To deny our intelligence services the tools needed to keep Americans safe is shortsighted and naive.
The challenges to our national security have never been greater. From international organized crime selling dirty-bomb materials on the black market, to sophisticated terrorists recruiting and planning attacks in America, the challenge to get our national security right is daunting.
The debate about what our intelligence services were and are doing on the subject of surveillance continues to be based on inaccurate, misleading accounts, sensationalized by the news media and some politicians, leading the public to believe a false narrative.
The phone records “metadata” program did not and does not collect the content of conversations, just the “to” and “from” billing data routinely provided by companies. The NSA contractor who leaked program details helped create a false narrative and led terrorists to change tactics.
The narrow metadata program stored anonymous information for a machine to run matches against known terrorists’ numbers, following a court-approved process. To call that storage invasive belies the reality of, and restrictions on, its use. Additionally, critics gloss over 38 terror plots in the U.S. and Europe the program helped prevent.
The program was recently changed so that telecom companies, rather than the NSA, hold the data. The companies store the data for different time periods, in different formats — creating a challenge for the FBI in an emergency. The attackers in San Bernardino, Calif., for example, could have been in touch with other operatives in the USA unknown to the FBI. The data needed to quickly identify a terrorist network is no longer immediately available to the FBI.
Though intelligence is not an exact science, our intelligence community has successes every day. Most of these accomplishments are never made known. To deny our intelligence services the tools needed to keep Americans safe is both shortsighted and naive.
The program was created after 9/11 when an intelligence gap was discovered. In light of San Bernardino, the deadliest terrorist attack on U.S. soil since 9/11, the program should be strengthened.