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ProPublica Questions Evidence for Claims That NSA Spying Halted Fifty-four Terror Attacks | The Nation

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Greg Mitchell

Greg Mitchell

Media, politics and culture.

ProPublica Questions Evidence for Claims That NSA Spying Halted Fifty-four Terror Attacks




James Clapper, director of National Intelligence. (AP/Susan Walsh)

After revelations from Edward Snowden–inspired leaks caused an uproar, President Obama, top officials and NSA supporters from both parties in Congress claimed loudly and often that NSA actions had “thwarted” over fifty terror plots—somehow pinning that down, in most cases, to exactly fifty-four. I’ve questioned that here, but most media outlets either accepted this at face value or let it slide without much probing.

So I was glad this morning to see an important piece just posted by ProPublica on those claims.

ProPublica writers say, “There’s no evidence that the oft-cited figure is accurate. The NSA itself has been inconsistent on how many plots it has helped prevent and what role the surveillance programs played. The agency has often made hedged statements that avoid any sweeping assertions about attacks thwarted.”

And: “Asked for clarification of the surveillance programs’ record, the NSA declined to comment.”

In fact, even the NSA admits that of the fifty-four ballyhooed plots, only thirteen had any “nexus” with the United States. The agency has openly described only four of the plots and identified only one—involving a San Diego man convicted of sending $8,500 to Somalia to support the militant group Al Shabab—in which NSA surveillance played a dominant role.

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Yet the media hype continued. The ProPublica reporters, Justin Elliot and Theodoric Meyer, cite this beauty:

Mike Rogers, the Intelligence Committee chairman who credited the surveillance programs with thwarting 54 attacks on the House floor, repeated the claim to Bob Schieffer on CBS’ “Face the Nation” in July.“You just heard what he said, senator,” Schieffer said, turning to Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., an NSA critic. “Fifty-six terror plots here and abroad have been thwarted by the NSA program. So what’s wrong with it, then, if it’s managed to stop 56 terrorist attacks? That sounds like a pretty good record.”

And concerning one of only four plots disclosed:

A case involving David Coleman Headley, the Chicago man who helped plan the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attack. Intelligence officials have said that NSA surveillance helped thwart a subsequent plot involving Headley to attack a Danish newspaper. A ProPublica examination of that episode concluded that it was a tip from British intelligence, rather than NSA surveillance, that led authorities to Headley.

And so on.

Jesselyn Radack describes her visit with NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden in Russia.

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