GOP intel chair: Phone-record collection helped the feds stop a terrorist attack in the last few years

Does this mean Obama’s going to defend the NSA’s policy rather than give one of his “I’m righteously outraged by my own policies” speeches? Because I kind of enjoy when he does his Hamlet shtick for the O-bot peanut gallery to remind them that he cares about civil liberties deep down as much as they do.

He’s at least going to give us a let-me-be-clear presser at which he refers to the security/liberty conundrum as a “false choice,” right?

Between Graham’s cri de coeur on behalf of records-snooping this morning and now this breadcrumb from Mike Rogers, O’s got bipartisan cover to go to the mat on behalf of his agency:

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) says that the National Security Agency program tracking Verizon telephone records helped thwart “a significant case” of terrorism in the United States “within the last few years.”

“Within the last few years, this program was used to stop a terrorist attack in the United States. We know that. It’s important. It fills in a little seam that we have,” Rogers told reporters Thursday. ”And it’s used to make sure that there is not an international nexus to any terrorism event if there may be one ongoing. So in that regard, it is a very valuable thing,” Rogers said.

When pressed later for more details, Rogers said the committee is “working on trying to get this declassified in a way that we can provide more information. We’re not there yet. But it was a significant case that happened within the last few years.”

The White House is also reportedly scrambling to declassify details about the NSA program, no doubt with an eye to highlighting its successes and not its excesses. And so the race is on: Will details about the thwarted terror attack be officially declassified before Obama’s inner circle leaks them to the Times to make him look good, the way they have with so many other national-security stories? Whichever way it shakes out, expect no DOJ investigation.

Needless to say, as a matter of political damage control, this is exactly the right way to handle the Guardian’s big NSA/Verizon scoop. Joshua Foust’s grumpy but entertaining post last night after the news broke is, I suspect, correct: Most Americans don’t care much about data-mining under normal circumstances. According to a National Journal poll released this afternoon, fully 85 percent think it’s “likely” that their communications history is already available to government and business. It’s not that they’re happy about their info being accessible (well, Lindsey Graham is), it’s that they’ve apparently accepted it as a fact of post-9/11 life. The scope of the mining in the Verizon order and the bipartisan outcry over it might make them care more, especially if they feel that the cost of data-mining to privacy vastly outweighs the benefits. Enter Rogers and Feinstein to insist that no, the benefits are quite high after all. It’s actually saving lives. What they mean by that, we’ll have to wait and see. Stand by for details as the inevitable leak/declassification of the secret thwarted terror attack happens.

While we wait, via Mediaite, here’s Patriot Act author Jim Sensenbrenner shocked that the law he wrote is enabling record-harvesting on this scale. Little late for that now, no?

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