There has been a thought that has been puzzling me for days with regards to the NSA/phone company wire tapping database. Proponents of the program often state that they look at the patterns of phone calls made by the 9/11 attackers and then search for similar patterns to attempt to thwart another attack. On the surface, this sounds like it might be an appropriate strategy.
However, if I were a terrorist organization, why would I use that same tactic twice? I mean, one could argue that if it was successful the first time, then one should try it again. That works well for groups that don't mind exposure, but for organizations that are trying to remain off of the radar screen such a tactic is suicide.
Consider how some hackers are caught. Some of them are emboldened enough that they use the same technique time and again, eventually leaving traces that could be detected and tracked. Others use the techniques exposed by hackers before them and get caught in the same type of net. Would the Unibomber have been as "successful" had he not used random timing and random mailing outlets? Heck, he'd still be at large if he hadn't have presented the code to his own unmasking and been turned in by his brother.
I think it's safe to assume that Al Qaeda is an intelligent enough organization not to rely on a single method of organizing. Proof of this was recently discovered by Pakistani authorities when they found that operatives in the British subway attacks used free email services to communicate. A terrorist would compose a message and then save it as a draft. His connection would then use the same username and password to log on and retrieve the draft message and, perhaps, reply in his own draft. No email was ever exchanged. Nothing passed through the servers that the NSA is monitoring. It's likely that Al Qaeda has changed tactics once again.
So, the NSA system is reactionary. Is it helpful? Is it too much money? What are the built-in privacy assurances and who guarantees those assurances ("who" meaning which publicly elected body, since I do not trust government to do it)? Would our resources be better directed at such things as human infiltration, port security, emergency preparedness (also reactionary, but with a clear and uncontested benefit), etc?