Episode 115: "The Whole Haystack"

Almost every major terrorist attack on Western soil in the past fifteen years has been committed by people who were already known to law enforcement. One of the gunmen in the attack on Charlie Hebdo, in Paris, had been sent to prison for recruiting jihadist fighters. The other had reportedly studied in Yemen with Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the underwear bomber, who was arrested and interrogated by the F.B.I. in 2009.
— Mattathias Schwartz, The New Yorker, January 26, 2015
Before 9/11, the intelligence community was already struggling to evolve. The technology of surveillance was changing, from satellites to fibre-optic cable. The targets were also changing, from the embassies and nuclear arsenals of the Cold War era to scattered networks of violent extremists. The law still drew lines between foreign and domestic surveillance, but the increasingly global nature of communications was complicating this distinction.
— Mattathias Schwartz, The New Yorker, January 26, 2015

In recent years, Americans and global citizens have been made aware of government surveillance and data gathering programs. But the conversation surrounding the topic has died down for the most part. Many trend towards poles of paranoia or complacency with fewer individuals attempting to parse through the complex modern phenomenon. And admittedly, this would not be an easy task, as much of the necessary information is classified and well-guarded. This week Nico Hargreaves-Heald joins us to explore a particular case of NSA surveillance as used to track and convict Basaaly Moalin, who was found to have financed Somalian extremists. How should American citizens consider the measures taken by agencies such as the NSA? Is there a particular reason that technological monitoring has become such a prominent tool of the US government? How might the approach of sifting through metadata actually overwhelm or distract authorities from legitimate threats and criminal activity?

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