Chambliss: NSA reform bill would not have stopped subway bomber

The New York City subway would likely have been bombed by a terrorist in 2009 had a current draft surveillance reform bill been enacted at the time, according to the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Najbullah Zazi was prevented from blowing up himself and others by government agents who had tracked his movements, communications and attempts to buy beauty products to use in a homemade bomb ahead of the eight-year anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001. But the USA Freedom Act, which would reform some of the National Security Agency’s (NSA) operations decried by privacy and civil liberties advocates, would not have let those agents do their jobs, Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) said on Thursday.

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“I’m convinced that if we had this bill in place under the facts of the Zazi case, we would probably have had an explosion in the subway in New York City,” he said.

Chambliss’s remarks came during a hearing on the bill, which is under debate in the Senate after passing through the House last month.

The Georgia Republican signaled opposition to the legislation, which he said would likely do more harm than good.  

The Zazi case has been held up by intelligence agency officials as a prime example of how the existing NSA program has protected the country from terrorists. To track him, the NSA used his phone records to connect him to other extremists and figure out their plot.   

Critics of the programs have denied that the phone records program was necessary for the case.

The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board said earlier this year that it was “aware of no instance in which the program directly contributed to the discovery of a previously unknown terrorist plot or the disruption of a terrorist attack.”