NSA: Spying Programs Helped Thwart 50 Terror Plots

The Slatest
Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
June 18 2013 11:34 AM

NSA Says Its Spying Programs Helped Thwart 50 Terror Plots Since 2001

170799253
General Keith Alexander, director of the National Security Agency, appears before the House Select Intelligence Committee on Tuesday

Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

NSA Director Keith Alexander and other administration officials are on the Hill today where they're providing the latest defense of the two Snowden-leaked government spying programs that have sparked controversy at home and abroad. The big early takeaway: Alexander told lawmakers that the programs have helped thwart roughly 50 "potential terrorist events" in 20 countries since 2001, and that at least 10 of those plots had targets within the United States. "I would much rather be here today debating this than explaining why we were unable to prevent another 9/11," he told lawmakers at a somewhat rare public hearing of the House Intelligence Committee.

Alexander promised to provide the classified details of all of the foiled threats to the lawmakers, but left the exact size and scope of the terrorist plots in question unclear to the public. FBI Deputy Director Sean Joyce, however, managed to color in some of the details, highlighting several cases where he said the surveillance programs helped save the day. Among them were separate plots to bomb the New York Stock Exchange and the New York City subway. He also said that the programs help link a U.S. citizen to the 2008 attacks on hotels in India, and to a plot to bomb the offices of a Danish newspaper that published a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad in 2006.

Advertisement

Still, even when going into the most detail to date, Joyce still painted with only broad brush strokes, something that highlights what has proved to be one of the administration's most difficult challenges: justifying sweeping, secret surveillance programs while still keeping many specifics a secret from those it's trying to win over. With the NYSE plot, for instance, Joyce said only that the NSA used PRISM to monitor an extremist in Yemen who was in contact with an operative in the United States.

Alexander and Joyce are facing a pretty easy audience today. The panel's bipartisan leaders—Republican Rep. Mike Rogers and Democratic Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger—have both been vocal defenders of the programs, a sentiment they've again made clear today. "It is at times like these where our enemies within become almost as damaging as our enemies on the outside," Rogers said. Ruppersberger, meanwhile, added that the "brazen disclosures" by Edward Snowden put the United States and its allies abroad at risk.

I'll continue to update with any major revelations, but you can follow along here at the WaPo's live video feed.

Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City. 

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Smash and Grab

Will competitive Senate contests in Kansas and South Dakota lead to more late-breaking races in future elections?

Stop Panicking. America Is Now in Very Good Shape to Respond to the Ebola Crisis.

The 2014 Kansas City Royals Show the Value of Building a Mediocre Baseball Team

The GOP Won’t Win Any Black Votes With Its New “Willie Horton” Ad

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

Technocracy

Forget Oculus Rift

This $25 cardboard box turns your phone into an incredibly fun virtual reality experience.

I Am 25. I Don’t Work at Facebook. My Doctors Want Me to Freeze My Eggs.

These Companies in Japan Are More Than 1,000 Years Old

  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 20 2014 8:14 PM You Should Be Optimistic About Ebola Don’t panic. Here are all the signs that the U.S. is containing the disease.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 20 2014 7:23 PM Chipotle’s Magical Burrito Empire Keeps Growing, Might Be Slowing
  Life
Dear Prudence
Oct. 21 2014 9:18 AM Oh, Boy Prudie counsels a letter writer whose sister dresses her 4-year-old son in pink tutus.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM I Am 25. I Don't Work at Facebook. My Doctors Want Me to Freeze My Eggs.
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 20 2014 7:15 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 9 A spoiler-filled discussion of "Flatline."
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 21 2014 10:41 AM Taylor Swift Just Went to No. 1 on iTunes Canada With 8 Seconds of Static 
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 21 2014 10:43 AM Social Networking Didn’t Start at Harvard It really began at a girls’ reform school.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Oct. 21 2014 7:00 AM Watch the Moon Eat the Sun: The Partial Solar Eclipse on Thursday, Oct. 23
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.