NSA

The Quarter-Baked Plot to Bomb the New York Stock Exchange

|

House Intelligence Committee

Although the witnesses at yesterday's House Intelligence Committee hearing could not cite a single case where the NSA's phone record database was crucial in preventing a terrorist attack, they did describe a few cases where they said plots were uncovered based on information obtained by monitoring the communications of foreign targets under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Nick Gillespie recently explained the grounds for skepticism about two of those cases: Najibullah Zazi's plan to bomb the New York City subway system and David Headley's participation in a conspiracy to bomb the offices of the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten. At yesterday's hearing Deputy FBI Director Sean Joyce offered a fresh example, involving an alleged plot to bomb the New York Stock Exchange:

Monitoring a terrorist in Yemen, the N.S.A. discovered that he was talking to a man named Khalid Ouazzani in Kansas City, Mo. After applying for a separate warrant for Mr. Ouazzani's communications, they identified two additional conspirators and discovered they were "in the very initial stages" of the stock exchange bomb plot, he said.

Mr. Ouazzani pleaded guilty in 2010 to sending money to Al Qaeda but was not charged with any domestic plots. Later on Tuesday, law enforcement officials said Mr. Joyce had been referring to Sabirhan Hasanoff and Wesam El-Hanafi, two Brooklyn men who pleaded guilty to providing material support to terrorism.

A sentencing memorandum filed by prosecutors contends that in 2008, "at the direction of a senior terrorist leader," Mr. Hasanoff conducted surveillance of the New York Stock Exchange and sent the leader a one-page report on it.

"The report was rudimentary and of limited use" for any terrorist operation, the memo acknowledges, while nevertheless contending that Mr. Hasanoff's willingness to conduct such surveillance bolstered the case for giving him a 20-year sentence.

At the hearing, [Rep. Mac] Thornberry [R-Texas] asked Mr. Joyce whether the stock exchange attack was a "serious plot" or just "something that they kind of dreamed about." Mr. Joyce replied, "I think the jury considered it serious, since they were all convicted."

Evidently Joyce forgot that the case was a matter of public record:

Joshua L. Dratel, a lawyer for Mr. Hasanoff, called Mr. Joyce's portrayal "astonishing" because none of the defendants was charged with the stock exchange allegation and there was no jury trial in any of the cases. 

As is often the case with the foiled terrorist plots highlighted by the government, this one does not even rise to the level of a half-baked scheme, so it is a bit of a stretch to count it as an example of how Section 702 saves Americans' lives.

Addendum: More than a bit of a stretch. Wired reports that "even the government's own sentencing memorandum shows that the defendants called off a proposed plot on their own, without involvement from federal authorities." Here is the relevant passage from the memo:

Hasanoff relayed that the New York Stock Exchange was surrounded by approximately four streets that were blocked off from vehicular traffic and that someone would have to walk to the building. The Doctor [an undisclosed high-ranking al-Qaida operative] revealed that, although the information provided by Hasanoff could be used by someone who wanted to do an operation, he was not satisfied with the report, and he accordingly disposed of it. (The report apparently lacked sufficient detail about New York Stock Exchange security matters to be as helpful as the Doctor had hoped.)

NEXT: Slim Whitman, Country Singer, Dead at 90

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Damn, H&R is making me want to punch things today. Fuck these fascists.

  2. I wonder what the world would be like if we imprisoned everyone who ever dreamed of doing something violent to someone else…

  3. All this means is that the feds are going to find some more hapless dupes to set up as terrorists and then use unconstitutional surveillance to publically stop them.

  4. “Mr. Joyce, were you lying about that matter, or are you merely staggeringly incompetent?”

    1. Can’t it be both?

  5. Speaking of Wall Street, Rick Santelli is pissed off.

  6. “Approximately four streets?” What’s the margin of error there, precisely?

    1. Plus or Minus an alley.

  7. Monitoring a terrorist in Yemen, the N.S.A. discovered that he was talking to a man named Khalid Ouazzani in Kansas City, Mo. After applying for a separate warrant for Mr. Ouazzani’s communications, they identified two additional conspirators and discovered they were “in the very initial stages” of the stock exchange bomb plot, he said.

    Let’s see. They were spying on some guy in another country, discovered he was talking to a guy in the US. They get a warrant for the guy in the US, and discover he was in the initial stages of a plot to do something bad.

    So… this is something which proves that PRISM and the phone call database are being used to foil terrorists? Hello – operator? I think I lost my connection.

    This looks to me like proper procedure. The initial tick was from the Yemen operation, which gave probable cause for a warrant for Ouazzani’s communications, which led to the discovery of the plot. This is an indictment of the massive programs. We don’t need them at all.

    1. That was my exact thought. They had an actual suspect, saw who he contacted, got a warrant for that info and used it.

      In other words, proper procedure.

      Fucking lying scumbags.

    2. Agreed. This is the way it is supposed to be done – not a tens of millions of people wide dragnet.

  8. Mr. Hasanoff’s willingness to conduct such surveillance bolstered the case for giving him a 20-year sentence.

    If noting that some streets are closed is surveillance, then I can only imagine the charges they drop on tourists who take photographs of the building.

  9. But I saw news headlines saying that 50 terrorist plots had been stopped by NSA surveillance. Surely you aren’t saying that they could have been incorrect or misleading?

  10. Hasanoff relayed that the New York Stock Exchange was surrounded by approximately four streets that were blocked off from vehicular traffic and that someone would have to walk to the building. The Doctor [an undisclosed high-ranking al-Qaida operative] revealed that, although the information provided by Hasanoff could be used by someone who wanted to do an operation, he was not satisfied with the report, and he accordingly disposed of it.

    The terrorists have a God damn Time Lord on their side now? We are so fucked.

    1. Finally proof that out government is secretly being controled by the cybermen

  11. I’ll bet Abbie Hoffman’s prank of throwing money from the balcony onto the trading floor would work equally well in Congress.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.