Despite the intelligence community’s attempts to blame NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden for the tragic attacks in Paris on Friday, the NSA’s mass surveillance programs do not have a track record — before or after Snowden — of identifying or thwarting actual large-scale terrorist plots.
CIA Director John Brennan asserted on Monday that “many of these terrorist operations are uncovered and thwarted before they’re able to be carried out,” and lamented the post-Snowden “handwringing” that has made that job more difficult.
But the reason there haven’t been any large-scale terror attacks by ISIS in the U.S. is not because they were averted by the intelligence community, but because — with the possible exception of one that was foiled by local police — none were actually planned.
And even before Snowden, the NSA wasn’t able to provide a single substantiated example of its surveillance dragnet preventing any domestic attack at all.
The recent history of terror arrests linked to ISIS is documented in an internal unclassified Department of Homeland Security document provided to The Intercept via SecureDrop. It shows that terror arrests between January 2014 and September 2015 linked to ISIS were largely of people trying to travel abroad, provide material support, or plan attacks that were essentially imaginary.
The document, dated before the Paris attacks, includes a list and map of 64 U.S. persons arrested on terror-related charges over the course of nine months who were “assessed to be inspired by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant,” or ISIS.