NSA headquarters, Fort Meade, Maryland

The NSA’s desperate attempts to justify their incredibly expensive and massively invasive programs are starting to sound really pathetic. Apparently one of the few real “successes” the NSA can point to is catching a guy sending a few thousand dollars to Somalia, which was only indirectly related to terrorism. From the Washington Post:

He was a San Diego cab driver who fled Somalia as a teenager, winning asylum in the United States after he was wounded during fighting among warring tribes. Today, Basaaly Moalin, 36, is awaiting sentencing following his conviction on charges that he sent $8,500 to Somalia in support of the terrorist group al-Shabab.

Moalin’s prosecution, barely noticed when the case was in court, has suddenly come to the fore of a national debate about U.S. surveillance. Under pressure from Congress, senior intelligence officials have offered it as their primary example of the unique value of a National Security Agency program that collects tens of millions of phone records from Americans. [...]

In 2009, an FBI field intelligence group assessed that Moalin’s support for al-Shabab was not ideological. Rather, according to an FBI document provided to his defense team, Moalin probably sent money to an al-Shabab leader out of “tribal affiliation” and to “promote his own status” with tribal elders.

If this is one of the best examples that your program is working, it is not working. We are spending billions and shredding our constitution to maybe make it easier to find some low level person who could have been caught using traditional police tactics.

I know the NSA has received a lot of criticism from civil liberty groups, but where are the complaints from true small government conservatives? Leave aside the constitutional issue and look only at the financial ones. The NSA is one of the most sprawling and expensive government agencies ever created. With almost no oversight it hands out huge contracts to private companies. If the NSA was ever properly audited, it sounds like many of its programs would never pass even the most generous cost-benefit analysis.

Photo by the NSA. public domain