Of course everyone with a working concept of the enormity of the data involved in Project PRISM and the cell phone record grab is surprised that anyone would even want to do it. It would be more productive to buy a million monkeys and throw them in a room with a million typewriters to see if one can come up with a working script for Hamlet II: the Revenge than it would be to hire and maintain the staff necessary to trawl through the reams and reams of minutiae generated by the Modern American Desperate Need for Contact (cheaper, too).
Yes, I know that much of the grunt work is done by crawlers similar to webspiders that look for key words and country codes before passing them on to a human (or a more advanced program), but even with flag catchers, the resultant mountain of data has to be tremendous. Those crawlers don’t have discretion, so they can’t tell the difference between a Hezbollah operative contacting his handler in Tehran and a Persian immigrant calling his mother (assuming she’s allowed contact with an American phone number) any more than your IT department’s traffic managing software can tell the difference between your websearch for “kilts” because you promised a friend you’d dress up for the local Renn Fest and Frank from Accounting’s search for Catholic School Girl porn.
The thing is, the point of data mining is not to acquire working evidence of any kind. The point is to justify other questionable methods of obtaining “evidence” after the fact. The Director of the CIA cited (actually, he only cited four, but he referenced) fifty separate potential incidents forestalled by the sweeping invasion-of-privacy programs. The Director of the NSA (notably, an Army General who was not asked to resign his commission before accepting a high-ranking seat in the civilian government) was less optimistic, say “at least ten” and “dozens” alternately during interviews and public appearances.
But here’s the thing, of the four incidents he cited, he only gave details on two and even those details were sketchy and didn’t show evidence that supported his claim. The most noted one, a “planned attack on Wall Street that could have been as bad as 9/11” resulted in a few arrests and one guilty plea, all for money laundering. The principal in this case, a naturalized citizen living in Kansas, had been funneling money to a Yemeni organization that General Alexander claimed was connected to Al ‘Qaeda. He didn’t name the organization, nor did he show any evidence that they had made any notable moves toward their alleged plan of bombing Wall Street. He simply said that the fact the accused parties were convicted by a jury shows that they must have been serious. Except the accused parties were all convicted of monetary crimes under RiCO, not any sort of Terrorist activity.
In any case, you catch the movement of money by tracking international bank transfers (this is a legal activity done every day by the Federal Reserve, since the full faith and trust of the US Treasury is put to the test every time US currency leaves the country in any way), not by tracking phone conversations. It’s far more likely that they used the data mining to compile ex post facto evidence for a jury to consider so they wouldn’t have to admit that they had been hacking into privacy-assured banking systems in other countries.
The only other way to make efficient use of data mining is to use it to get a back-dated warrant for something you’ve already done. A wire-tap, say, or a tracking worm. Of course, the FISA courts were set up in the ’80’s to check all that stuff an make sure it’s all on the up and up, right. I mean, if you can’t trust a secret court with no appeal or public regulation, who can you trust? Father Gustavo can’t use squassation as a means of getting your confession and a list of fellow heretics unless the Grand Inquisitor says it’s okay, right?
But then, if you’ve done nothing wrong, you don’t have anything to fear, do you? It’s not like making a donation to a foreign aid charity can be turned to look like anything bad. You know, unless that charity is located in Somalia, or, well anywhere with a foreign-sounding name. But it’ll probably be all right. Nobody really cares about the web research you’ve been doing for your planned vacation to Uruguay.
You do realize that Uruguay has no extradition treaty with the United States don’t you? Why would you plan a “vacation” in a country with no extradition treaty?