It seems that most people assume that our intelligence organizations (CIA, NSA, etc) are these massive super efficient entities, the reality is that they are not.
I really should start with explaining how intelligence collection/collection management works, for most of the intelligence agencies, the commander (theoretically the president then the Head of that particular agency but in reality the politicos have little sway in the actual intelligence process) decides on who/what they want intelligence collected on, say…Al Qaeda. The particular alphabet agency then comes up with a plan (collection management) to gather the desired intelligence.
In the American intelligence community, HumInt (Human Intelligence) is looked down upon as dirty and unreliable, and it is, can you really trust a person who is betraying their country and/or cause? American intelligence loves their toys (satellites, UAVs, and other ‘clean’ systems). What I mean by dirty and clean, is the New York Times will never run a story about how some UAV is a dirty rotten scoundrel, but an intelligence operative, that would be gold for them. Now the down side to all the high-tech toys is…people are people, and there is only so much one can learn from how many times you googled naked pictures of Mila Kunis, and to be honest, it is not as revealing as one would assume. Especially since a lot of the dirty tricks the CIA used to engage in, are now illegal (surprisingly for the most part the CIA et al actually obeys the law).
Now the best way to understand how intelligence works is taking a 15,000 piece puzzle, dump the pieces on the table, throw away the box, pull out all the straight-edged pieces, and then throw away 3/4 of the pieces left, so now you have 4,000 pieces, work on putting the puzzle together for 15 minutes. Now you have to answer questions, not what the picture is, no that is easy, no the questions that need to be answered are more like this:
How many branches are on the third tree from the left?
Does the 8th branch on the 2nd tree from the right have 4 leaves on it?
How many clouds are visible between the 4th and 5th trees?
The massive intelligence dumps that one can receive from the phone taps and computer taps just add more puzzle pieces to an already over taxed system, but the desire to having just ‘one more piece of intel’ is indescribable to anyone but an addict.
So while I don’t blame the intelligence community, they have an incredibley hard thankless job, our privacy is more important. As such oversight and rules/laws are vital to keep the good guys watching the bad guys from watching us to much, we are more interesting and maybe a bit sexier too. 😀