SURVEILLING STUTTGART….The LA Times reports some background detail about the arrest of those three terrorist wannabes in Germany on Wednesday:

A U.S. intelligence intercept of suspicious communications between Pakistan and Stuttgart was the initial break that ultimately led to the arrest this week of three suspected Muslim militants accused of plotting massive car-bomb attacks here against Americans, U.S. and German officials told the Los Angeles Times on Thursday.

….The counter-terrorism official described the initial intercept [last December] as “a key factor. This was a long investigation. But it helped build the case. It led to a very long period of surveillance, and the arrests. It also continued during the investigation.”

This year, U.S. intelligence agents intercepted a key communication in which militant handlers in Pakistan asked for an update on the plot and pushed the suspects to move faster, according to U.S. and German officials.

Interesting. These intercepts are pretty clearly a result of the NSA surveillance program we’ve heard so much about, and I’d guess that U.S. officials are leaking about this in order to demonstrate the value of the program.

Here’s another guess: as you recall, the NSA program was put into crisis mode last May when a FISA judge issued a ruling “telling the administration flatly that the law’s wording required the government to get a warrant whenever a fixed wire is involved.” This meant that NSA was required to get a warrant even for communications entirely outside the U.S., which probably put a huge crimp into the German investigation. In other words, NSA officials weren’t just generically concerned about the program as a whole (though they undoubtedly were), but were specifically concerned with this particular case.

If that’s true, it suggests yet again just how reckless the administration’s approach to surveillance has been. Everyone — literally everyone — was immediately willing to amend the FISA law to restore NSA’s capability to monitor communications between two foreign locations. The administration could have passed a bill within a week that allowed surveillance of these terrorists to start back up if they’d wanted to. Instead, we likely lost a couple of month’s worth of surveillance because the White House was bound and determined not merely to fix FISA, but to expand its scope dramatically.

That was a helluva gamble. Sure, the German terrorists were already under intense surveillance by German police by that time, but the story from the U.S. folks is that the intercepts from this year were vital to the investigation too. You’d think they’d want to get that back online as soon as possible, especially for a plot whose goal was massive American fatalities. Instead they played politics until the end of July, hoping both for some partisan juju as well as a chance to increase the unfettered power of the executive branch. Nice job, guys.

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