Intel Chair Blows Smoke about NSA, Subway Gas Attack

Time magazine ran an excerpt this week from Ron Suskind’s new book, “The One Percent Solution,” that described an aborted al Qaeda plot from 2003 to release deadly gas on the New York subway.

Six weeks before the plotters were allegedly going to execute their plan, Ayman Al-Zawahiri called it off — inexplicably, Suskind says.

On Sunday night’s Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) told the world that the NSA’s controversial (and mostly secret) domestic spying operation was the real reason the deadly scheme had been disrupted.

“It points up, once again, the value of the terrorist surveillance program, the NSA program that’s been in the news so much,” Roberts replied. “We are able to detect and deter and stop such attacks. And we were very fortunate that that did not happen.”

Now, Roberts gets briefed on stuff you and I will never know about, so maybe he’s privy to secret data linking the NSA program to the plot’s disruption. But from everything I’ve read, Roberts is full of horse-hooey on this one. There’s not a single suggestion in Time‘s excerpt that the NSA program had anything to do with Zawahiri’s decision. In fact, Suskind describes intelligence officials as “speechless and vexed” by Zawahiri’s decision to abort the attack. And I haven’t found anyone (other than Roberts) who will say otherwise.UPI’s Shaun Waterman spoke with intel sources who told him there were two theories why the attack was called off — neither of which involved the NSA:

The first was that Zawahiri was concerned the plot would not be successful enough to top the Sept. 11 attacks, by killing more people or causing more panic — a goal that is widely thought to be a big strategic factor in al-Qaida’s operational planning. . . .

[A] second possibility considered by intelligence analysts was that Zawahiri feared the plot might be too successful — and bring redoubled efforts to capture the remnants of the al-Qaida leadership. . .

I called Roberts’ office to see if he could give me more information to justify his statements — but they haven’t called back. Meanwhile I’ve reached out to Suskind, hoping he can shed some more light on the matter. I’ll let you know if I hear anything more.