In the case of the NSA’s scooping up and storing all that private data, they ran into a glitch, too much information makes the job of surveillance harder
The volume of NSA contacts collection is so high that it has occasionally threatened to overwhelm storage repositories, forcing the agency to halt its intake with “emergency detasking” orders. Three NSA documents describe short-term efforts to build an “across-the-board technology throttle for truly heinous data” and longer-term efforts to filter out information that the NSA does not need.
Spam has proven to be a significant problem for NSA – clogging databases with data that holds no foreign intelligence value. The majority of all e-mails, one NSA document says, “are SPAM from ‘fake’ addresses and never ‘delivered’ to targets.”
In fall 2011, according to an NSA presentation, the Yahoo account of an Iranian target was “hacked by an unknown actor,” who used it to send spam. The Iranian had “a number of Yahoo groups in his/her contact list, some with many hundreds or thousands of members.”
The cascading effects of repeated spam messages, compounded by the automatic addition of the Iranian’s contacts to other people’s address books, led to a massive spike in the volume of traffic collected by the Australian intelligence service on the NSA’s behalf.
After nine days of data-bombing, the Iranian’s contact book and contact books for several people within it were “emergency detasked.”
LOL. The NSA has a spam problem.
Meanwhile, the head of the NSA, Gen. Keith Alexander has had to admit to the Senate Intelligence Committee that he lied back in June about those 54 terrorists plots he claimed were “thwarted” by the agency’s phone surveillance program.
Alexander admitted that only 13 of the 54 cases were connected to the United States. He also told the committee that only one or two suspected plots were identified as a result of bulk phone record collection.
Leahy was not happy. “We’re told we have to (conduct mass phone surveillance) to protect us, and the statistics are rolled out that they’re not accurate,” he said. “It doesn’t have the credibility here in the Congress, it doesn’t have the credibility with this chairman and it doesn’t have the credibility with the country.”
Over at the Wall Street Journal, in an op-ed behind a paywall, the committee chair, Sen Dianne Feinstein trotted out the old “9/11 be very afraid” canard and repeated the debunked Alexander lie.
Consider the case of 9/11 hijacker Khalid al-Mihdhar, who was being watched by the CIA while he was in Malaysia. U.S. intelligence agencies failed to connect the dots before the attack to recognize that al-Mihdhar had flown with (future) hijacker Nawaf al-Hazmi to Los Angeles in January 2000.
Intelligence officials knew about an al Qaeda safe house in Yemen with ties to al-Mihdhar as well as the safe house’s telephone number, but they had no way of knowing if anyone inside the U.S. was in contact with that phone number in Yemen. Only after 9/11 did we learn that al-Mihdhar, while living in San Diego, had called the safe house. [..]
Working in combination, the call-records database and other NSA programs have aided efforts by U.S. intelligence agencies to disrupt terrorism in the U.S. approximately a dozen times in recent years, according to the NSA. This summer, the agency disclosed that 54 terrorist events have been interrupted-including plots stopped and arrests made for support to terrorism. Thirteen events were in the U.S. homeland and nine involved U.S. persons or facilities overseas. Twenty-five were in Europe, five in Africa and 11 in Asia.
Can everyone say say Richard Clark.
At Techdirt, Mike Masnick points out none of what Sen. Feinstein said is true:
First off, as has been explained over and over again, the intelligence community already had certain tools in place to discover such phone calls. The problem wasn’t that they didn’t have the information — they did. It was that they failed to “connect the dots.” In other words, they had too much information which obscured the important information they needed. [..]
Note the all important “and other NSA programs” language here. Also the use of “terrorist events” not plots. And, remember, those “thirteen events… in the U.S. homeland,” have since been whittled down to only one that actually relied on the call records program that she’s defending — and that wasn’t a terrorist plot but a cab driver in San Diego sending some cash to a Somali group judged to be a terrorist organization.
So, we have elected representatives and high paid appointees blatantly lying and getting away with it to protect their turf with no one is holding them accountable,