There’s an interesting Washington Post article that provides some details into the current wiretapping controversy. Remember that the Bush camp is calling this terrorist surveillance and trying to give the impression that only those talking to Al Qaeda members would be monitored.
Let’s look at the process according to the above article and try to compare that to the claims:
1) First hundreds of thousands of calls, emails, etc. are automatically monitored by NSA computers.
2) Then intelligence analysts actually listen to or read the suspicious messages flagged by the computers. This reportedly numbers around 5000.
3) If the intelligence analyst also determines there is suspicious activity, then the message is passed on for further investigation. This reportedly was less than 10 per year.
So basically we have hundreds of thousands of innocent conversations monitored by computers, 5000 of these monitored by actual people, and out of this we get less than 10 per year (at best less than 45 since 9/11) that are suspicious enough to be investigated further. How many of these 45 actually turned out to be terrorists and not just a misunderstood conversation? We don’t know.
What we do know is that it took hundreds of thousands of warrantless taps to produce those 45 leads. That is what is called a fishing expedition. Such wholesale monitoring of communications in the vague hope of getting a few leads is the hallmark of a repressive police state. And it is so far from the president’s description of the surveillance that it would be laughable if it weren’t so serious.