Snowden: French spying didn’t stop terror attacks

Edward Snowden is pointing to the recent terror attacks in Paris as proof that government surveillance can’t stop terrorism.

“The problem with mass surveillance is that you’re burying people under too much data,” the government leaker said in an interview with a Dutch public broadcaster.

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“We see that France passed one of the most intrusive, expansive surveillance laws in all of Europe last year, and it didn’t stop the attack,” he added. “This is consistent with what we’ve seen in every country.” 

Snowden pointed to attacks in Spain, London and the 2013 bombing of the Boston Marathon.

“I was at the NSA [National Security Agency] on the day the Boston marathon bombing occurred,” he said. “I was walking into the cafeteria with one of my colleagues... I said to him: ‘You know, I’m willing to bet almost anything that we knew who these people were, that we had something on them,’ and later on found out that that was the case.”

U.S. and Russian agencies investigated alleged Boston bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s possible connections to Islamist extremists years before the marathon bombing, but nonetheless failed to prevent the attack. A report from the Department of Justice’s inspector general last year cleared U.S. agencies of any failures in dealing with the intelligence. Snowden has nonetheless previously pointed to the oversight as proof that mass surveillance is ineffective at stopping terrorists.  

In late 2013, France expanded its surveillance powers to give officials more power to collect telephone conversations, emails and other electronic communications. The sweeping law provided no additional oversight from the courts.

Supporters of strong surveillance systems have also invoked the recent attacks in Paris — which resulted in the deaths of 17 people earlier this month. However, they have used the events as proof of the need for a strong law.

The battle over the NSA will return to Congress in coming months, as lawmakers seek to reauthorize a critical portion of the Patriot Act ahead of a June 1 deadline. 

--This report was updated on Jan. 22 at 10:19 a.m.