While defending his agency’s power to collect and search the phone records of Americans, National Security Agency Director Keith Alexander said that if the NSA had the ability and authorization to do such blanket searches before September, 11 2001, the 9/11 terrorist attacks could have potentially been disrupted.
Alexander made the claim Sunday during an interview with John Miller on CBS’s “60 Minutes”:
Miller: Before 9/11, did we have this capability?
Alexander: We did not.
Miller: Is it a factor? Was it a factor?
Alexander: I believe it was.
Miller went on to explain Alexander’s point further. “What Gen. Alexander is talking about is that two of the 9/11 hijackers — Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi — were in touch with an al-Qaida safe house in Yemen,” he narrated. “The NSA did not know their calls were coming from California, as they would today.”
“I think this was the factor that allowed Mihdhar to safely conduct his plot from California,” Alexander added. “We had all the other indicators, but no way of understanding that he was in California while others were in Florida and other places.”
During the “60 Minutes” segment, a top official at the NSA also told Miller that the U.S. government should grant NSA leaker Edward Snowden amnesty if it would help secure the documents he pilfered.
Snowden’s “already said, ‘If I got amnesty, I would come back.’ Given the potential damage to national security, what would your thought on making a deal be?” Miller asked Rick Ledgett, a 25-year agency veteran who heads a task force looking into the Snowden leaks.
“So my personal view is, yes, it’s worth having a conversation about,” Ledgett replied. “I would need assurances that the remainder of the data could be secured, and my bar for those assurances would be very high. It would be more than just an assertion on his part.”
But Ledgett said his opinion is not shared by all of the agency’s top officials.
“This is analogous to a hostage taker taking 50 people hostage, shooting ten, and then say, ‘if you give me full amnesty, I’ll let the other 40 go,’” Alexander told Miller, explaining his opposition to granting Snowden amnesty. “I think people have to be held accountable for their actions because what we don’t want is the next person to do the same thing.”