Mueller: NSA surveillance could have prevented 9/11

Outgoing FBI Director Robert Mueller said Thursday that if the National Security Agency’s controversial surveillance and data collection programs had been in place earlier, they could have potentially stopped the 9/11 terror attacks. 

“I think there’s a good chance that we would have prevented at least part of 9/11,” Mueller said in an interview on CNN. “In other words, there were four planes and almost 20, 19 persons involved, and I think we would have had a much better chance of identifying those individuals who were contemplating that attack … by the various programs that have been put in place since then.”

Many lawmakers, including Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), have defended the NSA programs, saying they have been directly responsible for thwarting terrorist attacks.

Glenn Greenwald, the Guardian reporter who broke the story about the NSA’s phone and Internet surveillance program, has argued that any time there are revelations of “wrongdoing” by the U.S. government, lawmakers seek to “scare the American public” with stories of thwarted attacks.

Mueller also said that the programs were not an infringement on civil liberties, but rather an enhanced method by the government to exchange critical information between agencies.

“The programs that have come under scrutiny recently are designed to pick up for the metadata, or to the extent that there is more than metadata, you have to do it by court order, and they’re tailored to do that,” he said.

“I would query about what you mean in terms civil liberties and what we’ve given up,” he continued. “Do we exchange information in ways that we did not before? Absolutely. Well you could say that, to the extent that you exchange information between the CIA and FBI, NSA and the like, you could characterize that as somehow giving up civil liberties, but the fact of the matter is, it’s understandable and absolutely necessary if you want to protect the security of the United States.”

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and other libertarian-minded members of Congress have warned that the programs are a government intrusion on civil liberties and don’t make the country any safer. Others have vowed to more closely monitor the programs in light of reports that the NSA has committed thousands of privacy violations in implementing the programs.