US spy chief: Plot against Wall Street foiled

June 18, 2013 by Donna Cassata
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich. listens to testimony on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, June 18, 2013, by National Security Agency (NSA) Gen. Keith B. Alexander during the committee's hearing regarding NSA surveillance. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

The U.S. foiled a plot to bomb the New York Stock Exchange because of the sweeping surveillance programs at the heart of a debate over national security and personal privacy, officials said Tuesday at a rare open hearing on intelligence—a set-piece for supporters of the snooping.

The House Intelligence Committee, led by lawmakers sympathetic to the extraordinary surveillance, provided a venue for officials to defend the once-secret programs. There was limited probing of claims that the collection of people's phone records and has disrupted dozens of terrorist plots, and few details were volunteered.

Army Gen. Keith Alexander, director of the , 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. But details about them were not closely held within the secretive agency. Alexander said after the hearing that the documents accessed by Edward Snowden, a 29-year-old former systems analyst on contract to the NSA, were on a web forum available to all NSA employees.

He told lawmakers Snowden's leaks have caused "irreversible and significant damage to this nation" and undermined the U.S. relationship with allies.

When Deputy FBI Director Sean Joyce was asked what is next for Snowden, he said, simply, "justice." Snowden fled to Hong Kong and is hiding.

last week disclosed some details on what they said were two thwarted attacks, one targeting the New York subway system, one a Danish newspaper office that had published the cartoon depictions of the Mohammad. On Tuesday, Alexander said more than 50 terrorist acts were averted because of the surveillance programs in question.

In one example, Joyce said the NSA was able to identify an extremist in Yemen who was in touch with someone in Kansas City, Missouri, enabling authorities to identify co-conspirators and thwart a plot to bomb the . He said this was made possible by one of the surveillance programs disclosed by Snowden, but he did not say which one.

Joyce also said a terrorist financier inside the U.S. was identified and arrested in October 2007 because of a phone record provided by the NSA. The individual was making phone calls to a known designated terrorist group overseas, Joyce said. He confirmed under questioning that the calls were to Somalia.

Alexander said the Internet program had helped stop 90 percent of the 50-plus plots he cited. He said just over 10 of the plots thwarted had a connection inside the U.S. and most were helped by the review of phone records. Still, little was offered to substantiate claims that the programs have been successful in stopping acts of terrorism that would not have been caught with narrower surveillance. In the New York subway bombing case, President Barack Obama conceded the would-be bomber might have been caught with less sweeping surveillance.

National Security Agency (NSA) Director Gen. Keith B. Alexander approaches the witness table on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, June 18, 2013, to testify before the House Intelligence Committee hearing regarding NSA surveillance. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

Officials have long had the authority to monitor email accounts linked to terrorists but, before the law changed, needed to get a warrant by showing that the target was a suspected member of a terrorist group. In the disclosed Internet program named Prism the government collects vast amounts of online data and email, sometimes sweeping up information on ordinary American citizens. Officials now can collect phone and Internet information broadly but need a warrant to examine specific cases where they believe terrorism is involved.

Committee chairman Mike Rogers, a Republican, and Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, 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.

From left, Deputy Attorney General James Cole; National Security Agency (NSA) Deputy Director Chris Inglis; NSA Director Gen. Keith B. Alexander; Deputy FBI Director Sean Joyce; and Robert Litt, general counsel to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence; prepares to testify on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, June 18, 2013, before the House Intelligence Committee hearing regarding NSA surveillance. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

"Egregious, egregious leaks," Joyce said.

But after the hearing, Alexander said almost all of the documents Snowden leaked were on an internal online library.

"They are on web forums that are publicly available in the NSA," he 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 targeted for surveillance when outside the country.

This June 9, 2013 photo provided by The Guardian newspaper in London shows Edward Snowden, who worked as a contract employee at the U.S. National Security Agency, in Hong Kong. The Guardian newspaper says that the British eavesdropping agency GCHQ repeatedly hacked into foreign diplomats' phones and emails when the U.K. hosted international conferences, even going so far as to set up a bugged Internet café in an effort to get an edge in high-stakes negotiations. The Guardian cites more than half a dozen internal government documents provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden as the basis for its reporting on GCHQ's intelligence operations. (AP Photo/The Guardian, File)

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 the agency's knowledge, it has to "purge" that from 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 10 people were involved in that process, including himself and Inglis.

Explore further: Current, former officials back secret surveillance

Related Stories

Current, former officials back secret surveillance

June 16, 2013

Current and former top U.S. officials on Sunday defended the government's collection of phone and Internet data following new revelations about the secret surveillance programs, saying the operations were essential in disrupting ...

Booz Allen says it's fired Snowden after leak

June 11, 2013

Edward Snowden, who admitted leaking details of secret U.S. government surveillance programs, was fired by his employer Tuesday while the U.S. government considers criminal charges against him.

US spy programs raise ire both home and abroad

June 11, 2013

The Obama administration faced fresh anger Monday at home and abroad over U.S. spy programs that track phone and Internet messages around the world in the hope of thwarting terrorist threats. But a senior intelligence official ...

NSA claims ability to ensure no illegal spying (Update)

June 9, 2013

The supersecret agency with the power and legal authority to gather electronic communications worldwide to hunt U.S. adversaries says it has the technical know-how to ensure it's not illegally spying on Americans.

Recommended for you

Cryptocurrency rivals snap at Bitcoin's heels

January 14, 2018

Bitcoin may be the most famous cryptocurrency but, despite a dizzying rise, it's not the most lucrative one and far from alone in a universe that counts 1,400 rivals, and counting.

Top takeaways from Consumers Electronics Show

January 13, 2018

The 2018 Consumer Electronics Show, which concluded Friday in Las Vegas, drew some 4,000 exhibitors from dozens of countries and more than 170,000 attendees, showcased some of the latest from the technology world.

Finnish firm detects new Intel security flaw

January 12, 2018

A new security flaw has been found in Intel hardware which could enable hackers to access corporate laptops remotely, Finnish cybersecurity specialist F-Secure said on Friday.


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

2 / 5 (8) Jun 18, 2013
They could say anything they wanted and we would have no way of knowing the truth. Why would they say all this data did nothing for us security wise? I'm worried that BO is using it to attack his political foes. He did it with the IRS, EPA, labor board and others he will search every phone number of every Congressman and Senator there is with this data. He cannot be trusted.
5 / 5 (3) Jun 18, 2013

Though. Obama just inherited and existing plethora of spy programs qreated much earlier.

That man does look serious, but then, I'm quite sure they were all quite serious about alll those 'plots' that the FBI (cia?) set up to entrap less than intelligent foreign 'terrorists'.
2.3 / 5 (6) Jun 18, 2013
I would say he not only inherited, but endorsed all the previous programs Excellent observations rwinners..
2.3 / 5 (6) Jun 19, 2013
Not only endorsed, but expanded exponentially.

Under Bush, I don't remember hearing about the NSA getting every freakin' phone record from every phone company, every credit card transaction, every email from every provider, every blog post and comment, every social media posting, and who knows what else. They were supposed to be asking for specific information from these companies when a foreign phone number suspected to be from terrorists was calling into the US.

I'll bet there are, right now, a couple "rogue", "low level" employees, acting strictly on their own and, of course, totally unbeknownst to their "neutral" higher-up and the White House, that have somehow managed to get hold of that massive database of donors extorted from conservative groups by the IRS, linked them in, and are now busily data-mining for dirt for use in the 2014 and 2016 elections.

The only thing Orwell got wrong was the year.
3 / 5 (2) Jun 19, 2013
I believe that officials of various descriptions have lied brazenly in front of Congressional committees before, so why would this one be any different? This is especially true when it is a committee that is already sympathetic to activities/programs that are supposed to be under investigation or scrutiny. Roll PRISM, etc. together with the drone program and you have a system for complete monitoring and, if necessary, surgical elimination, of any U.S. citizen, for cause or for no cause, such as government-sponsored domestic terrorism. The surprise is that they manage to bungle things like stopping the Boston bombings and Sandy Hook, unless that was the plan (not stopping them).
3.7 / 5 (3) Jun 19, 2013
Erm - from the cases he cited it seems like they pretty much knew the source and/or target phones of suspected terrorists. in which case it isn't THAT hard to geta court order (or to even argue spying without court order) in order to avert terrorist plots.

Uncovering/averting these did not require blanket collection of billions of phone records per day.

put the United States and its allies at risk

Since they've been spying on us allies as well - thanks, but no thanks.
1.7 / 5 (6) Jun 19, 2013
Erm - from the cases he cited it seems like they pretty much knew the source and/or target phones of suspected terrorists
This is a grossly unwarranted presumption.
I believe that officials of various descriptions have lied brazenly in front of Congressional committees before, so why would this one be any different?
I believe that many more officials have been entirely truthful in those same positions before, so why would this one be any different?

Govt-bashing makes the timid feel a little more substantial.
Since they've been spying on us allies as well - thanks, but no thanks
Fine. Next time we let you blow up.

"BERLIN — Germany's chancellor says U.S. intelligence was key to foiling a large-scale terror plot, acknowledging her country is "dependent" on cooperating with American spy services."
1.6 / 5 (7) Jun 19, 2013
did not require blanket collection of billions of phone records per day
-Another grossly-unwarranted presumption by one more propaganda-soaked euro who knows nothing about these things and cant be bothered to learn. Your gullibility is showing.

"...the Germans made one horrendous mistake. It was on 30 August 1941. A German operator had a long message of nearly 4,000 characters to be sent from one part of the German Army High command to another — probably Athens to Vienna. He correctly set up his Lorenz machine and then sent a twelve letter indicator...After nearly 4,000 characters had been keyed in at the sending end, by hand, the operator at the receiving end sent back by radio the equivalent, in German, of "didn't get that — send it again.

"They now both put their Lorenz machines back to the same start position. Absolutely forbidden, but they did it."

-Thats ok maybe youll win the next one.

Just finished cryptonomicon. Marissa Mayer recommends it.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.