In response to the revelation that the NSA has been illegally spying on all Americans for more than a decade, NSA chief General Keith Alexander claimed that the spying prevented a terrorist attack on Wall Street and the New York subway.
There’s only one problem: the claim is completely false.
The Christian Science Monitor notes today:
According to officials at the House Intelligence hearing, this plan was caught when the NSA was using its Internet intercept authority to monitor the communications of a known extremist in Yemen.
This suspect, in turn, was in contact with an individual in the United States named Khalid Ouazzani. Thus warned, the FBI investigated Mr. Ouazzani through traditional law enforcement methods, and discovered a burgeoning plot to bomb the NYSE.
“Ouazzani had been providing information and support to this plot,” FBI Deputy Director Sean Joyce told lawmakers.
However, Mr. Ouazzani pleaded guilty to providing material support – in his case, money – to Al Qaeda, not to terror planning. His May 2010 plea agreement makes no mention of anything related to the New York Stock Exchange, or any bomb plot, notes David Kravets in Wired magazine.
Plus, Ouazzani’s defense attorney said Tuesday the stock market allegation was news to him.
“Khalid Ouazzani was not involved in any plot to bomb the New York Stock Exchange,” attorney Robin Fowler told Wired.
How much did this bad guy give Al Qaeda? $23,000 total.
The other publicly-discussed disrupted terror plot – on the New York subway – was also not really due to government’s overbroad spying program.
The Associated Press reports:
Little was offered to substantiate claims that the programs have been successful in stopping acts of terrorism that would not have been caught with narrower surveillance. In the New York subway bombing case, President Barack Obama conceded the would-be bomber might have been caught with less sweeping surveillance.
The Christian Science Monitor notes of the New York subway case:
As to the New York subway plot, it was discovered not by analysis of vast amounts of Internet data of foreign users, but rather by old-fashioned police work, according to The Guardian ….
In addition, the Guardian pointed out:
Lawyers and intelligence experts with direct knowledge of two intercepted terrorist plots that the Obama administration says confirm the value of the NSA’s vast data-mining activities have questioned whether the surveillance sweeps played a significant role ….
Indeed, top security experts say that mass surveillance does not help keep us safe.
Glenn Greenwald notes:
This is just the same playbook that U.S. government officials have been using for the last five decades whenever anything gets done that brings small amounts of transparency to the bad conduct that they do in the dark. They immediately accuse those who brought that transparency of jeopardizing national security. They try and scare the American public into believing that they’ve been placed at risk and that the only way they can stay safe is to trust the people in power to do whatever it is they want to do without any kinds of constraints, accountability or light of any kind.
Postscript: Mr. Ouazzani giving $23,000 to Al Qaeda is indeed a crime. He supported Al Qaeda, and was rightly prosecuted and convicted for that crime. But given that the American government has been providing arms, money and logistical support to Al Qaeda in Syria, Libya, Mali, Bosnia and other countries – and related Muslim terrorists in Chechnya, Iran, and many other countries – Mr. Ouazzani’s support for terrorism seems rather small in comparison.