Edward Snowden doesn’t seem to be enjoying his Russian home – word has it that he’s looking to barter a plea deal with the United States in order to make a return – but in the wake of his massive intelligence leak that blew the lid off of the NSA’s data collection program, it was at least assumed that his actions were responsible for halting, or at least reeling in, the program itself.
Now, the NSA, which has been facing backlash over its program for more than a year, especially from privacy advocates that argue that even if the collection program stopped terrorism, that Americans should have been informed of the privacy they were giving up, says that it’s because of Edward Snowden that the program continued for so long. In fact, according to intelligence officials, the NSA was totally on the way to scrapping the program when Snowden leaked his information to journalists.
Because if there’s anything you can count on a government entity to do, it’s to discontinue an ineffective program. Or something.
The National Security Agency considered abandoning its secret program to collect and store American calling records in the months before leaker Edward Snowden revealed the practice, current and former intelligence officials say, because some officials believed the costs outweighed the meager counterterrorism benefits.
After the leak and the collective surprise around the world, NSA leaders strongly defended the phone records program to Congress and the public, but without disclosing the internal debate.
The proposal to kill the program was circulating among top managers but had not yet reached the desk of Gen. Keith Alexander, then the NSA director, according to current and former intelligence officials who would not be quoted because the details are sensitive. Two former senior NSA officials say they doubt Alexander would have approved it.
As the Huffington Post points out, noting that NSA higher-ups were uncomfortable with the project and its cost is nothing new. After news of the program leaked, NSA officials spoke to several news outlets about how they feared the public would have a problem with a program that captured all of their cellphone metadata with the blessing of their carrier services and stored it for future use.
The least this story does, though, is drive home that the NSA has some of the same concerns about the program that pro-privacy legislators and civil liberties activists do: that the massive scale of the program makes it unwieldy and that, despite assertions to the contrary, the program has not been an effective aid in combatting terrorism. But, of course, that doesn’t really mean anything in the context of government efficency. After all, Ronald Reagan put it best when he said that the nearest thing we will ever see to eternal life is a government program.