Feds: We stopped AQ attack on NYSE through NSA surveillance

posted at 9:21 am on June 19, 2013 by Ed Morrissey

The recent revelations of the NSA’s surveillance programs have prompted much debate about whether the power granted to the intelligence community has been worth its potential for erosion of personal liberty.  Most of that debate has necessarily been academic, since the intel and law-enforcement agencies involved are loathe to share specifics on their counter-terrorism efforts, and what they do share cannot easily be corroborated.  One early defense of the program was that it stopped the Zazi plot against New York’s subway system, only to have later information contradict that claim.

Yesterday, the FBI’s assistant director told Congress that the programs stopped as many as 50 separate terrorist plots against the US, including one that targeted the core of America’s economy:

Top U.S. security officials revealed today that the government’s recently exposed surveillance programs led them to an al Qaeda cell that plotted, scouted, but ultimately abandoned a plan to bomb the Wall Street in 2008.

“We found through electronic surveillance that they were actually in the initial stages of plotting to bomb the New York Stock Exchange,” FBI Assistant Director Sean Joyce told the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

Joyce was testifying alongside high-level U.S. officials, including National Security Agency head Gen. Keith Alexander, before the House Intelligence Committee to defend the NSA’s practice of collecting vast amounts of telephone and internet usage data – programs revealed last week byformer NSA contractor Edward Snowden. Snowden, who is in hiding in Hong Kong after confessing to the leaks, called the reach of the programs “horrifying.” The U.S. officials who testified today claimed they helped put a stop to more than 50 terror plots in 20 countries – four of which were discussed publicly.

The NYSE plot, which had until today been unknown to the public, was centered around an auto parts dealer in Kansas City, Missouri, named Khalid Ouazzani, who pleaded guilty in 2010 for his role in a conspiracy to provide funding to al-Qaeda. At the time of his plea, the complex case against Ouazzani seemed to have little to do with the famous NYSE headquarters on Wall Street in Lower Manhattan, except for a vague reference in his plea agreement that said, “Over a period of years, [Ouazzani] and others discussed various ways they could support al Qaeda.”

The FBI now says Ouazzani was talking to an extremist in Yemen about a terror plot that would strike at the symbolic heart of America’s capitalist system – an attack on Wall Street.

Joyce also insisted that the unraveling of the Zazi plot was indeed dependent on NSA efforts, despite later claims to the contrary.  Those are the only two plots the FBI will discuss in public,  but NSA chief Keith Alexander will supply the House Intelligence Committee with a full list today:

Alexander said the full list of thwarted attacks will be provided to members of the House Intelligence committee Wednesday, but the intelligence community has decided to release only two of those events publicly.

“If we give all those out, we give all the secrets of how we’re tracking down the terrorists as a community,” Alexander said. “And we can’t do that.”

But he and other intelligence officials have pointed specifically to the case of Najibullah Zazi, the Afghan-born man who pleaded guilty in 2012 to plotting a terror attack against the New York City subway system. He is awaiting sentencing.

FBI Deputy Director Sean Joyce testified today that “In the fall of 2009, NSA, using 702 authority [granted to intercept communication], intercepted an email from a terrorist located in Pakistan. That individual was talking with the individual located inside the United States talking about perfecting a recipe for explosives.

“Through legal process, that individual was identified as Najibullah Zazi. He was located in Denver, Colorado. The FBI followed him to New York City. Later, we executed search warrants with the New York Joint Terrorism Task Force and NYPD and found bomb- making components and backpacks. Zazi later confessed to a plot to bomb the New York subway system with backpacks,” Joyce said.

In the end, we have to rely on our elected representatives to conduct oversight over these agencies and their activities.  If the House Intelligence Committee is just now finding out about the NSA’s surveillance and its victories, that’s an argument that the oversight has been lacking until now.  That much power may be needed to secure the nation from foreign attack, but that much power without effective oversight will eventually get abused — whether or not it already has.

We need to find out whether or not it has in the past, too.  USA Today reported this weekend that three other whistleblowers agree with leaker Edward Snowden that the NSA has crossed the line repeatedly, recapped by The Atlantic:

Thomas Drake, William Binney, and J. Kirk Wiebe each protested the NSA in their own rights. “For years, the three whistle-blowers had told anyone who would listen that the NSA collects huge swaths of communications data from U.S. citizens,” the newspaper reports. “They had spent decades in the top ranks of the agency, designing and managing the very data collection systems they say have been turned against Americans. When they became convinced that fundamental constitutional rights were being violated, they complained first to their superiors, then to federal investigators, congressional oversight committees and, finally, to the news media.”

In other words, they blew the whistle in the way Snowden’s critics suggest he should have done. Their method didn’t get through to the members of Congress who are saying, in the wake of the Snowden leak, that they had no idea what was going on. But they are nonetheless owed thanks.

And among them, they’ve now said all of the following:

  • His disclosures did not cause grave damage to national security.
  • What Snowden discovered is “material evidence of an institutional crime.”
  • As a system administrator, Snowden “could go on the network or go into any file or any system and change it or add to it or whatever, just to make sure — because he would be responsible to get it back up and running if, in fact, it failed. So that meant he had access to go in and put anything. That’s why he said, I think, ‘I can even target the president or a judge.’ If he knew their phone numbers or attributes, he could insert them into the target list which would be distributed worldwide. And then it would be collected, yeah, that’s right. As a super-user, he could do that.”
  • “The idea that we have robust checks and balances on this is a myth.”
  • Congressional overseers “have no real way of seeing into what these agencies are doing. They are totally dependent on the agencies briefing them on programs, telling them what they are doing.”
  • Lawmakers “don’t really don’t understand what the NSA does and how it operates. Even when they get briefings, they still don’t understand.”
  • Asked what Edward Snowden should expect to happen to him, one of the men, William Binney, answered, “first tortured, then maybe even rendered and tortured and then incarcerated and then tried and incarcerated or even executed.” Interesting that this is what a whistleblower thinks the U.S. government will do to a citizen. The abuse of Bradley Manning worked.
  • “There is no path for intelligence-community whistle-blowers who know wrong is being done. There is none. It’s a toss of the coin, and the odds are you are going to be hammered.”

For that, Congress has to accept a good deal of responsibility.

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FBI Director Moeller is testifing right now – specifically talking about the 215 process for domestic surveillance:
http://www.nbcnews.com/video/nbcnews.com/52251375/

hawksruleva on June 19, 2013 at 11:40 AM

One other question for these officials. If we’re not collecting massive amounts of data on U.S. Citizens, what’s going in gigantic data center in Utah?

hawksruleva on June 19, 2013 at 11:43 AM

hawksruleva on June 19, 2013 at 11:43 AM

Global headquarters for Ancestry . com?

coldwarrior on June 19, 2013 at 11:53 AM

If we’re not collecting massive amounts of data on U.S. Citizens, what’s going in gigantic data center in Utah?

hawksruleva on June 19, 2013 at 11:43 AM

Everything

HarryBackside on June 19, 2013 at 11:55 AM

hawksruleva on June 19, 2013 at 11:43 AM

The idea that they are collecting, obtaining, storing mega-tera-bytes of domestic communications information…so that maybe, at some future date, that data-base might be queried in the event of something perilous going on…that notion just angers the bejeezus out of me.

Add to that the the propensity of government to hire the best and brightest, most informed and worldly wise, individuals to take on mundane tasks [TSA comes to mind] why, in no time at all, who wants to take bets that bit by bit (byte by byte) a ton of personal information suddenly comes on the open market…or is used and exploited by one political party over another….um, but that’d never happen, right?

The same folks who wanted to lynch G.W. Bush for legally using FISA to collect on the US-end of targeted international telephonic conversations are now, it seems, all up in arms that we, some of us, find it distasteful that their guy’s administration is stopping at nothing, to include the Constitution, to make sure all of us are safe in our snuggly little beds every night.

coldwarrior on June 19, 2013 at 12:01 PM

Yeah, sure. The CYA-ing is strong with this one.

PatriotGal2257 on June 19, 2013 at 12:01 PM

So the Wall Street attack was “stopped” in 2008, which was before the expansion of the snooping…

No way Team Bammy would let 50 plots be foiled without doing various end zone dances proclaiming his super-awesomeness. If it was 5 thwarted attacks, you can be sure the fun-bunch would have been out in front of every camera they could find at least 4 times.

reaganaut on June 19, 2013 at 12:07 PM

As a system administrator, Snowden “could go on the network or go into any file or any system and change it or add to it or whatever, just to make sure — because he would be responsible to get it back up and running if, in fact, it failed. So that meant he had access to go in and put anything.

In other words, a 29-year-old computer geek with NSA could change or add information on innocent Americans–in effect, make things up and then accuse people of things they never did?

Such power in the hands of the government is absolutely frightening.

Orwell’s Minitrue is alive and well.

You are guilty of X because we said so. Love, Big Brother.

Steve Z on June 19, 2013 at 12:08 PM

Once again they are trying another ‘snow job’.

They can’t pee on my leg any more and tell me it’s raining…

I don’t believe them…

This admin would have been front and center bragging bout this non stop…

Effing lying cow patties…

Scrumpy on June 19, 2013 at 12:13 PM

Fifty?! I told you to say a ka-jillion!! Go back out there and set things straight!

John the Libertarian on June 19, 2013 at 12:17 PM

Obama “We’re going to have some problems”

Vader “I find you lack of faith disturbing”

hmmmmm

James412 on June 19, 2013 at 1:19 PM

“Conveniently” they cannot go into details – classified, you know. So – take them into closed hearings with the committee and fess up – our “representatives” have security clearances – time to clear up the BS.

PJ Emeritus on June 19, 2013 at 1:54 PM

One other question for these officials. If we’re not collecting massive amounts of data on U.S. Citizens, what’s going in gigantic data center in Utah?

hawksruleva on June 19, 2013 at 11:43 AM

They youth are balkin at paying for health insurance so the IRS needs to access that data to asses fines don’tcha know…

workingclass artist on June 19, 2013 at 2:32 PM

Why are IRS agents training with ak-47′s?

workingclass artist on June 19, 2013 at 2:34 PM

Why are IRS agents training with ak-47′s?

workingclass artist on June 19, 2013 at 2:34 PM

AR15s. Jeez! Get it right!

John the Libertarian on June 19, 2013 at 3:19 PM

L@@K another terrorist…. they’re everywhere

roflmmfao

donabernathy on June 19, 2013 at 3:39 PM

Why are IRS agents training with ak-47′s?

Yeah, I thought guns were evil, especially those “semi-automatics.”
Can’t the IRS solve every dispute with respect and dialogue like the rest of the lefties?

PattyJ on June 19, 2013 at 5:28 PM

Feds: We stopped AQ attack on NYSE through NSA surveillance

RIIIIIIIGHT!!!

…and my cat stopped a wild bull rhinoceros herd attack on Kansas City. The proof is secret.

/sarc>

landlines on June 19, 2013 at 6:56 PM

Comment pages: 1 2