Infographic: How the Government Exaggerated the Successes of NSA Surveillance

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Jan. 16 2014 1:05 PM

Infographic: How the Government Exaggerated the Successes of NSA Surveillance

FT-NSA infographic

Image from New America

This post originally appeared in New America’s Weekly Wonk.

At first, the U.S. government’s response to the leaks by Edward Snowden fit in a simple phrase: At least 50 threats averted. That’s how President Obama defended the National Security Agency’s bulk data collection and surveillance programs back in June 2013. NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander echoed the president in July, crediting the controversial system with thwarting “54 different terrorist-related activities.” A slew of representatives cited that figure, too.

But as time has gone on, things have gotten a little more complicated. Turns out, that number was exaggerated—according to a new report and website that shows the NSA’s bulk surveillance programs have had a negligible impact in preventing terrorism in the United States.

Advertisement

The report, released by New America’s National Security Program, is an in-depth analysis of 225 individuals recruited or inspired by al-Qaeda or like-minded groups and charged with a terrorism-related crime since 9/11. (Future Tense is a partnership of New America, Slate, and Arizona State University.) It notes that the contribution of the NSA’s bulk surveillance programs to these cases was minimal compared with more traditional law enforcement methods, which initiated the majority of cases. The report also found that the collection of American phone metadata has had no discernible impact on preventing acts of terrorism and only the most marginal of impacts on preventing terrorism-related activity, such as fundraising.

But wait, there’s more! In addition to presenting its NSA surveillance findings, the National Security Program remodeled its database of homegrown extremists so it’s cleaner and easier for researchers, experts, and journalists to use. Click the infographic above to explore the full site.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

David Sterman is a research assistant at New America and a master's candidate at Georgetown's Center for Security Studies.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Meet the New Bosses

How the Republicans would run the Senate.

The Government Is Giving Millions of Dollars in Electric-Car Subsidies to the Wrong Drivers

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Cheez-Its. Ritz. Triscuits.

Why all cracker names sound alike.

Friends Was the Last Purely Pleasurable Sitcom

The Eye

This Whimsical Driverless Car Imagines Transportation in 2059

Medical Examiner

Did America Get Fat by Drinking Diet Soda?  

A high-profile study points the finger at artificial sweeteners.

The Afghan Town With a Legitimately Good Tourism Pitch

A Futurama Writer on How the Vietnam War Shaped the Series

  News & Politics
Photography
Sept. 21 2014 11:34 PM People’s Climate March in Photos Hundreds of thousands of marchers took to the streets of NYC in the largest climate rally in history.
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 20 2014 6:30 AM The Man Making Bill Gates Richer
  Life
Quora
Sept. 20 2014 7:27 AM How Do Plants Grow Aboard the International Space Station?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Sept. 21 2014 1:15 PM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 5  A spoiler-filled discussion of "Time Heist."
  Arts
Television
Sept. 21 2014 9:00 PM Attractive People Being Funny While Doing Amusing and Sometimes Romantic Things Don’t dismiss it. Friends was a truly great show.
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 21 2014 11:38 PM “Welcome to the War of Tomorrow” How Futurama’s writers depicted asymmetrical warfare.
  Health & Science
The Good Word
Sept. 21 2014 11:44 PM Does This Name Make Me Sound High-Fat? Why it just seems so right to call a cracker “Cheez-It.”
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.