According to a March 26th article in the Boston Globe, senior officials at the National Security Agency (NSA) were already considering closing down the secret program to collect calling records in the U.S. just a few months before NSA-leaker Edward J. Snowden revealed what the Agency was doing.
The sources that spoke to the AP said a number of analysts and senior staff in the agency thought the financial and political costs of the program clearly outweighed the very limited counter-terrorism benefits.
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NSA did not disclose internal debate in testimony defending program before Congress after Snowden leaks
After the Snowden leaks made it clear that U.S. intelligence was spying in Americans, NSA management strongly defended the phone surveillance program in testimony to Congress, but notably said nothing the internal debate over the program.
The idea of closing down the program was under consideration by top execs at the agency, but had not been seen by General Keith Alexander, the NSA director at the time, according to several current and former intelligence officials. Two officials, however, expressed doubt Alexander would have approved ending the program.
The behind-the-scenes NSA concerns have not been reported previously, and certainly seem important as Congress mulls whether to renew or change the phone collection program when the authorization expires in June.
Critics highlighted that the very high costs of recording and storing the information from nearly every domestic landline call were rising, the system could not surveil most cellphone calls, and had not produced much data of value in preventing terrorist plots. The critics also expressed concerns about public outrage if the program was made public.
When the domestic spying program was disclosed by the Snowden leaks, civil liberties advocates were up in arms, saying the records could give a secret intelligence agency a road map to Americans’ private activities. NSA officials presented a forceful, and apparently intentionally one-sided and deceptive, rebuttal to the critics that kept public opinion about the program from boiling over.
President Obama calls for end to NSA domestic spying program
During the media firestorm back in January of 2014, President Obama advanced a proposal that the agency stop collecting domestic phone records, and simply request them from telephone companies if required for a terrorism investigations.
Obama insists, however, that legislation is need to implement his proposal, and the do-nothing Congress has not made any efforts in the last 15 months. This means the NSA is still collecting records of private U.S. phone calls. Not surprisingly, many right wing, “the war on terrorism is more important than the constitution” lawmakers want the program to continue as is despite polls showing the public is clearly opposed.