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Do NSA’s Bulk Surveillance Programs Stop Terrorists?

Do NSA’s Bulk Surveillance Programs Stop Terrorists?
Source: New American Foundation

On June 5, 2013, the Guardian broke the first story in what would become a flood of revelations regarding the extent and nature of the NSA’s surveillance programs. Facing an uproar over the threat such programs posed to privacy, the Obama administration scrambled to defend them as legal and essential to U.S. national security and counterterrorism. Two weeks after the first leaks by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden were published, President Obama defended the NSA surveillance programs during a visit to Berlin, saying: “We know of at least 50 threats that have been averted because of this information not just in the United States, but, in some cases, threats here in Germany. So lives have been saved.” Gen. Keith Alexander, the director of the NSA, testified before Congress that: “the information gathered from these programs provided the U.S. government with critical leads to help prevent over 50 potential terrorist events in more than 20 countries around the world.” Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said on the House floor in July that “54 times [the NSA programs] stopped and thwarted terrorist attacks both here and in Europe – saving real lives.”

However, our review of the government’s claims about the role that NSA “bulk” surveillance of phone and email communications records has had in keeping the United States safe from terrorism shows that these claims are overblown and even misleading. An in-depth analysis of 225 individuals recruited by al-Qaeda or a like-minded group or inspired by al-Qaeda’s ideology, and charged in the United States with an act of terrorism since 9/11, demonstrates that traditional investigative methods, such as the use of informants, tips from local communities, and targeted intelligence operations, provided the initial impetus for investigations in the majority of cases, while the contribution of NSA’s bulk surveillance programs to these cases was minimal. Indeed, the controversial bulk collection of American telephone metadata, which includes the telephone numbers that originate and receive calls, as well as the time and date of those calls but not their content, under Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act, appears to have played an identifiable role in initiating, at most, 1.8 percent of these cases. NSA programs involving the surveillance of non-U.S. persons outside of the United States under Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act played a role in 4.4 percent of the terrorism cases we examined, and NSA surveillance under an unidentified authority played a role in 1.3 percent of the cases we examined.

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Report on the Telephone Records Program Conducted under Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act and on the Operations of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court

Report on the Telephone Records Program Conducted under Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act and on the Operations of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (PDF)
Source: Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (U.S. Congress)

The body of this Report consists of seven sections, five of which address the Section 215 telephone records program. After this introduction and the executive summary, Part 3 describes in detail how the telephone records program works. To put the present-day operation of the program in context, Part 4 reviews its history, including its evolution from predecessor intelligence activities. An analysis of whether the telephone records program meets applicable statutory requirements follows in Part 5. Part 6 addresses the constitutional issues raised by the telephone records program under both the First and Fourth Amendments. The final section discussing the Section 215 program, Part 7, examines the potential benefits of the program, its efficacy in achieving its purposes, the impact of the program on privacy and civil liberties, and the Board’s conclusions that reforms are needed.

After considering the 215 program, the Report addresses the operations of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. That section, Part 8, concludes by proposing an approach that, in appropriate cases, would allow the FISC judges to hear from a Special Advocate. Part 9, the final section of the Report, addresses the issue of transparency, which has been a priority of this Board since it began operations.

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DoD: Unmanned Systems Integrated Roadmap FY 2013-2038

Unmanned Systems Integrated Roadmap FY 2013-2038 (PDF)
Source: U.S. Department of Defense

Unmanned systems continue to deliver new and enhanced battlefield capabilities to the warfighter. While the demand for unmanned systems continues unabated today, a number of factors will influence unmanned program development in the future. Three primary forces are driving the Department of Defense’s (DoD) approach in planning for and developing unmanned systems.

1. Combat operations in Southwest Asia have demonstrated the military utility of unmanned systems on today’s battlefields and have resulted in the expeditious integration of unmanned technologies into the joint force structure. However, the systems and technologies currently fielded to fulfill today’s urgent operational needs must be further expanded (as described in this Roadmap) and appropriately integrated into Military Department programs of record (POR) to achieve the levels of effectiveness, efficiency, affordability, commonality, interoperability, integration, and other key parameters needed to meet future operational requirements.

2. Downward economic forces will continue to constrain Military Department budgets for the foreseeable future. Achieving affordable and cost-effective technical solutions is imperative in this fiscally constrained environment.

3. The changing national security environment poses unique challenges. A strategic shift in national security to the Asia-Pacific Theater presents different operational considerations based on environment and potential adversary capabilities that may require unmanned systems to operate in anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) areas where freedom to operate is contested. Similarly, any reallocation of unmanned assets to support other combatant commanders (CCDRs) entails its own set of unique challenges, which will likely require unmanned systems to operate in more complex environments involving weather, terrain, distance, and airspace while necessitating extensive coordination with allies and host nations.

The combination of these primary forces requires further innovative technical solutions that are effective yet affordable for program development.

The purpose of this Roadmap is to articulate a vision and strategy for the continued development, production, test, training, operation, and sustainment of unmanned systems technology across DoD. This “Unmanned Systems Integrated Roadmap” establishes a technological vision for the next 25 years and outlines actions and technologies for DoD and industry to pursue to intelligently and affordably align with this vision.

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Connecticut State Police: Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting Reports

Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting Reports
Source: Connecticut State Police

The reports below document the many stages of the investigation of the December 14, 2012 shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Administratively, the investigation consists of three separate case numbers. CFS 1200704559 is the primary investigation, CFS 1200704597 is the processing of the scene at Sandy Hook Elementary School, and CFS 1200705354 is the investigation of the homicide at 36 Yogananda St. in Newtown.

As laid out in the Table of Contents, each investigation includes numerous written reports, with each case number available for separate download. Additionally, each investigation also includes various forms of multimedia including photographs, video recordings and/or audio recordings. These attachments to the reports are available for download under the case number of the investigation to which it pertains, and further divided by the document number of the corresponding report or other description.

Please note that many of the linked files are very large. These files will take a considerable amount of time to download, and may impose a heavy burden on the hosting system. We encourage you, especially with respect to the larger video files, to download and view the smaller files first to confirm your interest in obtaining the larger files.

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CRS — Navy Force Structure and Shipbuilding Plans: Background and Issues for Congress

Navy Force Structure and Shipbuilding Plans: Background and Issues for Congress (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

The Navy’s proposed FY2014 budget requests funding for the procurement of 8 new battle force ships (i.e., ships that count against the Navy’s goal for achieving and maintaining a fleet of 306 ships). The 8 ships include two Virginia-class attack submarines, one DDG-51 class Aegis destroyer, four Littoral Combat Ships (LCSs), and one Mobile Landing Platform/Afloat Forward Staging Base (MLP/AFSB) ship. The Navy’s proposed FY2014-FY2018 five-year shipbuilding plan includes a total of 41 ships—the same number as in the Navy’s FY213-FY2017 five-year shipbuilding plan, and one less than the 42 ships that the Navy planned for FY2014-FY2018 under the FY2013 budget submission.

The planned size of the Navy, the rate of Navy ship procurement, and the prospective affordability of the Navy’s shipbuilding plans have been matters of concern for the congressional defense committees for the past several years. The Navy’s FY2014 30-year (FY2014-FY2043) shipbuilding plan, like the Navy’s previous 30-year shipbuilding plans in recent years, does not include enough ships to fully support all elements of the Navy’s 306-ship goal over the long run. The Navy projects that the fleet would remain below 306 ships during most of the 30-year period, and experience shortfalls at various points in cruisers-destroyers, attack submarines, and amphibious ships.

In its October 2013 report on the cost of the FY2014 30-year shipbuilding plan, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that the plan would cost an average of $19.3 billion per year in constant FY2013 dollars to implement, or about 15% more than the Navy estimates. CBO’s estimate is about 6% higher than the Navy’s estimate for the first 10 years of the plan, about 14% higher than the Navy’s estimate for the second 10 years of the plan, and about 26% higher than the Navy’s estimate for the final 10 years of the plan. Some of the difference between CBO’s estimate and the Navy’s estimate, particularly in the latter years of the plan, is due to a difference between CBO and the Navy in how to treat inflation in Navy shipbuilding.

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