NSA Defenders Claim PRISM Helped Stop NYC Subway Bombing; Actual Evidence Suggests It Didn't

from the so-much-for-that dept

You knew this was coming. In the wake of the revelations about the NSA surveillance program, defenders of the system are now trying to claim that PRISM was responsible for stopping a plot to bomb the NYC subways by Najibullah Zazi. However, as people looked into the details, they pointed out that this didn’t make much sense and, further, that detailed public reports already make it clear that traditional police work had uncovered Zazi’s plot, not PRISM.

The details of terror investigations are not always laid out this clearly in public; but they appear to belie the notion, advanced by anonymous government officials Friday, that sweeping access to millions of email accounts played an important roil in foiling the subway attack. Instead, this is the sort investigation made possible by ordinary warrants under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act; authorities appear simply to have been monitoring the Pakistani email account that had been linked to terrorists earlier that year.

That report, by Buzzfeed’s Ben Smith has a lot more details.

Of course, there’s a separate point in all of this: even if PRISM had been used to stop this plot, that says nothing about whether or not the program is appropriate. I’m sure that we could stop all sorts of terrorist plots and activity if the US government was able to send soldiers door to door searching every house in the country and installing cameras inside our homes. But, most everyone would agree that’s a blatant violation of our rights.

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Comments on “NSA Defenders Claim PRISM Helped Stop NYC Subway Bombing; Actual Evidence Suggests It Didn't”

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40 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

I’m sure that we could stop all sorts of terrorist plots and activity if the US government was able to send soldiers door to door searching every house in the country and installing cameras inside our homes. But, most everyone would agree that’s a blatant violation of our rights.

I’m still waiting for you to start claiming that PRISM violates the Fourth Amendment. I’m sure someone else will make a plausible sounding argument soon that it does so you can then latch onto it and milk it for all it’s worth. We all know you decided it was unconstitutional the minute you heard about it. The boring details and analysis are irrelevant with your results-oriented style of “analysis.”

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

“In a rare public filing in the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), the Justice Department today urged continued secrecy for a 2011 FISC opinion that found the National Security Agency’s surveillance under the FISA Amendments Act to be unconstitutional. Significantly, the surveillance at issue was carried out under the same controversial legal authority that underlies the NSA?s recently-revealed PRISM program.”

https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2013/06/government-says-secret-court-opinion-law-underlying-prism-program-needs-stay

Anonymous Coward says:

Insanity, keep doing the same thing and expect a different result.

We passed the PATRIOT act, but more terrorist plots like the Shoe Bombers almost happened, without the PATRIOT act doing any good!

No problem, pass even more intrusive laws, they’re bound to give us a tip off the next time! Then a terrorist attack happens that we failed to stop!

No Problem, we just need to start looking through everyone’s phone calls and emails! But then that fails to stop another terrorist attack, or help to foil one that almost happens!

No Problem! We can just install hidden cameras and microphones in everyone’s homes, including bathrooms and bedrooms! (how else can we get young volunteers to watch all those millions of hours of footage we compile to find actual terrorist threats?). But then ANOTHER terrorist attack happens or almost happens without our new measures doing any good!

No Problem! We just force everyone to wear an ankle bracelet 24/7 that keeps an eye on them, and can give you an electric shock whenever you do anything ‘bad’, like bad mouth the ankle bracelet!

If that STILL fails to stop a terrorist plot, or help to almost foil one, no problem! We just start throwing EVERYONE in jail. That way there’s no one left to commit a terrorist attack, since they’re all in jail in the name of terrorism and pre-emptive arresting!

Oblate (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

At some point, it’s easier and cheaper to just kill everyone you don’t like.

But then who would they track? If there’s no one to track, they can’t justify buying all this nifty equipment (aka pork) to track them? And if they can’t direct lucrative contracts now, who will hire them later when they retire? Please think these things through before you wildly speculate and make rash statements.

Bonus points if you grind them up and use them to feed the hungry.

Please, there’s no profit in feeding the hungry. Now ‘organic’ fertilizer…

Anonymous Coward says:

New Plan...

NSA to FBI: Hey guys, could you set up one of those terrorist plot thingies for us to help you find and stop to get us out of this little jam we are in?
FBI to NSA: Sure if you carve us out a little space in you new fangled data center and we get to take credit for stopping it as long as we give you the credit for finding it.
NSA to FBI: Deal.

Machin Shin (profile) says:

Re: Re: china

I was going to say something about how cool the US is that we made the stuff to be able to see it from space…. Then I remembered are oh so wonderful president figured we should trash our shuttles and beg for rides from Russia.

You know, I was once proud of the US, then I realized the US I was proud of no longer existed. That got me so I was just kind of indifferent… Then Obama comes along and makes me flat out embarrassed to admit I have anything to do with this country. I’m still holding onto the hope that maybe we can drag it back to what it should be though.

Anonymous Coward says:

“In a rare public filing in the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), the Justice Department today urged continued secrecy for a 2011 FISC opinion that found the National Security Agency’s surveillance under the FISA Amendments Act to be unconstitutional.

Nothing has changed. This is the belief that if they can slide through this unscathed, all will return to their normal. This is the scandal that the GOP needs to be looking at but then, they support it to so you will likely hear not much in the line of bickering on it because that would come back to haunt them in who supported The Patriot Act.

No they are waiting for it to all blow over. There is not any sort of “this is wrong” mentality in the whole batch it appears.

What they want to do is cover it up, grab the whistle blower and prosecute him as a spy. Business as usual and it flat out doesn’t cut it.

Anonymous Coward says:

this is the same type of bullshit that comes out whenever a government is caught with it’s hand in the cookie jar! the government in the USA is no different to governments in UK and elsewhere. they are constantly using the ‘threat of terrorism’ as the excuse to remove more and more from the public. they dont want anyone except the governments and their rich, powerful sponsors to have anything. for the people to have freedom and privacy is a no-no and keeping tabs on the public is more important than anything else. the public, via the internet, can now find out when their own government as well as elsewhere are up to no good. the same goes with companies and individuals. to stop the spread of this information is paramount to them and taking any action with any excuse is gonna be used. now the ‘whistle blower over this latest release is being sought by the USA. obviously, he will end up in the same position as Manning for drawing attention to the public of the bad things governments are up to. i hope he is ok. every person that he has warned of what is going on needs to thank him most dearly. if he suddenly is found dead, a mental wreck, bankrupt or anything else, i hope there is a real backlash everywhere!

RubyPanther says:

I wonder if you considered the plots foiled by secret federal actions would pretend that the locals did the work. Seems that would have lots of benefits both to law enforcement and public morale. The guys in secret can’t take the credit, but why not give the credit to the nearest “good guys” that are in the public eye?

Mike Masnick, do you love America? Your article doesn’t even consider reasonable, patriotic explanations so I have to say it doesn’t look like it. You can’t love the Constitution and hate elected, representative Government.

And the 4th Amendment doesn’t say, “nobody can ever be searched mkay bai.” It actually sets up a system where the Courts have to decide if a search is Reasonable and based on accusation of some sort. It says nothing about telling you the details. It is the Court that needs to have seen and approved the details. It seems you’re not even sure what is in the Constitution, what American’s Rights are.

One right we don’t have is the right not to be lied to by sensational and false news stories, like the one the Washington Post ran that started this kerfuffle. And that’s good, the 1st Amendment is a better right. But while not a right, good Journalism would really enhance the rest of our rights. Too bad we’ll never have it.

tracker1 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Government Violating Constitution...

Considering a topic of discussion is that the FISC (court) actually made a decision that the Gov’t violated the 4th Amendment already? Oh, how about targeting journalists? (1st Amendment).

Even just sticking to the 4th Amendment’s use of the term “unreasonable” … being a societal standard, you would be hard pressed to get half the world (because they aren’t just looking at domestic emails) to agree that looking into every email and phone call is anything but “unreasonable” … I doubt even half the U.S. would find it reasonable.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Oh, so Mike doesn’t think they have undermined it? So he thinks it’s all very legal? Guess we won’t know for sure since Mike is too chicken shit to ever discuss anything directly. He just shits FUD and moves on to the next hit piece. There’s no time to slow down and actually defend anything he says. Nope. No time for that. Must get more clicks. Must spread hate. Must FUD everything! Truth? Nope. No time for that. This is TECHDIRT!! Yeah! FUCK YEAH!

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