Last Updated: 9/12/06

NSA Monitoring Won't Stop Terror

y Michael McLaughlin
Jun 14, 2006

WASHINGTON, June 10, 2006 (UPI) -- The NSA's "wide net" electronic surveillance is almost no use in catching terrorists, an expert claims.

The current debate over the legality and ethics on the National Security Agency's terrorist surveillance methods might be rendered moot by the ineffectiveness of the intelligence gathering techniques, James Bamford, an expert on the NSA and author of several books about the agency, told UPI.

Bamford said he believed that the electronic surveillance measures recently revealed by the news media were unproductive ways to secure the nation from political violence.

He told UPI that the terrorist networks targeted by the NSA and other U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies have sophisticated communication systems to elude detection, such as disposable cell phones. He said the massive surveillance is not aiding the fight against terror, but is infringing upon civil liberties of Americans.

However, the full extent of the NSA's activities is unknown.

"It's interesting that James can makes those assessments because they are classified programs and we don't have access to them," said Todd Gaziano of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington think tank.

In December 2005, the New York Times reported that the NSA eavesdropped on international phone calls of hundreds of Americans and others in the United States without the sanction of court warrants. In May 2006, the newspaper USA Today reported that the NSA already possessed a data base of the phone records -- including domestic calls -- of millions of Americans.

"There's an enormous terrorist presence on the Internet in chat rooms and through emails. To just dismiss all of the surveillance, is ineffective," Gaziano said.

Yet, Bamford's argument was buttressed by an article from the New York Times in January that said the NSA fed the FBI "thousands of tips a month" after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington. However, the tips almost always yielded nothing valuable, the report said.
Bamford is a plaintiff in the American Civil Liberties Union's lawsuit against the NSA. The suit charges that the NSA's telephone wiretaps and email interceptions are illegal, because warrants were not obtained for the searches.

Bamford criticized the NSA program as a waste of resources that produced "a meager success story of the guy caught with plans to blow up the Brooklyn Bridge."

He was referring to Iyman Faris who pleaded guilty in 2003 to conspiracy and providing material support to al-Qaida for his role in a plot to destroy the Brooklyn Bridge with blowtorches. Some U.S. government officials said that NSA eavesdropping uncovered the conspirators.

However, many U.S. security experts contend that intercepting communications is the best means for gathering security intelligence.

"When looking for data surveillance systems, there are only two options. One is to hire thousands of secret police who can cover an area and know what's going on. The other option is to use domestic communication surveillance," said Jim Lewis of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank.

"For people who haven't thought about how you monitor the activities for a country as vast and populace as the US, the only option we have is communications surveillance," said Lewis.

Policy analysts disagree on the rewards of the recently disclosed NSA programs. However, there is consensus that government oversight must be put in place.

"I've never been against eavesdropping on alleged terrorists. The only difference in the argument is over who supervises it," said Bamford.

Bamford believes that without seeking a warrant from an impartial judge, intelligence agencies will infringe on privacy rights and will waste huge sums of taxpayers' money.

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 mandated obtaining a warrant from a special court in order to eavesdrop.

The Bush administration has admitted that it has tapped into phone calls without seeking judicial approval, but claims these powers were granted to it when Congress passed the "Authorization for the Use of Military Force" bill in 2001.

Gaziano also thinks more supervision should be in place. "An oversight mechanism should be in place because it deals with our civil liberties," he said.

Copyright 2006 by United Press International

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