WaPo: WH justification of NSA surveillance programs “unraveling”

posted at 12:11 pm on December 20, 2013 by Ed Morrissey

Is it just me, or did someone misread the calendar over the last 24 hours?  This is the third story today that normally would get the Friday-night-document-dump treatment. Instead, the Washington Post runs this right before the last major news cycle of the holiday season — and just hours before Barack Obama’s final press conference of 2013:

From the moment the government’s massive database of citizens’ call records was exposed this year, U.S. officials have clung to two main lines of defense: The secret surveillance program was constitutional and critical to keeping the nation safe.

But six months into the controversy triggered by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, the viability of those claims is no longer clear.

In a three-day span, those rationales were upended by a federal judge who declared that the program was probably unconstitutional and the release of a report by a White House panel utterly unconvinced that stockpiling such data had played any meaningful role in preventing terrorist attacks. …

A day after the panel’s report was made public, U.S. officials said its findings had stunned senior officials at the White House as well as at U.S. intelligence services, prompting a scramble to assess the potential effect of its proposals as well as to calculate its political fallout.

“Unraveling” is putting it mildly. Obama administration officials have said all year that these programs not only provided NSA critical data for preventing terrorist attacks, but had actually stopped terrorist attacks in progress. However, when the panel demanded to see the evidence of such outcomes, they got a big and unpleasant surprise:

A member of the White House review panel on NSA surveillance said he was “absolutely” surprised when he discovered the agency’s lack of evidence that the bulk collection of telephone call records had thwarted any terrorist attacks.

“It was, ‘Huh, hello? What are we doing here?’” said Geoffrey Stone, a University of Chicago law professor, in an interview with NBC News. “The results were very thin.”

While Stone said the mass collection of telephone call records was a “logical program” from the NSA’s perspective, one question the White House panel was seeking to answer was whether it had actually stopped “any [terror attacks] that might have been really big.”

“We found none,” said Stone.

The White House, and especially DNI James Clapper and NSA chief Keith Alexander, have repeatedly insisted — in Congressional testimony — that the so-called 215 program that covers the collection of domestic phone records saved lives.  Jay Carney insisted in June that the White House calculated 50 specific threats that the 215 program stopped:

White House press secretary Jay Carney repeatedly described the NSA’s bulk collection of phone records as an “important tool” in efforts to disrupt terrorist plots during a lengthy briefing Thursday afternoon, but sparred with reporters over the White House response to the intel review panel’s assertion that didn’t prevent a terrorist attack. President Obama, Carney said, stands by his June assertion that “we’ve saved lives. We know of at least 50 threats that have been averted because of this information, so lives have been saved,” thanks to the 215 program. But pressed on how that stance squares this week’s report, Carney wouldn’t directly push back against the findings that question the controversial program’s essentialness, only repeatedly calling the program “important.”

Instead, the panel found that the 702 programs that surveil foreign communications were critical in stopping terrorist attacks. The 215 program? Er, not so much:

The comparison between 702 overseas interceptions and 215 bulk metadata collection was “night and day,” said Stone. “With 702, the record is very impressive. It’s no doubt the nation is safer and spared potential attacks because of 702. There was nothing like that for 215. We asked the question and they [the NSA] gave us the data. They were very straight about it.”

How does Congress feel about this surprise? Surprised:

“That was stunning. That was the ballgame,” said one congressional intelligence official, who asked not to be publicly identified. “It flies in the face of everything that they have tossed at us.”

Once again, we have to wonder why the people doing the tossing are still around. Alexander is retiring shortly, so firing him is pointless. But why is Obama keeping James Clapper around? Better yet, will Congress take steps to force Clapper to be accountable for his obstruction of their legitimate oversight duties and perjury before Congress?

And an even better question: will anyone in the press corps ask Obama about the dishonest justifications made before Congress for this activity in today’s presser?


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I hope they all go to Hell.

Thank you Mr. Snowden.

Schadenfreude on December 20, 2013 at 12:12 PM

Clapper s/b in prison.

Schadenfreude on December 20, 2013 at 12:12 PM

Google and Co. should also be in prison.

Schadenfreude on December 20, 2013 at 12:13 PM

But why is Obama keeping James Clapper around?

Skeletond, Sir, skeletons

Both are thugs of the first rate.

Schadenfreude on December 20, 2013 at 12:15 PM

Skeletons

Schadenfreude on December 20, 2013 at 12:15 PM

The government can’t tell us how they protected us, because if they told us they would have to kill us.

myiq2xu on December 20, 2013 at 12:16 PM

And an even better question: will anyone in the press corps ask Obama about the dishonest justifications made before Congress for this activity in today’s presser?

crickets…..

instead it will be about duck dynasty and hawaii and the gdp report

cmsinaz on December 20, 2013 at 12:16 PM

Every department in this entire administration is completely full of lying, crooked deceivers.

rplat on December 20, 2013 at 12:21 PM

WH justification of NSA surveillance programs “unraveling”

Not unraveling as much as proceeding in the “least unwoven” way.

We’ve known about this snooping for months and yet there has been no reform. Instead the administration has all but doubled down on illegally collecting information on Americans. At a minimum, Clapper and Alexander need to be fired in disgrace. NSA will never recover credibility until they restore the trust squandered over these illegal programs.

And make no mistake, those at the NSA spying on Americans are not the good guys, no matter what the administration claims.

Happy Nomad on December 20, 2013 at 12:22 PM

Most Transparent Lawless Adminstration Evah!!

Bitter Clinger on December 20, 2013 at 12:22 PM

Every department in this entire administration is completely full of lying, crooked deceivers.

rplat on December 20, 2013 at 12:21 PM

Not the IRS! They caught the rogue agents responsible for partisan revenge! /

Happy Nomad on December 20, 2013 at 12:23 PM

…will anyone in the press corps ask Obama about the dishonest justifications made before Congress for this activity in today’s presser?

They’ll be too busy asking King Barack what he’s getting for Christmas.

GarandFan on December 20, 2013 at 12:24 PM

They’ll be too busy asking King Barack what he’s getting for Christmas

Ramadan

FIFY.

He isn’t Christian. Rememeber?

txdoc on December 20, 2013 at 12:30 PM

Jay Carney insisted in June that the White House calculated 50 specific threats that the 215 program stopped:

yes…Mitt Romney…the Koch brothers…Ted Cruz…Tea Party Organizations…etc…etc…WTF is wrong with you people?…more than 50…you phucken liar…

KOOLAID2 on December 20, 2013 at 12:31 PM

Tar. Feathers. Rails. Pitchforks.

CatoRenasci on December 20, 2013 at 12:31 PM

He isn’t Christian. Rememeber?

txdoc on December 20, 2013 at 12:30 PM

He isn’t…he’s an atheist, parading as a Muslim, Christian, Jew, or whatever, depending on the sheepleton in front of him.

Schadenfreude on December 20, 2013 at 12:33 PM

will anyone in the press corps ask Obama about the dishonest justifications made before Congress for this activity in today’s presser?

It wouldn’t matter. The rat-eared wonder “answers” questions with whatever he wants to say and rarely touches on the substance of what was asked. If asked about his illegally spying on Americans he’ll do his usual shucking and jiving about living in a dangerous world and how many lives were saved by their snooping. At no point will he acknowledge that Clapper and Alexander (among others) lied their asses off to Congress. Knowingly in Clapper’s case when he responded in what he thought was the most truthful, or least untruthful manner.

A better question would be “Why is Clapper still the DNI.”

Happy Nomad on December 20, 2013 at 12:34 PM

And an even better question: will anyone in the press corps ask Obama about the dishonest justifications made before Congress for this activity in today’s presser?

Who knows. They rarely ever do it and it’s not like they don’t have opportunities. In fact, I think any question a WHPC reporter would want to ask the President could be easily framed as, “Why did you lie about (fill in the blank)?

Dusty on December 20, 2013 at 12:35 PM

Schadenfreude, pure!

Schadenfreude on December 20, 2013 at 12:35 PM

They were able to tap into Romney’s phone and lessen the threat to the Obama Presidency.

Deafdog on December 20, 2013 at 12:36 PM

LE OOPS!!

NSA surveillance programs leaked
55s
==

White House on NSA targeting Israeli PM emails: ‘The United States gathers foreign intelligence of the type gathered by all nations’ – @BarakRavid
end of bulletin
================

https://twitter.com/BarakRavid

canopfor on December 20, 2013 at 12:37 PM

Lying liars. Traitorous thugs. Prison for them all.

HomeoftheBrave on December 20, 2013 at 12:38 PM

They were able to tap into Romney’s phone and lessen the threat to the Obama Presidency.

Deafdog on December 20, 2013 at 12:36 PM

Romney used a phone on planet earth… so yes.

tetriskid on December 20, 2013 at 12:38 PM

A better question would be “Why is Clapper still the DNI.”

Happy Nomad on December 20, 2013 at 12:34 PM

Skip the formalities and get right to the meat, “When are you going to resign?”

Dusty on December 20, 2013 at 12:38 PM

Is it just me, or did someone misread the calendar over the last 24 hours? This is the third story today that normally would get the Friday-night-document-dump treatment.
========================

Tru Dats,….the ole’ Clinton dumping on a Friday night stuntaroo!!!

canopfor on December 20, 2013 at 12:39 PM

Richard Millhouse Nixon was forced from office as a result of his participation in the cover-up of 1 (ONE) scandal, of 1 (ONE) case of illegal spying.

Obama has now officially been caught participating in the (at least) covering up of spying on CBS editors, reporters, AND their FAMILIES…has now been caught ordering / orchestrating AND the covering up of Un-Constitutionally / ILLEGALLY spying and participating in the cover up of spying on every American citizen – justifying it by citing EVERY American citizen as a potential threat to the US…has been caught engaging in the cover-up of the spying on ALLIES.

At this point, compared to the Nixon Administration, Barack Obama and key members of his Cabinet / inner circle should not only be force to leave office but should be led out of the White House in HANDCUFFS!

easyt65 on December 20, 2013 at 12:39 PM

Schadenfreude, pure!

Schadenfreude on December 20, 2013 at 12:35 PM

Did you catch the part where some shill is boasting at the number of agents available? Doesn’t “scheduled maintenance” hit them too?

Happy Nomad on December 20, 2013 at 12:40 PM

The White House, in its first official response to the judicial overturn and the Panel recommendations had this to say:

“Shut up and enjoy your protection, you little proletariat bugs.
We’re Holy Mother Government: And We Know What’s Good For You(TM).”

orangemtl on December 20, 2013 at 12:41 PM

Amazing, and the media along with the WH still have the nerve to bash Joe Wilson. The administration of “you lie”, is beginning to unravel.

DDay on December 20, 2013 at 12:41 PM

Skip the formalities and get right to the meat, “When are you going to resign?”

Dusty on December 20, 2013 at 12:38 PM

Well, that would be one way to get the annual royal visit to Hawaii kicked off a bit early! Maybe even put them back on schedule given that his 2pm presser will really start 2:40ish.

Happy Nomad on December 20, 2013 at 12:43 PM

However, when the panel demanded to see the evidence of such outcomes, they got a big and unpleasant surprise:
====================================

What the h*ll, NO GOODIES ON ANY TERROR ATTACKS!

Oh wait,..NSA and Hopey are monitoring, the returning
Veterans as thee only threat, hence, targetting all
communications of US Citizens, on home turf!!

NUTS!!

canopfor on December 20, 2013 at 12:46 PM

When does it end?

BuckeyeSam on December 20, 2013 at 12:47 PM

And an even better question: will anyone in the press corps ask Obama about the dishonest justifications made before Congress for this activity in today’s presser?
===============

Oh, as if thats going to happen,..(sarc)!

canopfor on December 20, 2013 at 12:49 PM

Clapper: “What surveillance program? I haven’t heard about any of this…..”

BobMbx on December 20, 2013 at 12:49 PM

“unraveling”

If reporters at the Washington Post ever cared to get off their knees & pessimistically check any story put out from the Obama White House, “UNRAVELLING” could have been their page 1 headline for the past 5 years. The only reason this story has unraveled is because Snowden did all the work and the Washington Post couldn’t spin & hide from the facts

drivingtheview on December 20, 2013 at 12:51 PM

Ever wonder what James Madison would think about NSAgate?

You racist.

On Tuesday, MSNBC host Lawrence O’Donnell attacked the father of the Constitution, James Madison, saying he would be “aghast” that a black man now holds the presidency.

“We do know that James Madison would be aghast at interracial marriage. We do know that James Madison would be aghast at an integrated cabinet room in the White House…with an African-American president presiding over that cabinet.”

Akzed on December 20, 2013 at 1:00 PM

The NSA has become a political tool to keep the current government in power.

albill on December 20, 2013 at 1:06 PM

Thank you Mr. Snowden.

Schadenfreude on December 20, 2013 at 12:12 PM

Hear hear!

ebrawer on December 20, 2013 at 1:07 PM

Again the problem I have with this story is that it relies on some mis-reporting that has gone on so long it becomes “truth”.

The phone records, if you look at the FISA order released in the Snowden docs was ordered by FBI, not requested by NSA. People need to dig more into what FBI’s role was. Looks to me like NSA is being thrown under the bus for an FBI program that they were requested to assist with.

crosspatch on December 20, 2013 at 1:10 PM

Ever wonder what James Madison would think about NSAgate?

You racist.

On Tuesday, MSNBC host Lawrence O’Donnell attacked the father of the Constitution, James Madison, saying he would be “aghast” that a black man now holds the presidency.

“We do know that James Madison would be aghast at interracial marriage. We do know that James Madison would be aghast at an integrated cabinet room in the White House…with an African-American president presiding over that cabinet.”

Akzed on December 20, 2013 at 1:00 PM

Raciss!

Punchenko on December 20, 2013 at 1:12 PM

Instead, the panel found that the 702 programs that surveil foreign communications were critical in stopping terrorist attacks. The 215 program? Er, not so much:

The whole point of the domestic program is to collect data on individuals and groups the government considers to be enemies so they can be targeted for harassment.

“That was stunning. That was the ballgame,” said one congressional intelligence official, who asked not to be publicly identified. “It flies in the face of everything that they have tossed at us.”

“Speaker Boehner said we’re going to write a very strongly worded letter,” the official added. /

Better yet, will Congress take steps to force Clapper to be accountable for his obstruction of their legitimate oversight duties and perjury before Congress?

Of course not. Boehner ♥ Obama. They also have more important things do, like wage war on the Tea Party.

Doomberg on December 20, 2013 at 1:15 PM

Hold on just a minute. Let’s not do away with the NSA just yet, there is much work to be done. You need to be creative and imagine all that could be achieved with such a data base. A few examples: collect information that may just persuade an individual to change their minds on important matters; such as the constitutionality of Affordable Health Care mandates; or maybe get a pulse on the American electorate and tell them what they want to hear in order to be re-elected. Just a few thoughts, I’m sure there are more.

DDay on December 20, 2013 at 1:29 PM

Not one, nada

Schadenfreude on December 20, 2013 at 1:34 PM

Once again, we have to wonder why the people doing the tossing are still around. Alexander is retiring shortly, so firing him is pointless.

No it’s not pointless, (well, it wouldn’t be if the entire regime wasn’t guilty), he should be fired and prosecuted, not allowed to retire without repercussion for systematically violating the rights of the American people for so many years.

FloatingRock on December 20, 2013 at 1:37 PM

Fire Clapper? Might as well try to fire the Saudi King. He is pretty much Muslim in love with Islam and oil money. He’s solid.

BL@KBIRD on December 20, 2013 at 1:45 PM

Ever wonder what James Madison would think about NSAgate?

You racist.

On Tuesday, MSNBC host Lawrence O’Donnell attacked the father of the Constitution, James Madison, saying he would be “aghast” that a black man now holds the presidency.

“We do know that James Madison would be aghast at interracial marriage. We do know that James Madison would be aghast at an integrated cabinet room in the White House…with an African-American president presiding over that cabinet.”

Akzed on December 20, 2013 at 1:00 PM

My response for whenever anyone pulls a race card like this is – FDR- Margret Sanger and LBJ would certainly be aghast. You don’t have to go back a couple of hundred years to find racism in this country.

BoxHead1 on December 20, 2013 at 1:51 PM

You know, the Gestapo originally started out with a benign intent too. Just read the gestapo entry at wikipedia, and note how it mostly started as a police force in Prussia, and then was tasked with looking for traitors and enemy threats.

Just like the NSA.

It was only later that things went south. I’m sure the NSA was good at one point, but now?

Vanceone on December 20, 2013 at 1:55 PM

The stockpiling of all our data was a huge PC waste of time, money and effort. Instead of maybe just putting that effort into targeted surveillance of people that might really have come here to do damage, it’s much better to read all our email and listen to all our phone calls. The fbi couldn’t even find the time to check out the ball cap boys in Boston when one of the world’s greatest spy agencies gave them up on a silver platter.

Kissmygrits on December 21, 2013 at 8:53 AM

The government can’t tell us how they protected us,because if they told us they would have to kill us.

myiq2xu on December 20, 2013 at 12:16 PM

Give them time and they may just start killing us. Our government keeps moving slowly in that direction.

Mr. Ayers, Obama’s buddy, thought that when he and the Weatherman took over they would have to eleminate 25 million citizens who could not be re-educated. So what does Obama believe about those who oppose him? Has anyone ever asked him about Mr. Ayers’ position?

amr on December 21, 2013 at 11:28 AM