National Security Agency programs revealed by former defense contractor Edward Snowden play a key role in thwarting terrorist plots such as this week's attempt to bomb a Kansas airport, according to a member of the House Intelligence Committee.
"This ongoing conversation we're having about Section 215 of the Patriot Act and other provisions, things that the National Security Agency is doing, their importance seems to be pointed out to me very clearly by what took place today," Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., told the Washington Examiner during a Friday phone interview.
The Justice Department Friday announced the arrest of Terry Lee Loewen, 58, and charged him with providing material support to al Qaeda by attempting to carry out a suicide bombing at Wichita's Mid-Continent Airport. Loewen's writings indicate he had become a radical Islamist.
"It would seem to be incredibly important that when the FBI identified Terry Lee Loewen, that they had the ability to immediately determine whether there were other links to the terrorist networks located here in the United States," Pompeo also said. "Whatever it is they may have found, whether they found the links or whether they found that there were no links, that seems to me incredibly important."
The Kansas Republican took care not to say definitively that Section 215, which allows the government to conduct electronic surveillance within the United States, played a role in this case. "I don't want to hang this on Section 215," he said.
"But what I do think is fair to say: Imagine you found a man trying to commit a terrorist attack in Wichita, Kan. It seems to me that we want our law enforcement officials to be able to very quickly identify other links to the terrorist network that this person may be affiliated with, and Section 215 is a component of the capacity — it's one of the tools — that permits our intelligence community to do that," Pompeo said.
He also faulted the Justice Department for downplaying the religious motivations behind the alleged plot in their public statements on the arrest.
"If we are silent or pretend that these acts are simply criminal acts and we don't call them what they are, which is terrorist attacks carried out in the name of radical Islam, than we create a risk that the American people will not permit us to have the resources and capacity to take down these terrorist networks," Pompeo said.
Loewen allegedly told an undercover FBI agent about the al Qaeda training materials and propaganda that he was reading, which inspired the plot.
"Brothers like Osama bin Laden and Anwar al-Awlaki are a great inspiration to me, but I must be willing to give up everything (like they did) to truly feel like a obedient slave of Allah," the complaint quotes Loewen as writing.
Might the lack of specificity used by government officials in their descriptions of this threat lead to a larger national security apparatus that has a broader focus than necessary?
"Just like any time that you are fighting a war, you have to allocate your resources against the threat," Pompeo replied. "There's no requirement that you have to start monitoring every 50-year-old man in America, or every 58-year-old woman, or 52-year-old man for that matter. And that's not what they did here. That's not how they located him. So, you need to deploy your resources in the place where you think you can most effectively reduce the threat."