With Patriot Act Deadline Near, Is U.S. Paralyzed By Too Much Intel?


As Congress struggles to agree on which surveillance programs to re-authorize before parts of the Patriot Act expire on Sunday, they might consider the unusual advice of an intelligence analyst at the National Security Agency who warned about the danger of collecting too much data, reports The Intercept. Imagine, an analyst wrote in a leaked document, that you are standing in a shopping aisle trying to decide between jam, jelly or fruit spread, which size, sugar-free or not, generic or Smucker's. It can be paralyzing. “We in the agency are at risk of a similar, collective paralysis in the face of a dizzying array of choices every single day,” the analyst wrote. “'Analysis paralysis' isn't only a cute rhyme. It's the term for what happens when you spend so much time analyzing a situation that you ultimately stymie any outcome …. It's what happens in SIGINT [signals intelligence] when we have access to endless possibilities, but we struggle to prioritize, narrow, and exploit the best ones.”

The document is one of about a dozen in which NSA intelligence experts express concerns usually heard from the agency's critics: that the U.S. “collect it all” strategy can undermine the effort to fight terrorism. The documents, provided to The Intercept by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, appear to contradict years of statements from senior officials who have claimed that pervasive surveillance of global communications helps identify terrorists before they strike or quickly find them after an attack. The Patriot Act has been used since 2001 to conduct a number of dragnet surveillance programs, including the bulk collection of phone metadata from U.S. companies. The documents suggest that NSA analysts NSA have drowned in data since 9/11, making it more difficult for them to find the real threats. The titles of the documents capture their overall message: “Data Is Not Intelligence,” “The Fallacies Behind the Scenes,” “Cognitive Overflow?” “Summit Fever” and “In Praise of Not Knowing.” Other titles include “Dealing With a 'Tsunami' of Intercept” and “Overcome by Overload?”

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