3 Senators with Top Secret Clearance “Have Reviewed This Surveillance Extensively and Have Seen No Evidence That The Bulk Collection of Americans’ Phone Records Has Provided Any Intelligence of Value That Could Not Have Been Gathered Through Less Intrusive Means”

NSA’s Mass Surveillance Is Unnecessary

Mass spying by the NSA has never stopped a single terrorist attack.

Mass surveillance actually interferes with our ability to stop terrorism.

Today, 3 current U.S. Senators (Ron Wyden, Mark Udall and Martin Heinrich)  who are all on the Senate Intelligence Committee – with top security clearance and access to classified NSA briefings – filed a “friend of the court” brief pointing out that the NSA’s mass spying hasn’t stopped a single attack:

Now that the government’s bulk call-records program has been exposed, the government has defended it vigorously.  Amici [i.e. friends of the court … the 3 Senators, along with numerous security experts] submit this brief to respond to the government’s claim, which it is expected to repeat in this suit, that its collection of bulk call records is necessary to defend the nation against terrorist attacks.  Amici make one central point: As members of the committee charged with overseeing the National Security Agency’s surveillance, Amici have reviewed this surveillance extensively and have seen no evidence that the bulk collection of Americans’ phone records has provided any intelligence of value that could not have been gathered through less intrusive means. The government has at its disposal a number of authorities that allow it to obtain the call records of suspected terrorists and those in contact with suspected terrorists. It appears to Amici that these more targeted authorities could have been used to obtain the information that the government has publicly claimed was crucial in a few important counterterrorism cases.


As Amici and others have made clear, the evidence shows that the executive branch’s claims about the effectiveness of the bulk phone-records program have been vastly overstated and, in some cases, utterly misleading….

For example, the executive branch has defended the program by claiming that it helped “thwart” or “disrupt” fifty-four specific terrorist plots…. But that claim conflates the bulk-collection program with other foreign-intelligence authorities.  In fact, as Amici know from their regular oversight of the intelligence community as members of the SSCI, “it appears that the bulk phone records collection program under section 215 of the USA Patriot Act played little or no role in most of these disruptions.” …. Indeed, of the original fifty- four that the government pointed to, officials have only been able to describe two that involved materially useful information obtained through the bulk call-records program…. Even the two supposed success stories involved information that Amici believe—after repeated requests to the government for evidence to the contrary—could readily have been obtained without a database of all Americans’ call records….

In both public statements and in newly declassified submissions to the SSCI, intelligence officials have significantly exaggerated the phone-records program’s effectiveness. Based on the experience of Amici, the public—and this Court—should view the government’s claims regarding the effectiveness of its surveillance programs with searching skepticism and demand evidence rather than assurances before accepting them.

Indeed, NSA spying is not very focused on terrorism at all.  And even if some mass surveillance program were somehow necessary, counter-terror experts say we can keep everyone safe without violating the Constitutionmore cheaply and efficiently than the current system.

The NSA’s whole domestic spying program is a sham …

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