
“After years of stonewalling on whether the government has ever tracked or planned to track the location of law abiding Americans through their cellphones, once again, the intelligence leadership has decided to leave most of the real story secret — even when the truth would not compromise national security,” Wyden said in a statement on Wednesday.
In addition to being able to track the geographic location of any “ordinary American,” the NSA is grabbing 75% of all Internet traffic, the Wall Street Journal reported in August, including in some cases “the written content of emails sent between citizens within the U.S.” Former NSA analyst Russell Tice put it this way: the NSA is “collecting everything.”
What is the Obama administration’s official line on the NSA scandal as of this date? Just as he said on Jay Leno back in August: “There is no spying on Americans.”