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Podcast: NSA Surveillance and Intelligence Gathering

In this courtroom sketch, David Coleman Headley, 52, left, appears before U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber at federal court in Chicago, Thursday, Jan. 24, 2013, as Leinenweber imposes a sentence of 35 years in prison for the key role Headley played in a 2008 terrorist attack on Mumbai. (Tom Gianni/AP Photo)

In the face of claims that the National Security Agency’s data collection program had prevented terrorist plots, ProPublica’s Sebastian Rotella took a closer look at one of those: David Coleman Headley’s foiled plan to attack a Danish newspaper. He found that, “the government surveillance only caught up with Headley after the U.S. had been tipped by British intelligence.” And he noted that, “Even that victory came after seven years in which U.S. intelligence failed to stop Headley as he roamed the globe on missions for Islamic terror networks and Pakistan’s spy agency.”

Rotella has reported extensively on the Headley case and was a correspondent for Frontline and ProPublica’s “A Perfect Terrorist” investigation.  To find out more about how authorities caught up with Headley and to discuss the intelligence gathering techniques that other international law enforcement agencies have successfully used, ProPublica editor-in-chief, Steve Engelberg, spoke with Rotella on the podcast. 

“The lack of or limited resources foments creativity,” said Rotella. “In other words, what several people have said in discussing this recent brouhaha in the United States is – they almost have a sense that the U.S. has such vast resources that it can be a hindrance and there’s such a focus on just gathering information that it tends to hurt things like analysis and things like knowing the world you’re trying to spy on close up.  And because they have less limited resources, they’ve been forced to get out there more on the street and develop sources and have a lot of close-up human contact to infiltrate networks and watch them develop and get inside them and monitor their operations.”

Mike Webb

Mike Webb was the vice president/communications of ProPublica. He is a veteran communications specialist with experience in public relations, marketing, sales and campaign work at media companies, think tanks, political organizations and in the entertainment business.

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