Adam Serwer writes: When Judge William H. Pauley ruled that the National Security Agency’s metadata program was lawful on Friday, he argued that there was no significant dispute about “the effectiveness of bulk telephony metadata collection.”
Pauley — who issued his ruling from a courthouse less than two miles from where the twin towers once stood — then offered a series of examples cited by the NSA to bolster their claims that the program is effective, all of which have been “seriously disputed.”
Only four plots among the fifty-four the NSA claims to have helped foil have been made public. Pauley cited three of those four plots in arguing that the metadata program was effective, but journalists and legislators have picked already picked those examples apart. ProPublica published a piece in October by Justin Elliott and Theodoric Meyer noting that in each of the three cases Pauley mentions, there were serious doubts as to whether or not the NSA was exaggerating either the plot itself or the impact of the program.
Pauley cites the case of Najibullah Zazi, who was convicted of a plot to bomb the New York subway in 2009. An Associated Press examination concluded that the NSA had the authority to monitor the email account that lead to Zazi’s capture even without the authority to gather communications records in bulk.
Pauley also cited an effort by a man named Khalid Ouazzani to attack the New York Stock Exchange. But Ouazzani was convicted of funding al Qaeda, and as ProPublica notes neither he nor anyone else was ever actually charged or convicted of a plot to bomb the NYSE.
Pauley also cites the case of David Headley, who was involved in the 2008 terrorist attack in Mumbai and was involved in a plot to attack on a Danish newspaper which had published cartoons depicting the Islamic prophet Mohammed. But according to ProPublica, it was British intelligence, not the NSA’s datagathering, that first brought Headly to U.S. authorities’ attention.
All of this information would have been available to Pauley, because the ProPublica piece disputing the NSA’s claims was cited as a footnote in the prior ruling by Judge Richard Leon that found the NSA’s data gathering program unconstitutional. Pauley refers to Leon’s ruling multiple times in his own, indicating that he read it. [Continue reading…]