In an excellent, well-argued editorial, CNN National Security Analyst Peter Bergen eviscerates the claim that the NSA's total, global surveillance is necessary for preventing 9/11-style attacks. Bergen shows how the US intelligence agencies' own auditors concluded that pre-PATRIOT Act surveillance powers were more than sufficient to have predicted and prevented the 9/11 attack, and many attacks since, including the 2008 Mumbai attack, which was planned in Chicago; Maj. Nidal Hasan's 2009 shooting spree at Ford Hood; the 2009 shooting of a soldier in Little Rock, Arkansas; Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab's failed underwear bomb attack in 2009. All attacks for which America's spies had advance warning and did nothing or not enough.
What was true of the two 9/11 hijackers living in San Diego was also the unfortunate pattern we have seen in several other significant terrorism cases:
— Chicago resident David Coleman Headley was central to the planning of the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai that killed 166 people. Yet, following the 9/11 attacks, U.S. authorities received plausible tips regarding Headley's associations with militant groups at least five times from his family members, friends and acquaintances. These multiple tips were never followed up in an effective fashion.
— Maj. Nidal Hasan, a military psychiatrist, killed 13 people at Fort Hood, Texas, in 2009. Yet intelligence agencies had intercepted multiple e-mails between Hasan and Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S.-born cleric living in Yemen who was notorious for his ties to militants. The e-mails included a discussion of the permissibility in Islam of killing U.S. soldiers. Counterterrorism investigators didn't follow up on these e-mails, believing they were somehow consistent with Hasan's job as a military psychiatrist.
— Carlos Bledsoe, a convert to Islam, fatally shot a soldier at a Little Rock, Arkansas, military recruiting office in 2009. Shortly before the attack, Bledsoe had traveled to Yemen. As a result, Bledsoe was under investigation by the FBI yet he was still able to buy the weapons he needed for his deadly attack when he was back in the United States.
— Nigerian Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab attempted to blow up Northwest Flight 253 over Detroit on Christmas Day 2009 with an "underwear bomb." Luckily, the bomb failed to explode. Yet, a few weeks before the botched attack, AbdulMutallab's father contacted the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria with concerns that his son had become radicalized and might be planning something. This information wasn't further investigated.
AbdulMutallab had been recruited by al Qaeda's branch in Yemen for the mission
The White House's review of the underwear bomb plot concluded that there was sufficient information known to the U.S. government to determine that AbdulMutallab was likely working for al Qaeda in Yemen and that the group was looking to expand its attacks beyond Yemen. Yet AbdulMutallab was allowed to board a plane bound for the United States without any question.
Would NSA surveillance have stopped 9/11 plot? [Peter Bergen/CNN]