January 17, 2006
NSA Flooded FBI with Terrorist Leads
What should we make of this NY Times story that soon after Sep. 11, 2001, the NSA gave the FBI a flood of false leeds based on their eavesdropping?
More than a dozen current and former law enforcement and counterterrorism officials, including some in the small circle who knew of the secret program and how it played out at the F.B.I., said the torrent of tips led them to few potential terrorists inside the country they did not know of from other sources and diverted agents from counterterrorism work they viewed as more productive.
Put yourself in officials shoes on Sep 12. Three planes were hijacked; two were turned in to cruise missles. All this took place on American soil under our noses. Prior to the attacks the government didn't take the Islamist threat seriously enough. The attacks were a shower of ice water. Officials looked around at every tool at their disposal to see how they could best be used to defend the country. The NSA has the ability to collect vast amounts of intelligence. Since they deal primarily with activities overseas their standards are lower than the FBI's. Lots of leads weren't going to pan out. But as Adm. Bobby R. Inman, a former N.S.A. director asked, "Have you got anything better?"
Here's a little secret the unnamed FBI agents won't tell you: most leads don't pan out. Life isn't like CSI or Law & Order where set of clues are laid out along a plot path that leads to the bad guys.
The legality of the NSA program is in question. From what I know so far and my reading of the constitution one can make a reasonable case that what President Bush ordered is legit. Politically Bush won't lose on this. His intention was/is to protect the nation from terrorist attack. This isn't the President siccing the NSA on his political opponents. AlGore tried to compare intelligence collecting today with wiretapping and harassing Martin Luther King, Jr. almost 30 years ago. The comparison isn't even close unless you're a rabid, knee-jerk Bush basher.
Orrin Kerr is scratching his head:
This is an interesting story, although I'm not quite sure what to make of it. If the spying program led to the discovery of "a few terrorists," is the real story that the program only led to a few terrorists, or is it that the program successfully led to the discovery of terrorist cells inside the United States? The Times opts for the former, but it's not immediately obvious to me why they don't opt for the latter.
AJStrata offers a forceful defense of the administration and bashes the Times.
Jon Henke reads the story and is reaffirmed in his insistence for an investigation.
Captain Ed sees this as some FBI people are ticked about a program run "outside of its control."
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