Udall to brass: Prove that surveillance stopped terrorism

Security officials should explain their claims about the effectiveness of controversial programs that were the subject of recent leaks, two U.S. senators said.

The head of the National Security Agency and U.S. Cyber Command, Gen. Keith B. Alexander, should have to explain how the surveillance programs averted what he claimed were “dozens of terrorist attacks,” U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., said.

Udall said in Grand Junction last week that there was “a lot of evidence” that more conventional techniques were as effective as the surveillance program that tracks all domestic phone calls and other forms of electronic communication.

Udall and Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Wash., on Thursday called on Alexander to explain his comments.

“We have not yet seen any evidence showing that the NSA’s dragnet collection of Americans’ phone records has produced any uniquely valuable intelligence,” Udall and Wyden said in a statement.

The plots Alexander identified “appear to have been identified using other collection methods. The public deserves a clear explanation,” Udall and Wyden said.

Udall has called for a review of the Patriot Act, under which the program known as PRISM was justified.

“As far as we can see, all of the useful information that it has provided appears to have also been available through other collection methods that do not violate the privacy of law-abiding Americans in the way that the Patriot Act collection does,” the two senators said. “We hope that President Obama will probe the basis for these assertions, as we have.”


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Four items in Friday’s Sentinel – Gary Harmon’s “Udall to brass:  Prove that surveillance stopped terrorism”; the editors’ “Flag Day and freedom, security and surveillance”; Josh Penry’s “Even for national security hawks, NSA surveillance program an affront”; and George Will’s “IRS official Lois Lerner provides reason for distrust of government” –  illustrate pervasive confusion over the content of our Constitution.

While I respect Senator Udall’s informed opinion as a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and suspect that surveillance has indeed “stopped [some] terrorism”, Udall would have the NSA “prove a negative” – when there is ample historical evidence to presume the positive.

The Sentinel’s credibility is diminished by its still-unproven assertion that “Freedom of the press is under attack” by a Justice Department charged with enforcing laws enacted to prevent national security leaks, and by embracing the now-disproven canard that federal bureaucrats “used the tax code . . . to beat those holding dissenting political views into submission”. 

Rather than cite “paid liar” Darrell Issa’s irresponsible demagoguery as good reason to “distrust government”, George Will blames Lois Lerner for exercising—on sound advise of counsel—her Constitutional right to refuse to submit to Issa’s partisan “witch hunt”.

“Surveillance” implies a personalized intrusion into the privacy of individual citizens.
The Constitutional right to “privacy” is found only in the “penumbra” surrounding other rights.  The Fourth Amendment prohibits only “unreasonable searches and seizures”.

Arguably, the computerized capture of impersonal telephone numbers and millions of e-mails does not constitute unreasonably intrusive surveillance until governmental use of that database is personalized – which already requires a warrant under existing law.

By contrast, Republican-imposed requirements for medically unnecessary ultrasounds are personal, intrusive, and violative of women’s Constitutional right to medical privacy.

Until hypocritical ideologues like Penry, Issa, and Will, denounce such dubious invasions of personal security, they should be distrusted on issues of national security.

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