“Linked With”

“LINKED WITH”….Laura Rozen has a question about the 4,000 or so people within the United States who have been targeted by the NSA’s spying program:

Surely if there were 4,000 US persons in the past four years “linked with al Qaeda,” who communicated directly with known al Qaeda terrorists, we should have vast sweeping arrests around the country and our papers would be full of these stories, the trials, the deportations, the threats averted….

But the administration has only cited one arrest from the program, the guy who planned to blow up the Brooklyn Bridge.

….I think we’re in store for some pretty tortured definitions of “linked to” in the near future, coupled with allegations that the administration continues to lie to Congress and the public about the safeguards it put on this program to prevent vast interception of calls of those suspected of no wrongdoing at all, and what it did with that information. One can almost hear the shredder.

Actually, I think there might be a fairly simple answer to this question: information gleaned from the NSA program can be used for purposes of counterintelligence, but it can’t be used in court. In fact, the results of the NSA program can’t even be used as the basis for a subsequent FISA wiretap warrant.

In other words, the primary intent of this program wasn’t to build criminal cases against persons in the U.S. Thus the low number of arrests. Most likely, the information was primarily useful for overseas operations.

Needless to say, I’m just tossing out a guess here. And arrests or not, I’d still like to know if there have really been 4,000+ communications from within the U.S. to al-Qaeda members in the past few years. That frankly doesn’t seem very likely considering what we know about al-Qaeda, and I suspect that Laura is right to wonder about the precise meaning of the government’s definition of “linked with.” I have a feeling “affiliated” might have gotten a bit of a semantic working over as well.