House Committee Conducts Lovefest With NSA Chief

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis, the election, and more, subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter.


The House Intelligence Committee held a hearing today about the NSA’s covert surveillance programs, and to demonstrate just how tough-minded they planned to be, here’s what they called it:

How Disclosed N.S.A. Programs Protect Americans, and Why Disclosure Aids Our Adversaries

Fair and balanced! NSA’s director testified that domestic surveillance had helped prevent over 50 “potential terrorist events”:

In addition, the deputy director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Sean Joyce, listed two newly disclosed cases that have now been declassified in an effort to respond to the leaking of classified information about surveillance by Edward J. Snowden, a former N.S.A. contractor.

Mr. Joyce described a plot to blow up the New York Stock Exchange by a Kansas City man, whom the agency was able to identify because he was in contact with “an extremist” in Yemen who was under surveillance. Mr. Joyce also talked about a San Diego man who planned to send financial support to a terrorist group in Somalia, and who was identified because the N.S.A. flagged his phone number as suspicious through its database of all domestic phone call logs, which was brought to light by Mr. Snowden’s disclosures.

The Kansas City man is Khalid Ouazzani, who, as part of a plea bargain in 2010, admitted that he sent money to Al Qaeda. He was never charged with planning any attacks inside the United States, and the NYSE bombing was described as “nascent plotting,” so it’s hard to know just how serious this was. Still, at least Ouazzani actually did something. The San Diego man merely planned to send money.

So far, the government’s examples of terrorist plots prevented by the NSA’s surveillance programs have been pretty thin. Aside from these two, they’ve also taken credit for stopping David Headley and Najibullah Zazi. But Headley scouted locations for the 2008 Mumbai bombing, which was successful. So no points there, though NSA might have prevented Headley from doing further damage. As for Zazi, he was indeed planning suicide bombings on the New York subway, but it’s unclear just how instrumental NSA surveillance really was in catching him.

None of this is to say that NSA’s claims are false or that their surveillance programs are ineffective. But most of their claims are unverified, and the few they’ve made public appear to have been exaggerated. So take this all with a grain of salt.

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest