Report: NSA data swoop has had minimal counterterrorism role

January 14, 2014 by Nancy Owano weblog
Credit: New America Foundation

( —A report from the New America Foundation National Security Program finds that the NSA's bulk data collection's contribution to prevent terrorism has been minimal and that traditional investigation paths have been more helpful. The 32-page report published Monday looked at 225 terrorism cases, in an attempt to review claims about NSA bulk surveillance of phone and email communications records as playing a role in keeping America safe. The authors did not find that the collection of phone records, had a significant impact on preventing acts of terrorism in the United States. Peter Bergen, David Sterman, Emily Schneider, and Bailey Cahall authored the report titled, "Do NSA's Bulk Surveillance Programs Stop Terrorists?" Bergen is the director of the National Security Program at the New America Foundation. Sterman and Schneider are research assistants and Cahall is a research associate. Commenting on their report on Monday, the authors wrote that their analysis "demonstrates that traditional investigative methods, such as the use of informants, tips from local communities, and targeted intelligence operations, provided the initial impetus for investigations in the majority of cases."

According to their findings, the NSA was responsible for about 7.5 percent of the counter-terrorism investigations that they analyzed. They broke that down further into categories. "The controversial bulk collection of telephone metadata appears to have played an identifiable role in, at most, 1.8 percent of the terrorism cases we examined. In a further 4.4 percent of the cases, NSA surveillance under Section 702 of targets reasonably believed to be outside of the country that were communicating with U.S. citizens or residents likely played a role, while NSA surveillance under an unknown authority likely played a role in 1.3 percent of the cases we examined."

The New America Foundation describes itself as a nonprofit, nonpartisan public policy institute that "invests in new thinkers and new ideas to address the next generation of challenges facing the United States."

One of the issues addressed is the controversy that has taken root over the importance of the NSA's bulk to preventing terrorism.

In their statement about the full report on Monday, the authors said that "Surveillance of American phone metadata has had no discernible impact on preventing acts of terrorism and only the most marginal of impacts on preventing terrorist-related activity, such as fundraising for a terrorist group." They also remarked that the "overall problem for U.S. counterterrorism officials is not that they need vaster amounts of information from the bulk surveillance programs, but that they don't sufficiently understand or widely share the information they already possess that was derived from conventional law enforcement and intelligence techniques."

Explore further: NSA chief open to storing phone data in 'repository'

More information:

Related Stories

Report: NSA collecting millions of contact listss

October 15, 2013

The National Security Agency has been sifting through millions of contact lists from personal email and instant messaging accounts around the world—including those of Americans—in its effort to find possible links to ...

Judge says NSA program is likely unconstitutional

December 16, 2013

In the first ruling of its kind, a federal judge declared Monday that the National Security Agency's bulk collection of Americans' telephone records is likely to violate the U.S. Constitution's ban on unreasonable search. ...

AT&T says it will publish reports on data requests (Update 2)

December 19, 2013

AT&T Inc. says it will publish reports on the number of requests for customer information that it receives from law enforcement agencies, the latest move in the telecommunications industry toward fuller disclosure amid debate ...

Proposed spy phone record shift draws resistance

January 14, 2014

Telephone companies are quietly balking at the idea of changing how they collect and store Americans' phone records to help the National Security Agency's surveillance programs. They are worried about their exposure to lawsuits ...

Recommended for you


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

1 / 5 (1) Jan 14, 2014
Only we can stop these people from behaving as they do, and there are no signs at all that we're going to. Perhaps we deserve the NSA and GCHQ, for allowing them to act as they do?
not rated yet Jan 14, 2014
Single celled organisms develop characteristics designed to increase survival odds (thicker cell walls, corrosive spines, etc).

Homo Sapiens having no obvious predator, has for (at least) the last 7-8 thousand years been in competition against itself, represent in the various subgroupings each human feels "belonging to". (Colour, Creed, Credit, etc)

From there, what is technology but another incarnation of adaption designed to give one grouping an advantage? NSA surveillance, well that is a very sophisticated eyeball, one that measures, and more importantly remembers, millions/billions of human interactions on a daily basis.

From there, which social grouping was the first to adapt and use this new "evolution"? What advantages does it allow them over those not able to use the evolution?
1 / 5 (2) Feb 06, 2014
Only we can stop these people from behaving as they do, and there are no signs at all that we're going to. Perhaps we deserve the NSA and GCHQ, for allowing them to act as they do?
During time of war we deserve to be protected. Thats what NSA and all related security agencies, working in concert, are doing.
1 / 5 (2) Feb 06, 2014
No way to edit comments here? Guess Ill stick to physorg.
2 / 5 (1) Feb 06, 2014
Nations are demanding their gold returned. US/NATO destruction of most democratic nation Libya is the turning point at which security police states recede from superpower status and real commonwealth blocks like BRIC based upon real assets like gold come to superpower status. Now all the world aware of USA ponzi scheme economy based upon market bubbles. In the end of boiling all the steam bubbles have left and all the water is gone. Only choice remaining to sell daughters into prostitution while sons grow up drunkards like Moldova. Also USA drug market has potential as Americans consume 60% of world narcotics
3 / 5 (2) Feb 06, 2014
"US/NATO destruction of most democratic nation Libya... USA drug market has potential as Americans consume 60% of world narcotics"

-Well there seems to be enough narcotics wherever you are to keep YOU stupified eh?
1 / 5 (1) Feb 07, 2014
Poor Ghost you've been listening to your controlled media again... Your braindead CNN gets 1% of the video clicks that Aljazeera and Russia get. Africa is building a commonwealth and a currency backed by gold and Gaddafi was at the center of the transformation. Losing Africa will be a great blow to the West
1 / 5 (2) Feb 07, 2014
""There are many drugs that can cause paranoia. Both paranoia and anxiety are two well-known side effects of marijuana usage and is believed to stem from the THC in marijuana. Cocaine can also cause paranoid behavior. Certain hallucinogenic drugs are also associated with causing paranoid delusions. Amphetamines, ecstasy and LSD often leave users feeling paranoid for a time, and long-term drug users can experience more serious problems with permanent or semi-permanent paranoia."

-Or I suppose even vodka-generated delirium tremens. I recommend B12, exercise, and AA.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.