The NSA made a heart-warming public appeal on NPR, expressing their intention to become more transparent and accountable. They also pleaded with the American people to allow them to maintain their current level of privacy intrusion.
John C. Inglis, current deputy director of the NSA, acted as spokesperson. His comments did not fill me with confidence. Take for instance, this gem:
We have to actually kind of be more transparent going forward, so the American public understands what we do, why we do it, how we do it.
“Have to actually kind of be more transparent”? Hmmmm. Hedge much? But that isn’t all. The most hilarious part of the interview had to be when Inglis admitted that the metadata collection has not been particularly effective. In his own words:
I’ve been asked on a number of occasions, do you have a but-for case? Can you say that was the silver bullet, right, that but-for the existence of the metadata you would not have uncovered a plot? There’s a candidate for that, which is the plot that was exposed in San Diego. I think we were able to essentially tell the FBI that an individual was materially involved in terrorism that they had, three years prior, investigated based on a tip and kind of laid that case to rest.
And but for the 215 Program, which we essentially tied that individual to some foreign terrorist activity overseas, the FBI would have let that case lain1 fallow for quite sometime. Now I cannot tell you that that wouldn’t have turned up some other way. There wouldn’t have been some other tool in the tool kit.
Okay. So the metadata collection program maybe resulted in thwarting exactly one plot. One. Not even for sure. But, at most, the metadata program thwarted one terrorist plot. That is not glowing praise by any means. Given its cost, both financially and politically, one would think the NSA director would immediately turn to the obvious: the metadata program, being both useless and unethical, should be dismantled. No such luck. I’ll give the NSA one thing, they are doggedly committed to their metadata collection:
But the question remains as to whether you’re going to have a capability to find something that is the connection of a foreign plot to a domestic extension of that plot. I have an insurance policy on my house. I’m happy to say that I’ve not collected on that insurance policy, at least for purposes of fire or significant damage2 in the 25 years I’ve lived in that house.
But I’m not going to give that insurance policy up, because it’s a necessary component to cover a seam that I can’t otherwise cover.
Okay. But people have home insurance because fires, floods, and the like have been known to happen pretty often. But if I had an insurance policy to cover asteroid damage and it cost me $30,000 a month, some people might start to question my sanity. Even if that insurance covered a seam I couldn’t otherwise cover.
The director’s noble efforts to reassure me concerning the metadata program have left me even more convinced that it is an intrusive, expensive, unconstitutional, and largely useless program that has been abused by an agency in desperate need of closer and more vigilant supervision. I hope the American people do not sleep on this.