If I can be allowed a moment of unambiguity, the National Security Agency did not set up its vast spying program to collect personal information, or really even to “spy” on people in the usual sense. The NSA doesn’t really care about the many ways in which you are fascinated by your cat or about your consumer profile or preferences, which it could find through any number of corporate surveillance databases, or even about your political movements per se. Yes, the particulars of the latter could certainly be useful information and are within the purview of the NSA, but that’s micro, time-sensitive information more useful to local police or federal agents. So far as I know, the voracious NSA set of techniques and processes isn’t equipped to process that kind of data, even if the transmission lines to law enforcement did exist.
More unambiguity: The program is not even really about content. At least until it is. No doubt the information flows have been utilized in some instances, but for now it’s about instituting a system that counters existing networks, many, though not all, of which are digital and based on telecommunications lines. The goal of the program is to create shadow networks that stalk current and potential networks, ones that can mimic, surround, and anticipate in order to repress, short-circuit, and coopt. The Snowden documents so far seem to be silent on the methods for doing that.
As far as an end-game of how the US state might benefit from spying and its revelations, the NSA and the executive branch of course couldn’t and can’t predict what that will be. But if, as seems possible now, the Internet becomes fragmented and segmented, that’s a pretty good outcome for them. A nationalized Internet is much easier to monitor, and in times of crisis becomes much more susceptible to nationalist passions and open to emergency measures. The Merkel revelations might be bad for Obama, but they could certainly be good for the national security state.