NSA phone collection does not prevent terrorism, according to report

McClatchy Washington BureauJanuary 13, 2014 

NSA Surveillance

A sign outside the National Security Administration campus in Fort Meade, Md.

PATRICK SEMANSKY — ASSOCIATED PRESS

A new analysis of 225 terrorism cases in the United States since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks indicates that the National Security Agency's massive collection of phone records had a "minimal" on preventing acts of terrorism, according to a report released Monday by the New America Foundation, a Washington nonprofit group.

Traditional law enforcement and investigative methods provided the evidence to begin most cases. The NSA program provided information to launch one case, involving a San Diego cabdriver, Basaaly Moalin, convicted of sending money to a terrorist group in Somalia.

"Our investigation found that bulk collection 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," said Peter Bergen, director of New America's National Security Program. "And the NSA has also exaggerated the role of its bulk collection program of international communications in the investigations of the terrorism cases it has cited to defend this program."

The study makes similar conclusion as an advisory group appointed by President Barack Obama to examine the federal government's vast surveillance programs. Their report, released last month, said the program "was not essential to preventing attacks."

Obama will announce changes to the federal government's surveillance programs in a speech Friday.

Obama appears to be on verge of making several changes to the nation's surveillance programs, including halting the government's storage of mass telephone records of millions of Americans.

The White House has been seeking final suggestions from lawmakers and experts, including some critics of government spying, as Obama puts the finishing touches on a series of changes he will make following an international uproar over the nation's surveillance programs.

Since June, former contractor Edward Snowden has leaked documents showing the National Security Agency has been collecting telephone and email records of tens of millions of Americans and foreigners, eavesdropping on allies such as Germany and Brazil, and spying on a host of global institutions including the World Bank.

Obama could make some changes through executive actions. Others would require approval from a divided Congress, where support for NSA changes does not fall strictly along party lines.

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