(NATIONALJOURNAL) — Michael Morell, the former acting director of the CIA and a member of President Obama’s task force on surveillance, said in an interview on Sunday that a controversial telephone data-collection program conducted by the National Security Agency should be expanded to include emails. He also said the program, far from being unnecessary, could prevent the next 9/11.
Morell, seeking to correct any misperception that the presidential panel had called for a radical curtailment of NSA programs, said he is in favor of restarting a program that the NSA discontinued in 2011 that involved the collection of “meta-data” for internet communications. That program only gets a brief mention in a footnote on page 97 of the task-force report, “Liberty and Security in A Changing World.” “I would argue actually that the email data is probably more valuable than the telephony data,” Morell told National Journal in a telephone interview. “You can bet that the last thing a smart terrorist is going to do right now is call someone in the United States.”
Morell also said that while he agreed with the report’s conclusion that the telephone data program, conducted under Section 215 of the Patriot Act, made “only a modest contribution to the nation’s security” so far, it should be continued under the new safeguards recommended by the panel. “I would argue that what effectiveness we have seen to date is totally irrelevant to how effective it might be in the future,” he said. “This program, 215, has the ability to stop the next 9/11 and if you added emails in there it would make it even more effective. Had it been in place in 2000 and 2001, I think that probably 9/11 would not have happened.”