NSA data mining helped stop Najibullah Zazi before he could bomb the New York City subway system in 2009. Former U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey, in defending the data mining, said in a Journal op-ed Monday that it would be beneficial to know who the Tsarnaev brothers were communicating with before the Boston Marathon bombing, “and whether there were overlapping circles that would reveal others bent on killing and maiming Americans — sort of a terrorist Venn diagram.”
He also argued that the “ghastly prospect” of an attack on the scale of 9/11 “provides incentive for analysts to focus on the intelligence task at hand and not on political or recreational use of information.”
The debate over NSA practices is just beginning. But it's easy to forget, as we draw down our troops in Afghanistan after having done so in Iraq, that the United States remains at war with really bad actors who are intent on doing us harm. Being able to scour phone and Internet data provides important tools to try to ensure that the enemy fails, and that nothing on the scale of 9/11 ever happens again.