A new analysis of the National Security Agency’s data-collection programs suggests that some of its most controversial techniques may not be effective in stopping Al-Qaeda and other groups from attacking the United States.
The study, released Monday by the New America Foundation, checked claims by NSA officials and President Barack Obama that the agency’s bulk data-collection programs helped stop dozens of attacks on U.S. targets. The study examined records for investigations into 225 people who have been indicted, convicted or killed by the U.S. for their reported ties to Al-Qaeda and Al-Qaeda-affiliated groups like Al-Shabab after Sept. 11, 2001.
The review found that the NSA’s bulk collection of Americans’ phone metadata, justified under the Patriot Act, was responsible for initiating investigations in only four of the 225 cases detailed by the New America Foundation and that none of those four prevented attacks.
That counters claims by Obama and other administration officials that the program has prevented 50 terrorist attacks.
“We know of at least 50 threats that have been averted because of this information not just in the United States but, in some cases, threats here in Germany,” Obama said in Berlin in June. “So lives have been saved.”
Gen. Keith Alexander and Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., of the House Intelligence Committee, repeated similar claims.
The New America Foundation study suggests that those claims are inflated or misleading. It found that less controversial NSA programs — like monitoring of non–U.S. citizens suspected of being affiliated with Al-Qaeda or similar groups — played more crucial but still small roles in initiating investigations after 9/11.