The head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation is using San Diego's connection to the 9/11 hijackers in his defense of the controversial NSA phone-tracking program.
Before Congress, FBI Director Robert Mueller said he believed the attacks could have been stopped if the program had existed then.
"The simple fact of their detention could have derailed the plan," said Mueller. "In any case, an opportunity was not there. If we had this program, that opportunity would have been there."
Khalid Al-Mihdhar was one of five al-Qaida hijackers on American Airlines Flight 77 that flew into the Pentagon. He and his accomplice Naway Al-Hazmi lived at a Clairemont Mesa apartment complex in 2001 and even took flying lessons at Montgomery field. Mueller said Al-Mihdhar phoned an al-Qaida safehouse in Yemen, information that intelligence officials found out too late.
"If we had the telephone number from Yemen, we would have matched it up to the telephone number in San Diego, got further legal process, identified Al Mihdhar," said Mueller.
"A lot of these tools used against terrorists can not be made public," said Darryl Thibault, who retired from the CIA Clandestine Services. Thibault spend more than 20 years breaking up terrorist organizations overseas.
"Having [the NSA program] revealed is unfortunate," Thibault said. "This particular program is not over the top, it's hugely valuable and I would hate to see it lost."
Thibault told 10News revealing details of the program puts Americans at risk, depriving counter-terrorism investigators of the tools they need. He admits security comes with the price of giving up some privacy, but that there are limits to it.
"Our elected officials ... our courts will hopefully ensure nothing unconstitutional is taking place," said Thibault. "We have to have accountability, and transparency ... but this is powerful computer weaponry we can use. Not to use it would be a shame."
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