They prove that NSA surveillance isn't important. That Section 215 authority came up during a classified briefing between the White House and members of Congress at some point recently, as Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois noted on that same program. Even in light of the new terror alerts, Durbin didn't rush to defend metadata collection.
In other words, do we need to collect all of the phone records of all of the people living in America for five years so that if we're going to target one particular person, we're ready to jump on it. That is being discussed and debated. The president is open to suggestions to make this stronger and more responsive and transparent.
On CNN, Rep. Adam Schiff of California went a step further.
“If you look at the one that’s most at issue here, and that’s the bulk metadata program, there’s no indication, unless I’m proved wrong later, that that program, which collects vast amounts of domestic data, domestic telephone data, contributed to information about this particular plot,” he said.
The Guardian's Glenn Greenwald responded to Chambliss' claims on Democracy Now.
[T]he only thing that the warning has to do with the current controversy is that the argument that a lot of analysts have made, very persuasively, is that when you have an agency that collects everything, it actually becomes harder, not easier, to detect actual terrorist plots and to find the actual terrorists. And if this agency really were devoted, if these surveillance programs were really devoted to finding terrorism, they would be much more directed and discriminating. But they’re not. They’re indiscriminate and limitless, and that’s one of the problems.
They prove that the Snowden leaks weren't damaging to surveillance. One of the ways in which the NSA pushed back on the Amash amendment to defund 215 metadata collection was by arguing that the Snowden leaks had already damaged the agency's ability to detect terror threats. Salon's Alex Pareene asks the natural follow-up:
If the American intelligence community was crippled by the recent leaks about its operations and tools, as so many have claimed, how did they manage to collect the intelligence that led to this alert? …
So maybe comrade Snowden’s leaks didn’t cripple the NSA? Perhaps the NSA, and our other intelligence-gathering agencies, can still monitor the communications of terrorist organizations despite the fact that people know that our intelligence-gathering agencies are trying to monitor the communications of terrorist organizations.
They prove that the White House is politicizing the data leaks. Greenwald also made this point on Democracy Now.
For eight straight years, literally, Democrats … would accuse the United States government and the national security state of exaggerating terrorism threats, of manipulating advisories, of hyping the dangers of al-Qaeda, in order to distract attention away from their abuses and to scare the population into submitting to whatever it is they wanted to do. And so … suddenly an administration that has spent two years claiming that it has decimated al-Qaeda decides that there is this massive threat that involves the closing of embassies and consulates throughout the world.
Greenwald was joined by the privacy group Electronic Privacy Information Center, as The Guardian reported.
"The NSA takes in threat information every day. You have to ask, why now? What makes this information different?" added [EPIC attorney Amie] Stepanovich.
"Too much of what we hear from the government about surveillance is either speculation or sweeping assertions that lack corroboration. The question isn't if these programs used by this NSA can find legitimate threats, it's if the same threats couldn't be discovered in a less invasive manner. This situation fails to justify the NSA's unchecked access to our personal information."
The conspiracy theorists at InfoWars.com had a surprisingly qualified take on this argument, offering that people "take the claim that the new terror warnings justify NSA spying with a wee grain of salt."