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Study: NSA Bulk Surveillance Shows ‘No Discernible Impact Preventing Acts Of Terrorism’

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Analysis of the National Security Agency’s massive phone data collections program shows there has been “no discernible impact on preventing acts of terrorism.”  (Photo credit should read LEON NEAL/AFP/Getty Images)

Analysis of the National Security Agency’s massive phone data collections program shows there has been “no discernible impact on preventing acts of terrorism.” (Photo credit should read LEON NEAL/AFP/Getty Images)

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WASHINGTON (CBS DC) – Analysis of the National Security Agency’s massive phone data collections program shows there has been “no discernible impact on preventing acts of terrorism.”

A study released Monday by Washington-based nonprofit group, the New America Foundation, analyzed data from 225 terrorism cases within the U.S. since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. The report showed that “traditional” law enforcement methods were more helpful than the bulk collection of records used in the controversial NSA program.

Of the cases involving individuals charged with jihadist terrorism, about 60 percent of the cases were initially identified through traditional law enforcement tactics such as the use of informants, tips from local communities and targeted intelligence operations.

On the other hand, the bulk collection methods used by the NSA under Section 215 of the Patriot Act appear to have played an identifiable role in, at most, 1.8 percent of the terrorism investigations.

“Surveillance of American phone metadata has had no discernible impact on preventing acts of terrorism and only the most marginal of impacts on preventing terrorist-related activity, such as fundraising for a terrorist group,” reads the report.

The New America Foundation report cites President Barack Obama and NSA director Gen. Keith Alexander’s defense of the program’s spy tactics as “overblown” and “misleading.”

Both Obama and Alexander have pointed to the prevention of 50 potential terrorist threats as validation of the NSA’s investigation methods.   On June 5, 2013,  The Guardian newspaper began publishing what would become a series of ongoing revelations from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden about the massive, pervasive data collection programs being used by the agency.  In a following speech in Berlin, President Obama defended the program,  stating that “lives have been saved” by the international intelligence acquired by the NSA programs.

Cases analyzed in the New America Foundation study included the 2010 San Diego Shabaab Support Network, the 2009 NYC Subway plot and the 2009 New York Stock Exchange plot.

The study shows that regular FISA warrants not issued under the Patriot Act or NSA programs were used in at least 48 percent of investigations involving foreign persons. The report suggests that US officials can’t handle the bulk data collection because they aren’t effectively using the intelligence already gathered by traditional law enforcement tactics.

“The overall problem for U.S. counterterrorism officials is not that they need the information from the bulk collection of phone data, but that they don’t sufficiently understand or widely share the information they already possess that is derived from conventional law enforcement and intelligence techniques,” the report says.

“This was true of the two 9/11 hijackers living in San Diego and it is also the unfortunate pattern we have seen in several other significant terrorism cases.”

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