Monday, June 08, 2015

Times reporters call bullshit on senators' surveillance claims

In recent weeks, as Congress moved toward passage of a law limiting the NSA's access to phone metadata, I've appreciated the bullshit buffer that Times reporters Jennifer Steinhauer and Jonathan Weisman have inserted into their coverage.

Back on May 23, when the Senate rejected the House bill it eventually passed on June 23, Steinhauer reported a garden variety Senatorial security alarm, then, a few paragraphs later, provided a little factual context:
Congress has a long way to go toward a compromise, as demonstrated by a statement released by Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa and chairman of the Judiciary Committee. “If these important national security tools were to expire, there’s little doubt the country would be in a greater risk of a terrorist attack,” he said. “However, it’s abundantly clear that we also need reform to the program.”,,,,,

Still, while a short-term lapse in the bulk phone records collection could have large political repercussions, it might have only a limited impact on counterterrorism investigations. Throughout the lifetime of the once-secret program, which began in October 2001, it has never been the difference maker in thwarting any terrorist attack, according to testimony and government reports.
When the Senate passed the House bill, Steinhauer and Weisman treated both sides to a fact check:
As the debate over the bulk phone records program unfolded, supporters and opponents both trotted out worst case scenarios to make their argument. Opponents warned that the government could root through the records to learn who was calling psychiatrists and political groups, while supporters said ending it would lead to terrorist attacks on the United States.

Neither of those warnings was supported by how the program had performed in its nearly 14 years of existence. Repeated studies found no evidence of intentional abuse for personal or political gain, but also found no evidence that it had ever thwarted a terrorist attack.
That's the way to put public officials' claims in context. 

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