Yochai Benkler: NSA gets little helpful intel from Americans' metadata


Of course from a public perspective it is impossible to know if these programs are effective or not. We just don’t have evidence one way or another, and I don’t think Congress has good evidence either. While they do get closed door hearings, those hearings are given by people trying to protect their budget and prove their worth to Congress. There is no true oversight. Maybe this has stopped dozens of 9/11 style attacks? It’s impossible to know.

I personally don’t think these programs are particularly valuable to the intelligence community, but they are a resource they would like to keep for the off chance that it proves invaluable someday.

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jandrese hits it on the head. Everyone instinctively wants to preserve his or her particular organization or department, and that leads to behavior that’s irrational in the context of humanity as a whole.

I can imagine how this metadata is useful in unraveling terror networks AFTER an attack, once we’ve identified a particular suspect. I’ve certainly never seen a claim by the NSA or anyone else that this massive, multi-billion dollar initiative has played more than a minor, contributing role to an investigation, or actually helped prevent an attack.

On the other hand, if a Nixon, McCarthy, or J. Edgar Hoover comes along, this metadata (and all the other data collection they do) will come into its own. Imagine how efficiently the FBI could roll up the EFF with this technology, if they’re deemed a threat to the US Government.

The subtext of all of this is that the US Government has taken on a life of its own, and the welfare of this government is totally detached from, and often at odds with, the welfare of the people it is supposed to represent.

The massive expenditure never made any sense if it was about chasing terrorists, but, my first thought when Snowden’s information was revealed over 4 months ago was that the NSA and partner’s (5-Eyes) surveillance was all about economic advantage.


One surprising understanding that came out of the Wikileaks’ release of the Diplomatic Cables was the extent to which the Diplomatic Service was significantly (primarily?) involved in promoting corporate interests. The Diplomats were salesmen first and foremost.

The same Foreign Offices whose diplomatic cables were exposed and who had this primary tasking to promote economic interests are also the ones who control the spying and surveillance.

To date the story has been about the bulk tapping of data that is captured on or close to the US mainland but sprinkled throughout these stories have been references to the thousands of listening posts in every major city in the world, every Consulate and Embassy is listening and forwarding information. And you can bet it is not all about terror cells or surveilling US citizens.

This will damage the US very badly. It was naive to hope it would not be exposed and now has been, twice, once by Manning/WikiLeaks and now by Snowden/Greenwald.

The Snowden revelations have switched tone recently to focus on the economic spying that is being done. Brazil first, soon Spain then France, and likely on and on.

Money well spend and likely great value until you’re caught with your fingers in your friends’ wallets and then not such a good idea.

Likely billion in lost business but much much more lost in trust that may never be regained.

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