The fact is, they were right the first time. The NSA asked Congress to approve the telephone metadata program in order to close a specific gap in our intelligence capabilities — one that made the 9/11 attacks possible. In the summer of 2001, the NSA had intercepted calls from two of the 9/11 hijackers — Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Mihdhar — to an al-Qaeda safe house in the Middle East whose communications were being monitored. However, because the NSA did not have access to metadata on U.S. telephone calls, intelligence officials had no way to know that the two hijackers were in the United States and that their calls had originated in San Diego. As former NSA director Mike Hayden recently pointed out, “If the metadata program had been in effect in the summer of 2001, al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar would likely have been rolled up, the plane that hit the Pentagon would not have had these jihadists available for the hijacking, and the entire 9/11 enterprise might have been scrapped by al-Qaeda.”
Had the Amash amendment succeeded, it would have put the NSA right back where it was on Sept. 10, 2001. Amazingly, 40 percent of House Republicans voted to do just that.
It’s understandable that Americans without access to classified briefings are confused about what the NSA is and is not doing, but flip-flopping members of Congress have no such excuses.