The recent terrorist plot uncovered in Germany was detected by traditional means. According to Newsweek, "One U.S. intelligence official described the law-enforcement operation as a case of 'good old-fashioned police work.'"
Nevertheless, when Mike McConnell, the Director of National Intelligence, testified [PDF] before Congress on Monday, he cited the German arrests as proof of the importance of conducting electronic surveillance without warrants under the so-called Protect America Act.
After these contradictions came to light, the DNI recanted: "Information contributing to the recent arrests was not collected under authorities provided by the Protect America Act," McConnell admitted in a statement released on Wednesday.
The foiled terrorist plot in Germany shows that we can protect America while protecting Americans' rights. In response to McConnell's testimony, Rep. Rush Holt stated "The German terror case in question is another example of why I voted against the 'Protect America Act' when it came to the House floor in August. Our existing collection activities are working well overall, uncovering potential terrorist plots in Europe and elsewhere."
McConnell's error also highlights why Congress must vigorously investigate the Administration's warrantless domestic spying. When the Administration says broad new spying powers are crucial and necessary, Congress should not simply take the president's word for it. Congress is supposed to be an independent check, not a rubberstamp.
Time and again, the Administration has made self-serving disclosures about the NSA's domestic spying even while keeping the program's critical details cloaked in secrecy. Most recently, McConnell and anonymous Administration officials publicly affirmed telcos' collaboration with the spying program, just as attempts to railroad Congress into granting the telcos immunity heated up. Yet the Administration has repeatedly stated in court filings that confirming this information would cause "grave danger to national security" and thus cases like our lawsuit against AT&T must be dismissed. It's also refused to provide this same information to Congress despite legislators' repeated inquiries.
It's long past time that Congress fought to uncover the whole truth about the secret spying and stopped relying on the Administration's selective, politically-motivated revelations. This week, Rep. John Conyers sent a letter to McConnell demanding further information, but Congress' efforts shouldn't stop there -- it must use all available means, including subpoenas and contempt proceedings, in order to pry information out of the Administration. And it should not expand spying powers unless and until a full, thorough, and public investigation is complete.