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NSA director says plot against Wall Street foiled

By Kimberly Dozier

AP Intelligence Writer

LAST UPDATED: 07:24 a.m. HST, Jun 18, 2013

WASHINGTON » The director of the National Security Agency said today the government's sweeping surveillance programs have foiled some 50 terrorist plots worldwide, including one directed at the New York Stock Exchange, in a forceful defense of the spy operations.

Army Gen. Keith Alexander said the two recently disclosed programs — one that gathers U.S. phone records and another that is designed to track the use of U.S.-based Internet servers by foreigners with possible links to terrorism — are critical in the terrorism fight.

Alexander, seated side by side with top officials from the FBI and Justice Department at a rare, open congressional hearing, described how the operations work under questioning from members of the House Intelligence Committee who displayed a supportive demeanor. The officials as well as members of the panel repeatedly bemoaned the leaks by Edward Snowden, a 29-year-old former contractor.

Alexander said Snowden's leaks have caused "irreversible and significant damage to this nation" that also undermined the U.S. relationship with its allies.

Asked what was next for Snowden, Sean Joyce, deputy director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, said simply, "Justice."

Intelligence officials last week disclosed some details on two thwarted attacks — one targeting the New York subway system, one to bomb a Danish newspaper office that had published the cartoon depictions of the Prophet Mohammad. Alexander and Joyce offered additional details on two other foiled plots, including one targeting Wall Street.

Under questioning, Joyce said the NSA was able to identify an extremist in Yemen who was in touch with an individual in Kansas City, Mo. They were able to identify co-conspirators and thwart a plot to bomb the New York Stock Exchange.

Joyce also said a terrorist financier inside the U.S. was identified and arrested in October 2007, thanks to a phone record provided by the NSA. The individual was making phone calls to a known designated terrorist group overseas.

Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, asked if that country was Somalia, which Joyce confirmed, though he said U.S. counterterrorist activities in that country are classified.

The programs "assist the intelligence community to connect the dots," Alexander told the committee. He said the intelligence community would provide the committees with more specifics on the 50 cases as well as the exact numbers on foiled plots in Europe.

Alexander said the Internet program had helped stop 90 percent of the 50-plus plots he described. He said just over 10 of the plots thwarted had a connection inside the U.S., and most were helped by the review of the phone records.

Alexander got no disagreement from the leaders of the panel, who have been outspoken in backing the programs since Snowden disclosed information to The Washington Post and the Guardian newspapers.

Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., chairman of the committee, and Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger of Maryland, the panel's top Democrat, said the programs were vital to the intelligence community and assailed Snowden's actions as criminal.

"It is at times like these where our enemies within become almost as damaging as our enemies on the outside," Rogers said.

Ruppersberger said the "brazen disclosures" put the United States and its allies at risk.

Committee members were incredulous about the scope of the information that Snowden was able to access and then disclose.

Alexander said Snowden had worked for 12 months in an information technology position at the NSA office in Hawaii under another contract preceding his three-month contract with Booz Allen.

"Egregious, egregious leaks," Joyce said.

The general counsel for the intelligence community said the NSA cannot target phone conversations between callers inside the U.S. — even if one of those callers was someone who was targeted for surveillance when outside the country.

The director of national intelligence's legal chief, Robert S. Litt, said that if the NSA finds it has accidentally gathered a phone call by a target who had traveled into the U.S. without their knowledge, they have to "purge" that from their system. The same goes for an accidental collection of any conversation because of an error.

Litt said those incidents are then reported to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which "pushes back" and asks how it happened, and what the NSA is doing to fix the problem so it doesn't happen again.

Deputy NSA Director Chris Inglis said a limited number of officials at the agency could authorize dissemination of information to the FBI related to a U.S. citizen, and only after determining it was necessary to understand a counterterrorism issue. Information related to an American who is found not to be relevant to a counterterrorism investigation must be destroyed, he added.

Alexander said there were 10 people involved in that process, including himself and Inglis.

The hearing came the morning after President Barack Obama, who is attending the G-8 summit in Ireland, vigorously defended the surveillance programs in a lengthy interview Monday, calling them transparent — even though they are authorized in secret.

"It is transparent," Obama told PBS' Charlie Rose in an interview. "That's why we set up the FISA court," the president added, referring to the secret court set up by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act that authorizes two recently disclosed programs: one that gathers U.S. phone records and another that is designed to track the use of U.S.-based Internet servers by foreigners with possible links to terrorism.

Obama said he has named representatives to a privacy and civil liberties oversight board to help in the debate over just how far government data gathering should be allowed to go — a discussion that is complicated by the secrecy surrounding the FISA court, with hearings held at undisclosed locations and with only government lawyers present. The orders that result are all highly classified.

"We're going to have to find ways where the public has an assurance that there are checks and balances in place ... that their phone calls aren't being listened into; their text messages aren't being monitored, their emails are not being read by some big brother somewhere," the president said.

A senior administration official said Obama had asked Director of National Intelligence James Clapper to determine what more information about the two programs could be made public, to help better explain them. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to speak publicly.

Snowden on Monday accused members of Congress and administration officials of exaggerating their claims about the success of the data gathering programs, including pointing to the arrest of the would-be New York subway bomber, Najibullah Zazi, in 2009.

In an online interview with The Guardian in which he posted answers to questions, he said Zazi could have been caught with narrower, targeted surveillance programs — a point Obama conceded in his interview without mentioning Snowden.

"We might have caught him some other way," Obama said. "We might have disrupted it because a New York cop saw he was suspicious. Maybe he turned out to be incompetent and the bomb didn't go off. But, at the margins, we are increasing our chances of preventing a catastrophe like that through these programs," he said.

Even before the post-Sept. 11 expanded surveillance, the FBI had the authority to - and did, regularly - monitor email accounts linked to terrorists. Before the laws changed, the government needed to get a warrant by showing that the target was a suspected member of a terrorist group. In the Zazi case, that connection already was well-established.

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Maneki_Neko wrote:
The incredible message we are told to swallow is this: "Pervasive spying on US citizens, intruding on their privacy and running rampant over 4th Amendment provisions is actually good for us."

Our comfort is a FISA court - a secret court appointed by the Supreme Court that meets in secret at undisclosed locations, has only gov't appointed lawyers present, only hears one side of the argument (the gov't request for surveillance) and whose decisions are not subject to review or even disclosure.

The ultimate "Trust Me, I'm With The Government".

on June 18,2013 | 08:12AM
Fred01 wrote:
Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.
on June 18,2013 | 10:42AM
eoe wrote:
You are roughly 200 years late with that statement.
on June 18,2013 | 12:03PM
Hapa_Haole_Boy wrote:
It should be noted that the FISA court was an idea conceived of and pushed by democrats/the left. FISA was meant to assuage their concerns over privacy. Also keep in mind there is a balance that must be struck, between transparency (regarding govt functions/citizens' liberty) and the need for clandestine efforts (regarding espionage, foiling terror plots, military needs, etc.). There is undoubtedly a tension between the two.
on June 18,2013 | 10:50AM
Kapakahi wrote:
This article is so one-sided. There are plenty of articulate experts on cyber-security who could have offered contrary opinions, as well as privacy advocates, civil libertarians, etc.

Let's start with the acknowledgement the top representatives of the spy services are professional liars. That is not a criticism. That is part of their job description. Understanding that, it becomes very difficult to trust any of their claims about the effectiveness of these surveillance programs.

Security forces want unfettered access to the communications, personal "papers" of "persons of interest." That's what cops do. "If you are doing nothing wrong, you have nothing to fear from your loss of privacy." That is the argument of totalitarian governments and their authoritarian supporters throughout time and around the globe. Why SHOULDN'T parents, cops, co-workers be able to read your diary, your mail, listen in on your phone calls? What are you hiding?

The technology now exists to build a permanent archive of everyone's emails, text messages, GPS locations, phone calls, etc. This question was answered by the "Founding Fathers" over 200 years ago when they declared:

"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause....

on June 18,2013 | 08:22AM
Hapa_Haole_Boy wrote:
These are not unreasonable searches or seizures. If you are not committing any crimes or involved with terror, you have nothing to hide nor will your privacy be infringed.
on June 18,2013 | 10:52AM
Fred01 wrote:
Wow. Are you really that dumb?
on June 18,2013 | 11:30AM
Hapa_Haole_Boy wrote:
read saywhatyouthink's post below, he explains it well. It's not dumb Fred01, enlighten yourself and you too can understand things going on around you.
on June 18,2013 | 11:45AM
HD36 wrote:
Why does the government support Sunni-Wahabi Islamists in Syria? The same one's responsible for 9/11.
on June 18,2013 | 12:21PM
saywhatyouthink wrote:
Hence the FISA court. The government provides "probable cause" and the court provides a "warrant" to spy. What's so illegal about that?
on June 18,2013 | 11:06AM
Kapakahi wrote:
You ASSUME the court requires "probable cause" before issuing a warrant. That is a reasonable assumption. But you are wrong. There is no evidence they hold to that standard and there is very little evidence available for coming to that conclusion. One bit of evidence which is available is the federal government's admission that EVERY request they have made has been granted. Given the lack of other evidence, this strongly suggests the FISA court is a rubber stamp and DOES NOT provide a meaningful "check" on the spy agencies.

I do not understand the failure of imagination among some of the people commenting here. Do you really believe a government can develop massive files on its citizens and that information will never be used for improper purposes? Setting aside the experiences of other countries where the internal security forces have possessed much less information, the history of the United States shows embarrassing information will be used against critics of the politicians in power. J. Edgar Hoover blackmailed lots of powerful people with his knowledge of their "indiscretions." He tried to drive Martin Luther King to suicide.

But I guess MLK had nothing to fear from government invasion of his privacy.

Hey, here's a thought experiment. Those Democrats who are defending the NSA spying, let's make sure the next Bush or Romney or Perry/Rubio administration gets the same power. And those Republicans who like a strong police state, let's put the Democrats in control of the data collected on Republicans. Certainly we can trust them to not abuse the info?

The reality is, when internal security forces are allowed to build files on the private lives and associations of citizens, a lot of that information will be used to damage people seen as opponents of those in power. Those who do not see that risk are not appreciative of liberty.

on June 18,2013 | 02:44PM
HD36 wrote:
There were over 45 cameras recording the front of the Pentagon on 9/11. The FBI took all the tapes and they've been secured. Show us the tapes and then I'll believe in the New World Order.
on June 18,2013 | 08:52AM
NanakuliBoss wrote:
Huh? 9/11 tapes of a plane crash?
on June 18,2013 | 09:13AM
HD36 wrote:
They've never been shown. The Pentagon has cameras running 24/7.
on June 18,2013 | 12:18PM
HawaiiCheeseBall wrote:
I dear the tapes were taken away by the Men in Black who used their super secret black helicopters to take the tapes away to a third dimension.
on June 18,2013 | 01:13PM
pro populus wrote:
I understand the "slippery slope" arguments being made, and in many ways i do concur. But, congress did authorize the FISA which allowed all this to happen, and in turn, created the FISA courts as a check to over-zealous government. So, this isn't the executive branch doing whatever it is they want, they sought approval from our elected representatives. If you really have a problem with this, call your congressman, and if they don't listen to you, don't vote for 'em!
on June 18,2013 | 08:56AM
Dragonman wrote:
Pro populus, well said. I totally agree with your post.
on June 18,2013 | 09:02AM
Hapa_Haole_Boy wrote:
pro populus is exactly right. And that traitor Snowden should have taken the exact same advice, instead of breaching his employment duties, backstabbing his countrymen, and putting the entire nation at risk.
on June 18,2013 | 10:54AM
Kapakahi wrote:
Pro populous, unfortunately the checks and balances you envision do not exist as you describe. Very few members of congress are able to provide oversight on these programs because they do not know the details. Even members of the Senate intelligence committee have been lied to by the NSA. And once a congress member has been briefed, they are bound to complete secrecy, meaning they are more shackled and unable to object than if they skip the briefings.

The FISA court's rulings, as well as criteria, are top secret, so how can you have confidence they are an effective check on potential abuses. Sorry, but that is an act of faith on your part. The report that they have granted every request strongly suggests they are NOT a check, as a real check would sometimes turn down requests. There are reports the court approves guidelines for procedures which allow for broad collection of data on people never suspected of any crime or involvement I terrorist activities.

Edward Snowden did this country a favor by forcing the administration to justify what they are doing, as well as pressuring congress to rise to the irresponsibility to oversee these domestic spying programs.

on June 18,2013 | 02:53PM
FISHMAN20 wrote:
Where are all the right-wingers who constantly chant about intrusive big government ? They go nuts when background checks for guns are brought up. But when the government invades and takes every scrap of information about they think it is OK? By the way, you don't think they already know about every gun you own and every bullet you have ever bought?
on June 18,2013 | 09:27AM
DownSpout wrote:
Wait a minute! The "government invades and takes every scrap of information?” That exaggeration isn't an argument; it's hyperbolic nonsense.
on June 18,2013 | 09:41AM
eoe wrote:
You obviously haven't been paying attention. But in your world, probably that new $1.7 billion, 1 million sq ft facility NSA is building in Utah (including 100,000 sq ft data center) is actually a shopping center, right? A rack of servers the size of a regular fridge can store 100 TV channels' annual output. That is 10 sq.ft. I wonder why they would need 10,000 times that much space? Probably for their Foosball tables, right?
on June 18,2013 | 11:47AM
eoe wrote:
Right wingers don't think for themselves, and don't see all of the gaping inconsistencies in their positions. They just know what Fox and Rush told them last. "Oceania was at war with Eurasia: therefore Oceania had always been at war with Eurasia."
on June 18,2013 | 09:44AM
Maneki_Neko wrote:
Not sure I understand. If I take "right winger" as meaning Repubs, your assertion is inaccurate. The latest Gallup Poll says: "Republicans are at 32% approve, 63% disapprove of the current NSA program as described in the survey, while Democrats are at 49% approve, 40% disapprove. "
on June 18,2013 | 09:48AM
eoe wrote:
Yes, in 2006 (you know, under "our guy"), when last asked, republicans approved of spying 75 percent to 23 percent. What changed since then? Oh yeah, the socialist muslim communist threat to America.
on June 18,2013 | 11:23AM
Kapakahi wrote:
Neko, the top Republican politicians in Washington are defending the spying program, aware some Democrats. But the top critics in the Senate are also Democrats, Udall and Wyden. And Dick Cheney is about as rightwing as they get and he is calling Snowden a "traitor" and defending the domestic spying.
on June 18,2013 | 02:56PM
Hapa_Haole_Boy wrote:
Uh, so what if they do? So what if they have all that information. Big deal. Especially if it helps keep the nation safer and helps the war on terror.
on June 18,2013 | 10:54AM
Fred01 wrote:
Maybe you should go back to whatever communist country your "hapa" side immigrated from?
on June 18,2013 | 11:31AM
eoe wrote:
And maybe you should go back to what ever mythological version of America you think didn't spy on, oppress and trample its citizens rights. Because there is no version like that.
on June 18,2013 | 11:41AM
Hapa_Haole_Boy wrote:
Fred01 is like the problem kid in the class. When the smart kids are talking and making valid points, all he can do is hurl insults, wagging his tongue and barking like a blathering, unbehaved dog.
on June 18,2013 | 12:03PM
fiveo wrote:
General Alexander and the NSA are not to be believed. Where is the proof of these claims. If they did foil any plots, it was plots that they set up themselves in order to entrap some dumb idiots who thought they were dealing with real jihadists. rather than NSA or FBI operatives. I no longer trust the government or anything that they claim just because they say trust us, we are the government and we would never deceive you. Yeah right. Lies and deceit by our government got us involved in Vietnam and the invasion of Iraq. The next war, they want to deceive us into is Syria. Watch what politicians begin to gin up the war drums for intervening in Syria. This is just madness and will only benefit the multinational corporations who benefit from constant war to make money. Its all about making money. Never mind the cost and loss of lives.
on June 18,2013 | 10:10AM
Hapa_Haole_Boy wrote:
"it was plots that they set up themselves". Idiotic comments at its finest. If you "no longer trust the government", then leave. You don't have to live in this country.
on June 18,2013 | 11:17AM
saywhatyouthink wrote:
Anything you put out over the internet is there for everyone to see and hear. I think you should expect that and act accordingly. How many times have people used the internet for communication or pictures only to find out they've lost control of the content and now it's "out there" for everyone to see on multiple sites beyond your control? Common sense! Don't use the internet for anything you wouldn't want people to know about. In today's connected world, nothing is private anymore.
on June 18,2013 | 11:17AM
Hapa_Haole_Boy wrote:
"it was plots that they set up themselves". I d i o t i c comments at its finest. If you "no longer trust the government", then leave the country. There is no reason why you must live in this nation.
on June 18,2013 | 11:19AM
Fred01 wrote:
on June 18,2013 | 11:33AM
Hapa_Haole_Boy wrote:
uh yeah, and fiveo is not ignorant with his unsupported, fanciful claims? Fred01, you are making yourself out into a joke.
on June 18,2013 | 11:47AM
kuroiwaj wrote:
Yep, "Trust us." Give me a break. The NSA, FBI, CIA, FISA Court, and the Obama Administration is in deep kukai.
on June 18,2013 | 10:56AM
LanaUlulani wrote:

The NSA also spied on Hawaiian Nationals to the detriment of Hawaiians. Shame on Obama for allowing this to happen! No honor. No integrity. Shameful !

on June 18,2013 | 12:07PM
eoe wrote:
Why would they spy on Hawaiians. To hear about them endlessly talk about how the white man stole their land? Boring.
on June 18,2013 | 12:13PM
NanakuliBoss wrote:
No,no,no Lana from flo rida
on June 18,2013 | 01:48PM
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