U.S. intelligence officials cite the case of San Diego cab driver Basaaly Moalin, 36, who is awaiting sentencing on charges of sending $8,500 to Somalia in support of the terrorist group al-Shabab, as the prime example of the value of a National Security Agency program that collects tens of millions of phone records from Americans, reports the Washington Post. Officials say NSA surveillance tools have helped disrupt terrorist plots or identify suspects in 54 cases. In many of them, an agency program that targets the communication of foreigners, including e-mails, has proved critical.
The importance of the phone logs in disrupting those plots has been less clear — and also far more controversial since it was revealed in June. Critics say that over dozen years of records collection, the government has offered few instances in which the massive storehouse of Americans' records contained the first crucial lead that cracked a case — and even those, they say, could have been obtained through a less intrusive method. “There's no reason why NSA needed to have its own database containing the phone records of millions of innocent Americans in order to get the information related to Moalin,” said Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO), a Senate Intelligence Committee member who has been seeking evidence of the program's effectiveness. “It could have just as easily gone directly to the phone companies with an individualized court order.”