WASHINGTON/BERLIN,, 16 JUNE: Top US Intelligence officials have said that information gleaned from two controversial data-collection programmes run by the National Security Agency (NSA) thwarted potential terrorist plots in the USA and more than 20 other countries and that gathered data is destroyed every five years.
Last year, fewer than 300 phone numbers were checked against the database of millions of US phone records gathered daily by the NSA in one of the programmes, the Intelligence officials said while arguing that the programmes are far less sweeping than their detractors allege.
No other new details about the plots or the countries involved were part of the newly declassified information released to the Congress yesterday and made public by the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Intelligence officials said they are working to declassify the dozens of plots NSA chief General Keith Alexander said were disrupted, to show Americans the value of the programmes, but that they want to make sure they don’t inadvertently reveal parts of the US counter-terrorism playbook in the process.
The release of information follows a bruising week for US Intelligence officials who testified in the Congress, defending programmes that were unknown to the public and some lawmakers until they were revealed by a series of media stories in the ‘Guardian’ and ‘The Washington Post’ newspapers, leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, who remains in hiding in Hong Kong. The disclosures have sparked debate and legal action against the Obama administration by privacy activists who say the data collection goes far beyond what was intended when expanded counter-terrorism measures were authorised by the Congress after the terror attacks of 11 September 2001.
Intelligence officials said yesterday that both NSA programmes are reviewed every 90 days by the secret court authorised by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Under the programme, the records, showing things like time and length of call, can only be examined for suspected connections to terrorism, they said.
The officials offered more detail on how the phone records programme helped the NSA stop a 2009 Al Qaida plot to blow up New York City subways. They say the programme helped them track a co-conspirator of Al Qaida operative Najibullah Zazi though it’s not clear why the FBI needed the NSA to investigate Zazi’s phone records because the FBI would have had the authority to gather records of Zazi’s phone calls after identifying him as a suspect, rather than relying on the sweeping collection programme.
German spy service
Germany’s foreign Intelligence service plans a major expansion of Internet surveillance despite deep unease over revelations of US online spying, Der Spiegel news weekly reported today. Spiegel said that the BND planned a 100 million euro ($130 million) programme over the next five years to expand web monitoring with up to 100 new staff members on a “technical reconnaissance” team.
PLA newspaper hits out at America
Beijing, 16 June: China’s official army newspaper today branded the US Internet surveillance programme exposed by former spy Edward Snowden as “frightening”, and accused the USA of being a “habitual offender” when it comes to network monitoring. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Daily hit out at the USA for implying that spying on citizens from other countries was justified, and said that the PRISM monitoring programme had probably been used to collect large amounts of data unrelated to
anti-terrorism operations. The remarks about the programme are among the most scathing to appear in China’s state-run press following Beijing’s refusal to make an official comment. pti