2013 June 18

We Want “The Whole Haystack:” Administration Official Explains Surveillance Philosophy


Testifying before the House Intelligence Committee on this day, Deputy Attorney General James Cole explained the government’s philos0phy on national security surveillance by saying that “If you’re looking for the needle in the haystack, you have to have the entire haystack to look through.” In short, the government feels justifying in collecting all communications by Americans.

The hearings came in the wake of revelations of massive government spying, based on National Security documents stolen and released to selected news media by Edward Snowden, an NSA contract employee.

Cole did not invent the “whole haystack” metaphor. The first public usage occurred in early June by Jermey Dash, former chief of staff of CIA Director Leon Panetta, on MSNBC. on An intelligence official used it in a closed-door briefing for members of Congress on June  11, 2013. NSA Director Keith Alexander later used it at an Aspen Security Forum on July 18, 2013.

Get the full story: Luke Harding, The Snowden Files: The Inside Story of the World’s Most Wanted Man (2014)

Read the best book on President Obama and the war on terrorism: Charlie Savage, Power Wars: Inside Obama’s Post-9/11 Presidency (2015)

Learn more; documents and analysis of the Snowden/NSA documents at the National Security Archive: http://www2.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB436/

Watch the acclaimed film about Snowden: Citizenfour (2014)

Watch an interview with Snowden: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5yB3n9fu-rM

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