Liberals are jumping up and down about USA Today’s publication of another leak relating to the National Security Agency. It’s considered a news flash that the NSA is collecting data on phone calls, with the cooperation of almost all of the major telecom companies, to look for suspicious patterns. This is a “data mining” project that does not involve listening in on conversations, but merely identifying phone numbers involved in possible terrorist communications.
Michelle Malkin has a good roundup of reaction to the story. I’d add just a few comments.
One, as A.J. Strata points out, the USA Today article identified Qwest as the one major carrier that declined the NSA’s request for cooperation. Presumably Qwest has now become the terrorists’ telecom company of choice. Way to go, USA Today!
Two, it’s obvious that what the NSA does with this vast amount of data is to run it through computers, looking for suspicious patterns, especially involving known or suspected terrorist phone numbers. I did a quick calculation: assuming that there are 200 million adult Americans, each of whom places or receives ten phone calls a day (a conservative estimate, I think), it would require a small army of 35,000 full-time NSA employees to pay a total of one second of attention to each call. In other words, lighten up: the NSA obviously isn’t tracking your phone calls with your friends and relatives.
Three, it’s interesting to juxtapose the NSA stories–this one plus the Agency’s international terrorist surveillance program–with this account of a report earlier today by Britain’s Intelligence and Security Committee on the subway bombings in London last July:
The suicide bombers who killed 52 passengers on London’s transit system had a string of contacts with someone in Pakistan just before striking, Britain’s top law enforcement official said Thursday.
However, authorities admitted they didn’t know what was discussed in those contacts and stuck with their contention that the blasts were a home-grown plot and that the degree of involvement by al-Qaida, if any, was unknown.
Thursday’s report by the Intelligence and Security Committee concluded that intelligence agents had been alerted to two of the suicide bombers before the attacks but limited resources prevented them from uncovering the plot.
Reid, speaking of the contacts in Pakistan ahead of the attacks, said authorities did not know what was discussed. *** “There are a series of suspicious contacts from an unknown individual or individuals in Pakistan in the immediate run-up to the bombings,” Reid said after his department released its narrative of the attacks. “We do not know their content.”
Sounds like they should have listened in on those calls. These are exactly the kind of communications that are intercepted by the NSA under the terrorist surveillance program that has been widely denounced by Democrats.