NSA email monitoring in Pakistan led to terrorist arrest

Published: June 16, 2013
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Millions of records were collected in 2012. PHOTO: REUTERS

Millions of records were collected in 2012. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON:  The US government 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 in 2012, according to a government paper obtained by Reuters on Saturday.

The unclassified paper was circulated Saturday within the government by U.S. intelligence agencies and apparently is an attempt by spy agencies and the Obama administration to rebut accusations that it overreached in investigating potential militant plots.

The paper says NSA collection of email and telephone data helped U.S. authorities track down Najibullah Zazi, an Afghan immigrant who in 2009 was arrested for plotting to bomb the New York City 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 United States 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 data base 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.

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

The paper circulated on Saturday said that data from the NSA phone and email collections programs not only led U.S. 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 United States.

The paper discusses an NSA program that collects “metadata” – raw information that does not identify individual telephone subscribers – from major U.S. phone companies showing all calls made by those companies’ subscribers to phones within the United States and overseas.

It also mentions another NSA program, called Prism in leaked documents, that collects from internet companies what the paper says 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 says U.S. 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 U.S. carriers – not just to Verizon, which is the only telephone company identified in a document disclosed by Snowden as providing such data to the NSA.

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

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Reader Comments (10)

  • ashar
    Jun 16, 2013 - 9:08PM

    Every body know that in corporate bodies, there is a web based email service operates for internal correspondence of employees and every email is automatically cc’d to the CEO of the company to keep him informed. He seldom use this service in open decision making instead this is used for his personal evaluation of employees.

    So if the boss of the world is doing that what is the matter of surprise or regret in it. Those who do not recognize him the boss, simply don’t use the service, and they are free men what we are not.

    Therefore we should close the debate on this matter and try to keep in mind that the boss is watching and in this way we would save the boss from offering unnecessary clarifications to his subjects.

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  • Anon
    Jun 16, 2013 - 9:46PM

    Thats nice to hear… please proceed spying on us. Why would we need privacy!

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  • Ahmed Ali
    Jun 16, 2013 - 10:41PM

    When Pakistan passed the Fair Trial Bill 2013 allowing the Pakistani intelligence agencies to intercept emails, calls and sms. Tribune criticized it calling it breaching privacy of citizens and other crap. Now Tribune is trying to justify the Spying program of NSA just because it is done by CIA! So our own agencies are wrong when they do all this to stop terrorism. But a foreign agency is absolutely right in doing so.
    This is height of hypocrisy from Express Tribune and other liberal groups in Pakistan. Dare to publish my comment!

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  • Abid P. Khan
    Jun 16, 2013 - 11:23PM

    Once employing contractors, is so widespread for our good and we are so chummy chummy can’t we be told, what Raymond Davies was doing in Lahore, fixing telecables? Perhaps was trying out some famous Lahore dishes?
    .
    My worry is, Mr Qureshi who supposedly put his foot down but was overruled by who? In this Brave New World, one cannot be an honest to God patriot any more. What have we come to?

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  • Arain
    Jun 17, 2013 - 2:29AM

    Terrorist? What joke is this?
    Fact is, terrorist is whomever the ‘Authority’ wants to defame. those people in Guantanamo are Not terrorists! Thats why they arent being legally persecuted! And the same holds true for whomever U.S declares Terrorist…

    Even in Pakistan random people are taken up from streets and locked for crimes of other just to show how effective ‘police’ is..

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  • Seriously
    Jun 17, 2013 - 3:47AM

    Zazi! Tribune please do some research before posting word to word a propaganda piece. Zazi was a FBI information. Connect the dots.

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  • Aschraful Makhlooq
    Jun 17, 2013 - 10:48AM

    Is there any privacy left in the world and how shamefully the world most especially importantly muslim countries’ leaders are silent on it that their nations’ privacy is being hacked by US…..

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  • CrankShaft
    Jun 17, 2013 - 1:23PM

    @Ahmed Ali: This isn’t an article by the Express Tribune, its by Reuters.

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  • Bogarter
    Jun 17, 2013 - 4:50PM

    and its extremely stupid if anybody thinks that there’s something called “privacy” on the internet. HaH.

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  • Imtiaz
    Jul 3, 2013 - 9:19PM

    umm….i dont know what companies have all emails forwarded to the ceo. and if the ceo does read those emails, i wonder what else has time for, considering the massive number of emails that float in any decently sized company.

    must be a very rare occurance of such email spying, if there is one at all.

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