Former Vice President Dick Cheney said on Fox News Sunday this week that if the National Security Agency's daily collection of private telephone records and Internet messages had been in place before the 9/11 attacks in 2001, the terrorists' plot might have been foiled. Rep. Mike Rogers (R- Mich.) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairmen, respectively, of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, are among the public officials who have made similar claims in defense of the NSA's controversial PRISM program.
"As everybody who's been associated with the program's said, if we had had this before 9/11, when there were two terrorists in San Diego — two hijackers — had been able to use that program, that capability, against that target, we might well have been able to prevent 9/11," Cheney told host Chris Wallace. The hijackers Cheney referenced were Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Mihdhar, who were sharing a residence in San Diego from January 2000 until a few months before the September 11, 2001 attacks.
FBI Director Robert Mueller made the same claim when he testified before a House panel on June 13. Referring to an al-Qaeda "safe house" in Yemen, Mueller said, "If we had the telephone number from Yemen, we would have matched it up to that telephone number in San Diego, got further legal process, identified al-Mihdhar ... The 9/11 Commission itself indicated that investigations or interrogations of al-Mihdhar, once he was identified, could have yielded evidence of connections to other participants in the 9/11 plot." But Mueller, in that same testimony, seemed to be saying the intelligence officials had the number of the safe house.
"They understood that that al-Qaeda safe house had a telephone number, but they could not know who was calling in to that particular — that particular safe house. We came to find out afterwards that the person who had called in to that safe house was al-Mihdhar, who was in the United States, in San Diego," he said.
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