NYSE attack among those said prevented by U.S. surveillance

Intelligence-gathering efforts by the U.S. have helped prevent more than 50 terrorist attacks in more than 20 countries, including one planned at the New York Stock Exchange, government officials said.

Surveillance of communications between a known al-Qaeda extremist in Yemen and an individual in the U.S. allowed the FBI to “detect a nascent plot” to bomb the exchange and arrest those involved, Sean Joyce, deputy director of the bureau, told the House intelligence committee today.

Khalid Ouazzani, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Morocco, pleaded guilty in federal court in Kansas City in May 2010 to providing material support to terrorists.

Asked if it was a serious plot, Joyce said, “I think the jury considered it serious since they were all convicted.”

The NSA tomorrow will give documents to House and Senate intelligence committees in a classified setting describing more than 50 other “potential terrorist events” thwarted by surveillance programs since Sept. 11, 2001, said General Keith Alexander, director of the National Security Agency.

“These programs were approved by the administration, Congress and the courts,” Alexander told members of the intelligence committee.

The disclosure of NSA programs collecting data on telephone and Internet communications by Edward Snowden, a technology contractor working for Booz Allen Hamilton Holding Corp., has sparked a criminal inquiry by the Justice Department as well as a review by U.S. intelligence agencies of how the leak occurred.

Snowden, 29, fled to Hong Kong last month before revealing himself as the source, and U.S. lawmakers said they want to know more about what led him to act.

Protection Playbook

“This widespread leak by a 29-year-old American systems administrator put our country and our allies in danger by giving the terrorists a really good look at the playbook that we use to protect our country,” Representative C.A. “Dutch” Ruppersberger of Maryland, the intelligence committee’s top Democrat, said.

Monitoring of foreigners’ Internet activity also aided the discovery of a plot to bomb the office of a Danish newspaper that published cartoon depictions of the Prophet Muhammad, Joyce said.

That plot involved David Headley, a Pakistani-American who was arrested in 2009 for helping to plot the 2008 shooting and bombing attacks in Mumbai that killed 166 people. Headley was convicted in January in a U.S. federal court for his role in the attacks.

Government officials last week said surveillance allowed the U.S. to disrupt a plot to bomb the New York City subway system.

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