During a meeting in Pennsylvania to discuss reauthorizing the FISA surveillance law, Republican House Speaker John Boehner said the arrest of Christopher Cornell in Ohio would not have been possible without the 1978 law.
“The first thing that strikes me, we would have never known about this had it not been for the FISA program and our ability to collect information on people who pose an imminent threat,” Boehner said during a press conference in Hershey, Pennsylvania on Thursday.
Boehner insisted the government would not have known about Cornell if not for widespread surveillance of the American public.
“The first thing that strikes me, we would have never known about this had it not been for the FISA program and our ability to collect information on people who pose an imminent threat,” he said.
According to an FBI affidavit, however, authorities were tipped off by an informant who saw tweets posted by Cornell, who went by the name Raheel Mahrus Ubaydah.
Cornell came to the attention of local police in the fall of 2013 when he attended a 9/11 memorial ceremony with a sign that read, “9/11 was an inside job.”
“He committed no crimes. We filed no reports. He was constitutionally protected to do that at the event,” said Lt. Mitch Hill of the Green Township Police Department.
News reports indicate Cornell was set-up by the FBI informant who was cooperating with authorities to obtain “favorable treatment” in an unspecified case.
Acting under FBI supervision, the unidentified informant arranged meetings with Cornell and discussed an attack on the U.S. capitol. The seasonally employed and reclusive Cornell was arrested earlier this week after buying expensive firearms and ammunition.
Despite revelations by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden that the NSA and its British counterpart, the GCHQ, are engaged in widespread surveillance of the American public, Boehner said the government only spies on terrorists.
“Our government does not spy on Americans unless there are Americans who are doing things that tip off our law enforcement officials to an imminent threat. It was our law enforcement officials and those programs that helped us stop this person before he committed a heinous crime in our Capitol,” Boehner said.
Congress will likely reauthorize the FISA law this summer.
“We don’t want to further encumber intelligence and law enforcement communities who already have a difficult task in tracking those who wish to attack Americans at home and abroad,” the new chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), said earlier this month.
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