U.S. intel official: Controversial NSA programs played no role in detecting initial Al Qaeda terror tip

posted at 11:21 am on August 6, 2013 by Allahpundit

A follow-up to yesterday’s post noting that, for all the dark accusations recently that the new threat has been exaggerated to tout the NSA’s terror-bustin’ skills, no one in the government’s claiming that the NSA’s domestic surveillance programs were key in sniffing this out. On the contrary:

Officials in the U.S. wouldn’t say who intercepted the initial suspect communications — the CIA, the National Security Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency or one of the other intelligence agencies — that kicked off the sweeping pre-emptive closure of U.S. facilities. But an intelligence official said the controversial NSA programs that gather data on American phone calls or track Internet communications with suspected terrorists played no part in detecting the initial tip. That official spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to discuss the spying publicly.

The AP goes on to say that domestic surveillance “could” have helped flesh out the plot from there, once the initial tip had been obtained through other means, but it sounds like they’re merely speculating. (“[I]f a new name was detected in the initial chatter, the name or phone number of that person could be run through the NSA databases to see whom he called or what websites or emails he visited.”) But that raises another question: What exactly was the initial tip and when did the feds get it? The AP says that the communique from Zawahiri to Al Qaeda in Yemen that sent U.S. intel into a frenzy was intercepted “several weeks ago.” Bill Gertz of the Washington Free Beacon says other pieces of the puzzle are … months old:

Al Qaeda “chatter” about coming terrorist operations, mainly against 22 U.S. embassies and consulates, and threats to attack or bomb officials in the Middle East and elsewhere was widely reported in classified intelligence reports over several months. The report said an attack was planned for Sunday, although no attack was carried out…

“Why is this coming out now?” asked one official with access to terrorist threat data. “Is the administration trying to suck up news coverage with the embassy threats to distract attention from what the CIA was doing in Benghazi?“…

The threat followed three reported U.S. drone strikes in Yemen that killed several al Qaeda terrorists who were traveling in vehicles. Missile attacks from U.S. armed drones were carried out July 27, July 30, and Aug. 1 in al Qaeda strongholds in Yemen.

CNN’s big Benghazi scoop dropped on August 1 but, as Gertz notes, an unusual spike in drone strikes in Yemen was already underway by then. This AFP report from August 1 notes three strikes in the five days preceding; that sort of activity suggests urgency, which jibes with the fact that the feds later said they feared August 4 was the target date for an attack. The info about the Zawahiri tip in the AP piece isn’t inconsistent with Gertz’s piece either. It may be that there was random jihadi chatter about hitting western targets for months but nothing too out of the ordinary until AQ’s number one himself weighed in. That would have changed the complexion of the threat, and it may also be that while the feds had reason to believe that something was afoot, not until very recently did they get a tip zeroing in on August 4 as the likely date. That would have spurred the drone strikes and the embassy closings. Indeed, the AP piece notes that “the threat was expanded to include American or other Western sites abroad” after the initial Zawahiri intercept was obtained, which goes to show that the mosaic of intelligence here has been widening over time (as you’d expect).

Then again, if this really is a big ploy to steer attention away from CNN’s Benghazi revelations, it’s working like a charm so far, huh?

If you’re invested in the idea of government incompetence/malfeasance in handling this threat, read Angelo Codevilla’s piece from Sunday instead. Quote: “The terrorists who have bitten us have not chattered, while those who chatter do not bite.” A communique from the head of AQ to the head of AQAP was guaranteed to prompt a massive U.S. counterterror response. If Zawahiri was dead set on seeing a big attack come off, why would he attempt something like that knowing that there’s at least a chance that we’re reading his e-mail?


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With all this they failed in Boston too.

Never pick your nose in public, though.

Schadenfreude on August 6, 2013 at 11:25 AM

Why does the CIA store its data at Amazon/Bezos/WashPost?

faraway on August 6, 2013 at 11:25 AM

Illegitimate and ineffective?

Schadenfreude on August 6, 2013 at 11:26 AM

Long ago, but convenient now.

Schadenfreude on August 6, 2013 at 11:27 AM

Listening.

But not hearing.

Bmore on August 6, 2013 at 11:28 AM

Fabulous. What is the justification for this gross invasion of privacy by the government again?

totherightofthem on August 6, 2013 at 11:28 AM

Why does the CIA store its data at Amazon/Bezos/WashPost?
faraway on August 6, 2013 at 11:25 AM

They share the same goals? Corporatism? Fascism?

Take yer pick.

Akzed on August 6, 2013 at 11:28 AM

This point of this program is domestic spying…on us.

Oil Can on August 6, 2013 at 11:29 AM

U.S. intel official: Controversial NSA programs played no role in detecting initial Al Qaeda terror tip

….of course not!…they’re not “conservatives”…

KOOLAID2 on August 6, 2013 at 11:37 AM

Let’s apply a little liberal logic here: Obviously it didn’t work because we didn’t spend enough, and we didn’t have the “right” people in charge.

NotCoach on August 6, 2013 at 11:39 AM

Bmore on August 6, 2013 at 11:28 AM

“He who has ears let him hear.” Important quote from a religious book that many in our society reject now days.

chemman on August 6, 2013 at 11:39 AM

“Why is this coming out now?” asked one official with access to terrorist threat data. “Is the administration trying to suck up news coverage with the embassy threats to distract attention from what the CIA was doing in Benghazi?“…

It is never a good idea for intel agencies to talk about capabilities and methods. But as a distracter? You can’t have the Demonrat pervs Filner and Weiner carry all the water here, now can you? Honey Boo Boo had the weekend covered but they needed to slot something in the first part of the week. And by Saturday we’ll be getting pictures of the shaved Yeti in a swimsuit at Martha’s Vineyard living the lavish lifestyle that we provide for the royal family.

Happy Nomad on August 6, 2013 at 11:40 AM

So they absolutely must gather all this information on most Americans that have 4 or 5 degrees of separation from the terrorist(s) but they are unable to make any connections. So they are really violating are rights by not having probable cause to interfere with are being secure in our papers, places and things.

chemman on August 6, 2013 at 11:42 AM

+1 Notcoach

cmsinaz on August 6, 2013 at 11:43 AM

The AP goes on to say that domestic surveillance “could” have helped flesh out the plot from there, once the initial tip had been obtained through other means, but it sounds like they’re merely speculating.

Simply dumb luck. Absolutely nothing was garnered from tapping our phones and Internet usage. Massive data-mining of “WE The PEOPLE” is a fool’s errand.
As usual Bill Gerty is the go-to guy re: foreign threats.

“The terrorists who have bitten us have not chattered, while those who chatter do not bite.”

A juvenile mistake made only by those stupid enough to get caught.
“Loose lips sink ships.”
Sound familiar, Americans? Has King Barry ever heard of that slogan?
What a maroon.
~(Ä)~

Karl Magnus on August 6, 2013 at 11:46 AM

If Zawahiri was dead set on seeing a big attack come off, why would he attempt something like that knowing that there’s at least a chance that we’re reading his e-mail?

Because they know Susan Rice is now a big dawg in national security, will be very goosey about embassy threats of any kind, and thus can be lured up to gulp a dry fly floating gently on the surface? Oh, they also know she’s an incompetent political hack. Imagine the high fives watching her reaction to threats voiced on a communication system known to be monitored by the U.S. Reminds me of how Ann from CA used to jerk the Hot Air chains.

a capella on August 6, 2013 at 11:47 AM

“Gertz” – That’s what happens when you switch from English to German keyboards.

Karl Magnus on August 6, 2013 at 11:48 AM

To call growing concerns about the size, depth, history, ways and operations of our now-huge national-security operation “esoteric” or merely abstract is, simply, absurd. Our federal government is involved in massive data collection that apparently includes a database of almost every phone call made in the U.S. The adequacy of oversight for this system is at best unclear. The courts involved are shadowed in secrecy and controversy. Is it really wrong or foolhardy or unacceptably thoughtful to wonder if the surveillance apparatus is excessive, or will be abused, or will erode, or perhaps in time end, any expectation of communications privacy held by honest citizens?

It is not. These are right and appropriate concerns, very American ones.

Schadenfreude on August 6, 2013 at 11:49 AM

Wake up America!!!

The concerns of normal Americans about the new world we’re entering—the world where Big Brother seems inexorably to be coming to life and we are all, at least potentially Winston Smith—is not only legitimate, it is wise and historically grounded.

And these concerns are not confined to a group of abstract intellectuals debating how many pixels can dance on the head of a pin. Gallup in June had a majority of Americans, 53%, disapproving of NSA surveillance programs, with only 37% approving of the NSA’s efforts to “compile telephone call logs and Internet communications.” And the poll found the most intense opposition to the programs coming from Republicans, who disapproved by almost 2 to 1.

Schadenfreude on August 6, 2013 at 11:51 AM

Rasmussen, at roughly the same time, asked the following question: “The government has been secretly collecting the phone records of millions of Americans for national security purposes regardless of whether there is any suspicion of wrongdoing. Do you favor or oppose the government’s secret collecting of these phone records?” Fifty-nine percent of respondents opposed the collecting telephone records of individuals not suspected of doing anything wrong.

A Fox News poll had 61% disapproving how the administration “is handling the government’s classified surveillance program that collects the phone and Internet records of U.S. citizens.”

Schadenfreude on August 6, 2013 at 11:52 AM

Of course the NSA didn’t pick up any real data / intel on the current threat or the Boston Marathon terror bombing – none of these plots were directed against the Narcissist-in-Chief.

The power of the Federal Government is not being used to protect national security or the citizens of the country, it’s being used to protect the Party and its Dear Leader.

Athos on August 6, 2013 at 11:52 AM

With all this they failed in Boston too.

Never pick your nose in public, though.

Schadenfreude on August 6, 2013 at 11:25 AM

Incompetence³ = Hussein Obama, Jean Kerée, and Susan Rice.
~(Ä)~

Karl Magnus on August 6, 2013 at 11:52 AM

Here is a practical reason conservatives especially should be concerned about the national security state. People who work for the government, including inevitably those who work in national security, will not decide their powers are too broad. They can’t—they’re focused on a real foe, they have a mission and it tends to leave them in time thinking their powers aren’t broad enough. They will not declare they need more civilian control or oversight—those dizzy, self-serving politicians just gum up the works. They will not decide to limit their use of the capabilities at their fingertips, especially when the stakes seem so high.

It is up to the people in the country, to citizens, to control and limit government surveillance, to the extent they can and in accord with true national-security needs.

Schadenfreude on August 6, 2013 at 11:53 AM

If Zawahiri was dead set on seeing a big attack come off, why would he attempt something like that knowing that there’s at least a chance that we’re reading his e-mail?

That’s right, this whole story smells fishy. Zawahiri may be a big bad terrorist, but he’s probably not an idiot.

scalleywag on August 6, 2013 at 11:56 AM

That’s because the NSA is concentrating on spying on innocent Americans instead of foreign surveillance like they are supposed to.

TerryW on August 6, 2013 at 11:56 AM

Of course, the C1A would never intervene the accuracy of any intel gathering… now would they ?
.
Riddle me that, , kind and thoughtful NSA monitor.

FlaMurph on August 6, 2013 at 11:56 AM

If NSA wasn’t so busy watching all of us, maybe they’d have time to keep an eye on those who are real terrorists. Then again, I don’t think they care about those who actually want to blow things up and kill people. The only threats to Obama they see are those who’ll make a big deal about his scandals, try repealing his signature ‘accomplishment’, otherwise and ruin his legacy. The lapdog media have everything else well in hand for him.

Liam on August 6, 2013 at 11:58 AM

The AP says that the communique from Zawahiri to Al Qaeda in Yemen that sent U.S. intel into a frenzy was intercepted “several weeks ago.” Bill Gertz of the Washington Free Beacon says other pieces of the puzzle are … months old:

The pieces of this plot, that we seem to know about, don’t fit together very well until you start trying to examine and connect more possible dots.

Like the 11 jail breaks in 11 different countries in the past month that freed 1000 AQ terrorists.

And that Zawahiri is Egyptian, joined the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood at the age of 14, was leader of Egyptian Islamic Jihad when it merged with al Qaeda in 1998.

And that the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt was running the government in Egypt and trying to consolidate its power when recently toppled.

And that (from Wiki) …

On February 23, 1998, al-Zawahiri issued a joint fatwa with Osama bin Laden under the title “World Islamic Front Against Jews and Crusaders”. Zawahiri, not bin Laden, is thought to have been the actual author of the fatwa.

He (Zawahiri) was often described as a “lieutenant” to Osama bin Laden, though bin Laden’s chosen biographer has referred to him as the “real brains” of al-Qaeda.

It is looking more and more likely there really may be something going on here and that Dear Leader’s admin is in panic mode, regardless of whether or not “controversial NSA” programs helped gather some of the intelligence.

And it is looking more and more like Dear Leader’s foreign policy WRT Eqypt, Libya, Iraq, Yemen, al Qaeda, etc. is failing.

farsighted on August 6, 2013 at 12:07 PM

To call growing concerns about the size, depth, history, ways and operations of our now-huge national-security operation “esoteric” or merely abstract is, simply, absurd.

Schadenfreude on August 6, 2013 at 11:49 AM

Chris Christie made the same claim for a different purpose. He defended the spying and anybody who wanted to attack massive spying based on abstract principles needed to sit down with a 9/11/01 family and understand why our government needs to spy on its citizens.

It is one of the reasons why Christie is as unfit for office as he is for running a marathon. We don’t need to replace the current regime with a guy who admires the Stasi and actually defends the practice of government monitoring private citizens for no other reason than the technology allows them to do so.

Happy Nomad on August 6, 2013 at 12:08 PM

1st admission… uh yes we’re spying on everyone
… but to save you
2nd admission… OK it’s saving no one
… but it could
Next admission… OK, we’re only watching you “Bitter Clinger” Crackers

Every scandal follows the same sequence of escalating lies and obfuscations to soften the WTF moment when we discover what the racist bigoted haters are REALLY doing.

DANEgerus on August 6, 2013 at 12:08 PM

If Zawahiri was dead set on seeing a big attack come off, why would he attempt something like that knowing that there’s at least a chance that we’re reading his e-mail?

Why would anyone from the moslem Culture of Death care about NSA reading emails? They want to die for Allah, and human life has no value to them, even their own. So what if a few extra jihadis get killed or captured in a big attack? Zawahiri doesn’t care.

Harbingeing on August 6, 2013 at 12:13 PM

The triumph of self deception. A retreat is in progress.

a capella on August 6, 2013 at 12:17 PM

1st admission… uh yes we’re spying on everyone
… but to save you
2nd admission… OK it’s saving no one
… but it could
Next admission… OK, we’re only watching you “Bitter Clinger” Crackers

DANEgerus on August 6, 2013 at 12:08 PM

Very well said, Herr Däne.
~(Ä)~

Karl Magnus on August 6, 2013 at 12:20 PM

Did Valerie Jarrett issue the stand down order in Benghazi?

Resist We Much on August 6, 2013 at 12:22 PM

If this can be proven, it could bring down the rat-eared coward. It is one thing for a dis-interested feckless fraud going to bed instead of doing his job. It is another thing when an unelected individual in a job not subject to Senate confirmation is essentially giving orders to the military.

Happy Nomad on August 6, 2013 at 12:26 PM

1st admission… uh yes we’re spying on everyone
… but to save you
2nd admission… OK it’s saving no one
… but it could
Next admission… OK, we’re only watching you “Bitter Clinger” Crackers

Every scandal follows the same sequence of escalating lies and obfuscations to soften the WTF moment when we discover what the racist bigoted haters are REALLY doing.

DANEgerus on August 6, 2013 at 12:08 PM

Come and get me, boys!!!

Bitter Clinger on August 6, 2013 at 12:28 PM

Did Valerie Jarrett issue the stand down order in Benghazi?

Resist We Much on August 6, 2013 at 12:22 PM

Before reading your link, yes. She was instrumental in unreasonably delaying the OBL compound attack. Her instinct is to always run and hide, believing action is more perilous politically then inaction.

NotCoach on August 6, 2013 at 12:34 PM

You won’t be sorry – I hope this dude lives for a time longer.

Schadenfreude on August 6, 2013 at 12:38 PM

NSA isn’t listening in on Al Qaeda, they’re listening in on us, compiling loads of ammo for Hillary’s run for POTUS.

fogw on August 6, 2013 at 12:39 PM

Resist We Much on August 6, 2013 at 12:22 PM

Open secret – she runs the land and warms Michelle’s bed.

Schadenfreude on August 6, 2013 at 12:43 PM

Her instinct is to always run and hide, believing action is more perilous politically then inaction be a Muslim.

NotCoach on August 6, 2013 at 12:34 PM

Schadenfreude on August 6, 2013 at 12:45 PM

Eleven jailbreaks in 25 days swells AQ’s ranks.

— Ed Morrissey

No coincidences, just the illusion thereof.

Also, a jail break, back when, gave birth to AlQuaida.

Schadenfreude on August 6, 2013 at 12:56 PM

Not all phone calls go through the USA and our phone companies.

unclesmrgol on August 6, 2013 at 1:15 PM

No kidding. And we knew about the “threat” months ago, Obama just needed a convenient squirrel for the latest Benghazi revelation.

John the Libertarian on August 6, 2013 at 2:02 PM

shut it down shut it all down. the NSA is was and will never be about stopping terror. If it was it would have stopped the Boston bombers. The NSa is about concentrating power in DC. It might not be its objective but it is the end result. So shut it down. Shut it all done. Freedom makes us safer than a police state if you take the responsibility for your own safety.

unseen on August 6, 2013 at 2:29 PM

When tyranny and oppression come to this land it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy. Withholding information is the essence of tyranny. Control of the flow of information is the tool of the dictatorship. Those who are capable of tyranny are capable of perjury to sustain it. This administration has destroyed our image in the world and credibility at home with their consistence of misdirection lies and cover up. Who among “We The People” will stand to protect us from these wolves?

“A nation of sheep will beget a government of wolves.” ― Edward R. Murrow

jpcpt03 on August 6, 2013 at 6:10 PM