Two seemingly unrelated news stories this week raise far more questions than they answer, and demonstrate how the government should take a closer look at its own homeland security efforts.
In the first case, we learned at a hearing from Deputy NSA Director John C. Inglis that the “phone logging effort” made by the NSA was not critical to thwarting 54 plots—it was critical instead to only one. “[Senator Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.] noted that senior officials had testified that the phone logging effort was critical to thwarting 54 plots, but after reviewing NSA material, he said that assertion cannot be made—‘not by any stretch,’” reported The Washington Post. “Pressed by Leahy on the point, Inglis admitted that the program ‘made a contribution’ in 12 plots with a domestic nexus, but only one case came close to a ‘but-for’ or critical contribution” (emphasis added).
Yet, as Inglis testified last month, analysts are allowed to extend their searches by “three hops.” “That means that starting from a target’s phone number, analysts can search on the phone numbers of people in contact with the target, then the numbers of people in contact with that group, and then the numbers of people in contact with that larger pool,” reports The Washington Post. This can reach millions.
Even with this potentially egregious infringement on civil liberties, it seems that the national security apparatus is still not positioned to stop a real plot such as that hatched by the Tsarnaev brothers, Tamerlan and Dzokhar.
The New York Times, among others, is reporting that the FBI says it did not have the authority to use surveillance tools such as wiretapping for the investigation. “F.B.I. officials have concluded that the agents who conducted the investigation and ultimately told the Russians that there was no evidence that Mr. Tsarnaev had become radicalized were constrained from conducting a more extensive investigation because of federal laws and Justice Department protocols,” reports the Times. “Agents cannot use surveillance tools like wiretapping for the type of investigation they were conducting.”
“The officials have also determined that had the agents known that Mr. Tsarnaev had traveled to Russia for months in 2012, they probably would not have investigated him again because there was no new evidence that he had become radicalized.”
But, according to the Times, “the F.B.I. has no plans to appoint an investigator to examine its procedures.” Instead, “inspectors general from four federal agencies, including the Justice Department, said they would be working together on their own investigation into how the government handled intelligence before the attack.”
While a majority of people are okay with the NSA tracking foreign or foreign inspired terrorists, the program is clearly not succeeding under this President—whose credibility is largely shot with the segment of the population most willing to allow an intrusive national security regime in place. According to the Post’s Timothy Lee, Pew Poll data shows that “Only 18 percent of Americans believe the government’s collection activities are limited to metadata, while 63 percent believe the government is collecting the contents of phone calls or e-mails.”
We have a real problem on our hands. The obvious question is, with all of Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s history, his online and YouTube presence, the warnings from Russia and Saudi Arabia, his trips back to his parents’ homeland—from which they supposedly fled for fear of persecution—why was this not enough to indicate that he may have become radicalized and result in an approved FISA court warrant to closely monitor his activities? If the system didn’t work in this case, why not, and should we really trust that system’s effectiveness?
We can expect little else from an administration willing to label the Major Nidal Hasan case as “workplace violence” instead of the jihadist—lone wolf, or otherwise—attack that it was. “Despite extensive evidence that Hasan was in communication with al Qaeda leader Anwar al-Awlaki prior to the attack, the military has denied the victims Purple Hearts and has treated the incident as ‘workplace violence’ instead of ‘combat related’ or terrorism,” reported ABC News last month.
But there can be no mistaking the jihadist tendencies of Hasan. “With just days before he heads to trial, the accused Fort Hood shooting suspect, Maj. Nidal Hasan, renounced his citizenship with the United States, repudiated his Army oath and publicly embraced—once again—his affiliation as a ‘Soldier of Allah,’” reported the Washington Times. This, we hear, is nothing but workplace violence.
Did the FBI wear the same rose-colored glasses when searching for “new evidence” of Tamerlan’s own radicalization?
This comes from an administration which has itself instructed the FBI to remove information that might be considered offensive to Muslims from its own training materials. It also has consistently been friendly with those supportive of the Muslim Brotherhood. For example, in 2009, Obama sent his senior adviser, Valerie Jarrett to be the keynote speaker at the Islamic Society of North America’s (ISNA) national convention. “Even worse, in April 2009, Obama appointed Arif Alikhan, the deputy mayor of Los Angeles, as assistant secretary for policy development at the Department of Homeland Security,” wrote Robert Spencer, the director of Jihad Watch, for Human Events. “Just two weeks before he received this appointment, Alikhan (who once called the jihad terror group Hezbollah a ‘liberation movement’) participated in a fund-raiser for the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC).”
“Like the ISNA, MPAC has links to the Muslim Brotherhood.”
“The Muslim Brotherhood is a pro-Sharia group,” wrote Spencer in 2011. “Obama’s chief adviser on Islamic affairs, Dalia Mogahed, is a pro-Sharia Muslim.”
So the Obama administration would like to continue to keep tabs on all Americans who might be calling someone who might have called someone, who might have called a terrorist—and we’re supposed to trust them—but those who are more likely to commit acts of terror in the current environment get a pass? To date, the administration has been lucky with the hapless Times Square bomber, the hapless “underwear bomber” on a Detroit-bound flight, and with New York City’s great success in thwarting numerous terrorist acts. How long will this continue to be the case?
Roger Aronoff is the Editor of Accuracy in Media, and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.