WASHINGTON — The director of the National Security Agency testified Tuesday that the government's surveillance program helped thwart more than 50 terrorist "events" since Sept. 11, 2001, including a planned bombing of the New York Stock Exchange.
Army Gen. Keith Alexander, the NSA's director, made the revelation during an open session of the House of Representatives' Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
Sean Joyce, deputy director of the FBI, divulged some recently declassified information about two foiled domestic plots. Joyce said authorities were able to stop a plot to bomb the exchange before it hatched because authorities, through the surveillance programs, were monitoring "an extremist in Yemen" who was "talking with an individual located in the United States in Kansas City, Missouri."
He was later identified as Khalid Ouazzani. McClatchy's Kansas City Star reported in June that Ouazzani, a local businessman, was part of a small terror cell with two New York men. In May 2010 he pleaded guilty to providing material support to a terrorist organization. He admitted sending more than $23,000 to al-Qaida, The Star reported.
Joyce also said federal authorities were able to identify a San Diego man who intended to financially support a terrorism group in Somalia. Joyce said the FBI investigated the man after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks but didn't find any connection to terrorist activity.
"Several years later the NSA provided us a telephone number only in San Diego that had indirect contact with an extremist outside the United States," Joyce said.
With further electronic surveillance, approved by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, Joyce said the FBI was able to identify the man's co-conspirators "and we were able to disrupt this terrorist activity."
Tuesday's witnesses testified to a largely sympathetic committee. Prior to the hearing, lawmakers who support the surveillance programs implored the NSA to declassify materials and provide examples to the public showing how they were keeping the nation safe.
Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., the committee chairman, described the unusual open hearing as a "cleanup on aisle nine" in the aftermath of Snowden's leaks. President Barack Obama also engaged in NSA damage control in a Monday night PBS interview with Charlie Rose.
"What I can say unequivocally is that if you are a U.S. person, the NSA cannot listen to your phone calls, and the NSA cannot target your emails. . And have not," he told Rose.