NSA Intercepts Used to Convict Liquid Bombers
Three of the UK liquid bombers were convicted Monday. NSA-intercepted e-mail was introduced as evidence in the trial:
The e-mails, several of which have been reprinted by the BBC and other publications, contained coded messages, according to prosecutors. They were intercepted by the NSA in 2006 but were not included in evidence introduced in a first trial against the three last year.
That trial resulted in the men being convicted of conspiracy to commit murder; but a jury was not convinced that they had planned to use soft drink bottles filled with liquid explosives to blow up seven trans-Atlantic planes—the charge for which they were convicted this week in a second trial.
According to Channel 4, the NSA had previously shown the e-mails to their British counterparts, but refused to let prosecutors use the evidence in the first trial, because the agency didn’t want to tip off an alleged accomplice in Pakistan named Rashid Rauf that his e-mail was being monitored. U.S. intelligence agents said Rauf was al Qaeda’s director of European operations at the time and that the bomb plot was being directed by Rauf and others in Pakistan.
The NSA later changed its mind and allowed the evidence to be introduced in the second trial, which was crucial to getting the jury conviction. Channel 4 suggests the NSA’s change of mind occurred after Rauf, a Briton born of Pakistani parents, was reportedly killed last year by a U.S. drone missile that struck a house where he was staying in northern Pakistan.
Although British prosecutors were eager to use the e-mails in their second trial against the three plotters, British courts prohibit the use of evidence obtained through interception. So last January, a U.S. court issued warrants directly to Yahoo to hand over the same correspondence.
It’s unclear if the NSA intercepted the messages as they passed through internet nodes based in the U.S. or intercepted them overseas.
EDITED TO ADD (9/9): Just to be sure, this has nothing to do with any illegal warrantless wiretapping the NSA has done over the years; the wiretap used to intercept these e-mails was obtained with a FISA warrant.