x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

US claims it only used phone call records to spy on 300

A paper says that phone call logs gathered by the NSA led to the capture of terrorists and did not intrude on US citizens' privacy.

WASHINGTON // The US government claims it only searched for detailed information on calls involving fewer than 300 specific phone numbers among the millions of raw phone records collected by the national security agency (NSA) in 2012.

The figures were revealed in a government paper that was circulated by United States intelligence agencies, apparently in an attempt by spy agencies and the Obama administration to rebut accusations that it overreached in investigating potential militant plots.

The administration has said that the NSA, according to top-secret documents made public by a former agency contractor, Edward Snowden, collects massive amounts of data on message traffic from both US-based telephone and internet companies. But it said such data collection is legal, subject to tight controls and does not intrude on the privacy of American citizens.

The paper, circulated on Saturday, said that data from the NSA phone and email collections programs not only led US investigators to the ringleader of a plot to attack New York's subway system in 2009, but also to one of his co-conspirators in the US.

The paper discussed an NSA program that collects "metadata", raw information that does not identify individual telephone subscribers, from major US phone companies showing all calls made by those companies' subscribers to phones within the US and overseas.

It also mentioned another NSA programme, called Prism in leaked documents, that collects from internet companies what the paper said are emails of foreigners who might be of interest to counterterrorism or counter-proliferation investigators.

Millions of phone records were collected in 2012, but the paper said US authorities only looked in detail at the records linked to fewer than 300 phone numbers.

A person familiar with details of the program said the figure of fewer than 300 numbers applied to the entire mass of raw telephone "metadata" collected last year by the NSA from US carriers - not just to Verizon, which is the only telephone company identified in the document disclosed by Mr Snowden as providing such data to the NSA.

The paper repeated assertions by administration spokesmen that NSA email and telephone data-collection programmes contributed to the disruption of "dozens of potential terrorist plots here in the homeland and in more than 20 countries around the world".

The paper said NSA collection of email and telephone data helped US authorities track down Najibullah Zazi, an Afghan immigrant who in 2009 was arrested for plotting to bomb the New York subway system. Zazi pleaded guilty to terrorism charges.

NSA monitoring of the email of alleged Al Qaeda operatives in Pakistan led them to an unnamed person in the US who was making "efforts to procure explosive material", according to the government paper.

The NSA gave its raw information to the FBI, which identified Zazi, who was then living in Colorado. After tailing him to New York, the FBI arrested him.

By cross-checking Zazi's phone number with its giant database of raw phone traffic, the paper said more leads were generated for the FBI. One of those leads took authorities to Adis Medunjanin, who was convicted last year in the subway plot and sentenced to life in prison.