We've already explained how some NSA supporters, including Rep. Mike Rogers and Senator Dianne Feinstein, are trying to defend PRISM and other NSA surveillance efforts by saying that it stopped a NYC subway bombing but their claims don't seem to hold up
under scrutiny. Now even the Associated Press is calling out those statements as highly questionable
, which is somewhat amazing for the AP, as it normally loves to just present "both sides of the story" and then let you decide what's real. But the article linked above actually digs in and points out where the claims by the NSA's defenders don't seem to add up to anything.
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said investigators "found backpacks with bombs." Really, the bombs hadn't been completed and the backpacks the FBI found were unrelated to the plot.
Feinstein said the FBI had Zazi under surveillance for six months. Court testimony showed Zazi was watched only for about two weeks before he was arrested.
But there's a much bigger point that the AP makes. Even if the claim was somehow true that PRISM was useful, nowhere does that claim show how a standard warrant wouldn't have provided the same information:
That's because, even before the surveillance laws of 2007 and 2008, the FBI had the authority to - and did, regularly - monitor email accounts linked to terrorists. The only difference was, before the laws changed, the government needed a warrant.
To get a warrant, the law requires that the government show that the target is a suspected member of a terrorist group or foreign government, something that had been well established at that point in the Zazi case.
In other words, even if PRISM was used, there's no evidence that it was needed, because the NSA could have easily obtained the same information through traditional means -- getting a warrant -- and without potentially violating the privacy of millions of others.