Damage control? NSA claims only touches 1.6% of internet traffic

The NSA has alleged it monitors only 1.6 percent of web traffic, contradicting claims of a sweeping spy network. A report released by the White House justifies NSA snooping as essential for national security, but neglects to expand on any details.

The Obama Administration released a seven-page document on Friday intended to justify the NSA’s mass surveillance programs and correct media “inaccuracies.” A memo included in the report alleges that the National Security Agency only “touches” 1.6 percent of the internet and of that figure only 0.025 gets analyzed by the organization.

“If a standard basketball court represented the global communications environment, NSA’s total collection would be represented by an area smaller than a dime on that basketball court,”
the memo says.

In a move to placate public suspicion in the wake of former CIA employee’s leak of classified information, the document claims the Obama Administration has done everything possible to keep the public informed.

“The administration has provided enhanced transparency on, and engaged in robust public discussion about, key intelligence collection programs undertaken by the NSA,” the memo reads.

The White House has been on the defensive since Edward Snowden released a trove of classified documents that blew the whistle on the NSA’s spying practices in May. At times the White House’s rhetoric has been confusing regarding the issue, with Obama claiming on US TV that there is no domestic spying program, while ex-Obama adviser Van Jones told CNN “we do have a domestic spying program.”

According to the documents released by Snowden, the NSA gathers troves of metadata through internet companies such as Google, Microsoft and Facebook using a program called PRISM. The leaks also allege that the NSA used eavesdropping programs to monitor internet traffic in the EU, provoking furor from the respective countries’ leaders.

‘Connecting the dots’

Despite claims that the Obama Administration has done everything in its power to inform the American people, the document contains almost no information on the NSA mass surveillance. At no point does it broach the alleged collaboration of internet companies or the programs used to gather data, such as PRISM. The report focuses on the legal justification of the NSA’s practices, paying little heed to the details.

It references the 9/11 attacks and the failure of the Pentagon to “connect the many dots of information that would have uncovered the planning and preparation for those attacks.” In particular, it looks at the involvement of hijacker Khalid al-Midhar who resided in California for the first six months of 2000. It notes that while the NSA did monitor al-Midhar’s activities, it did not have the tools to “connect the dots of the information available.”

Since then several programs have been developed to strengthen the coordination between agencies to prevent terrorist attacks, the document writes.

The original cables released by Snowden describe a spy network that is much larger and farther-reaching than the White House alleges. The organization reportedly records trillions of phone calls and emails and can access them at any time.

In response to the leak and criticism the US government has overstepped the mark with its spying, Obama has promised more transparency and safeguards against abuse. However, he has repeatedly argued that the measures are necessary in order to protect national security.

The NSA claimed to have thwarted over 50 terrorist plots using its surveillance programs. However, Senators Mark Udall and Ron Wyden, who serve on the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, questioned this claim in June, saying there was no concrete evidence to suggest “the NSA’s dragnet collection of Americans’ phone records has produced any uniquely valuable intelligence.”