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Information, please

"Information, please" Continued...

Issue: "No pray zone?," July 13, 2013

They also say the surveillance system has allowed them to prevent terrorist attacks. In one 2009 case, officials discovered that al-Qaida operatives in Pakistan had been in contact with a Muslim extremist in Colorado, Najibullah Zazi, who was planning with fellow conspirators to bomb the New York City subway system using beauty-salon chemicals. Thanks to the secret surveillance systems, officials were able to arrest the would-be terrorists before the act. But now that the programs are publicly known, they may be less effective in catching such plotters.

In a congressional hearing on June 18, NSA chief Gen. Keith Alexander told the House Intelligence Committee the surveillance programs had allowed his agency to “connect the dots” necessary to disrupt over 50 terrorist plots. “I would much rather be here today debating this point,” he said, “than trying to explain how we failed to prevent another 9/11.”

Too much clearance?

The national intelligence community has exploded in growth since 9/11, and so have the number of workers allowed to view classified data—nearly 5 million last year.

The June leaks involving Edward Snowden, who enjoyed top-secret clearance, raised the question of whether too many people—including janitors and crate packers—have access to sensitive information that could endanger national security if revealed.

Snowden wasn’t a federal worker most recently but an employee of Booz Allen Hamilton, one of hundreds of private firms working for the U.S. intelligence community. About a quarter of Booz Allen’s nearly 25,000 employees have earned clearance to work on top-secret projects, and the company depends on them to land lucrative government contracts.

National Security Agency director Gen. Keith Alexander said his agency has roughly 1,000 systems administrators with jobs similar to Snowden’s. Most are contractors.

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Daniel James Devine
Daniel James Devine

Daniel is a reporter for WORLD who covers science, technology, and other topics in the Midwest from his home base in Indiana. Follow Daniel on Twitter @DanJamDevine.

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