Playing Minesweeper

Lifted from Robert’s Stochastic Thoughts:

Minesweeper in the Washington Post.

“It’s like Minesweeper,” former Wyden staffer Jennifer Hoelzer told The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein in June, referring to the computer game in which players slowly probe unknown territory, looking for bombs. “You just have to ask questions to try to get the outlines of what they’re not telling you. Because they can’t tell you what they’re not telling you.”


Instead of targeting just the calls of terrorism suspects, the program records “metadata” for millions of calls between average Americans. This includes the numbers dialed and the duration of calls, but not the content of calls. Intelligence officials have defended this program, saying their ability to connect phone numbers has led them to disrupt dozens of terrorist plots in the United States and overseas.

Notice that “intelligence officials” didn’t say that meta data from US to US phone calls has been useful in disrupting a terrorist plot.   Note that the officials didn’t say how many plots were in the USA or whether they are counting the guy who planned to bring down the Brooklyn Bridge with a blowtorch.

I think it is safe to assume that they would have stressed such highly relevant facts if the facts didn’t prove the opposite of their claim.  Recall how intelligence officials described useful data obtained from the high value detainee interrogation program (the program which eventually involved “enhanced interrogation”) and neglected to mention that the information was obtained *before* the interrogation was “enhanced.”