The Bush administration called its warrantless surveillance efforts “very, very important to protect the national security of this country,” in the words of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in 2005. Today’s inspectors general report on the President’s Surveillance Program doesn’t really substantiate that assessment. “[M]ost PSP leads were determined not to have any connection to terrorism,” according to the Justice Department’s inspector general.
Former Bush administration officials gave the generic statement that the PSP was “of value,” to quote FBI Director Robert Mueller’s rather conspicuously understated judgment. But there’s no evidence given in the report about valuable contributions that the PSP uniquely provided to the counterterrorism fight, even when conceding that most of that stuff is classified.
For instance, here’s the Justice Department inspector general’s assessment:
Even though most PSP leads were determined not to have any connection to terrorism, many of the FBI witnesses believed the mere possibility of the leads producing useful information made investigating the leads worthwhile.
However, the DOJ [inspector general] also found that the exceptionally compartmented nature of the program created some frustration for FBI personnel. Some agents and analysts criticized the PSP-derived information they received for providing insufficient details, and the agents who managed counterterrorism programs at the FBI field offices the DOJ [inspector general] visited said the FBI’s process for disseminating PSP-derived information failed to adquately prioritize the information for investigation.
So: diligence on a wild goose chase. I guess that’s something. What was the value added for the National Security Agency?
In May 2009 [former NSA and CIA director] told NSA [inspector general] that the value of the Program was in knowing the NSA signals intelligence activities under the PSP covered an important ‘quadrant’ of terrorist communications. NSA’s Deputy Director echoed Hayden’s comment when he said that the value of the PSP was in the confidence it provided that someone was looking at the seam between the foreign and domestic intelligence domains.
Again: value in checking boxes, but no value in, like, stopping terrorism. What about CIA?
The CIA [inspector general] determined that the CIA did not implement procedures to assess the usefulness of the product of the PSP and did not routinely document whether PSP reporting had contributed to successful counterterrorism operations. CIA officials, including Hayden, told the CIA [inspector general] that PSP reporting was used in conjunction with reporting from other intelligence sources; consequently, it is difficult to attribute the success of particular counterterrorism case exclusively to the PSP.
For this the Bush administration violated the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and then gutted it, with the help of a Democratic Congress.