Since whistleblower Edward Snowden exposed the incredible scope of the government’s domestic spying programs, two different narratives are moving forward in Congress.
One, expressed most recently by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., in the Wall Street Journal, argues that the government’s collection of all Americans’ calling data “is necessary and must be preserved if we are to prevent terrorist attacks.”
The other, offered by Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Ohio, and others is that the Justice Department, National Security Agency and FBI have repeatedly misled members of Congress and the public about the nature of their spying programs, as well as their effectiveness, and they need to be reined in to protect Americans’ rights.
Unfortunately for Feinstein, a simple review of the facts she marshals to support her position reveals a total reliance on dubious intelligence community statements that have already been widely debunked. The actual facts make clear that the NSA doesn’t need an enormous database of everyone’s phone records to track a discrete number of terrorists -- the NSA just needs to use the traditional tools it has to investigate its targets.
Feinstein’s first claim, based on recent testimony from FBI Director Robert Mueller and the NSA’s director, Gen. Keith Alexander, is that the domestic telephone data collection program would have enabled the intelligence community to prevent the 9/11 attacks by revealing that al-Qaeda operative and future 9/11 hijacker Khalid al Mihdhar was inside the United States. On June 12, 2013, Alexander told the Senate Appropriations Committee: