The Obama administration says NSA surveillance data collected by programs like the secret one revealed last week helped make arrests in two important anti-terrorism cases. Critics say that simply isn’t true.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein and her equivalent in the House, Rep. Mike Rogers, “have attempted to justify the NSA’s use of vast data sweeps such as Prism and Boundless Informant by pointing to the arrests and convictions of would-be New York subway bomber Najibullah Zazi in 2009 and David Headley, who is serving a 35-year prison sentence for his role in the 2008 Mumbai attacks,” The Guardian wrote Wednesday.

Rogers told ABC’s “This Week” that the NSA’s massive wiretapping of Internet and telephone services was essential to detecting and foiling the plotters. Anonymous administration officials made a similar point to The New York Times and Reuters.

“But court documents lodged in the US and UK, as well as interviews with involved parties, suggest that data-mining through Prism and other NSA programmes played a relatively minor role in the interception of the two plots. Conventional surveillance techniques, in both cases including old-fashioned tip-offs from intelligence services in Britain, appear to have initiated the investigations,” The Guardian reported.

About a case involving Headley, “who in January was sentenced to 35 years in jail for having made multiple scouting missions to Mumbai ahead of the 2008 terrorist attacks that killed 168 people,” an “intelligence expert and former CIA operative, who asked to remain anonymous because he had been directly involved … was derisive about the claim that data-mining sweeps by the NSA were key to the investigation.”

The source said: “That’s nonsense. It played no role at all in the Headley case. That’s not the way it happened at all.”

One wonders whether contemporary cops are either lazy or too much in love with their gadgets to conduct difficult and demanding old-fashioned snooping. Read the details of the two cases here.

— Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

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