Did New Spy Law Help Foil Terror Plot?

The Skinny is Keach Hagey's take on the top news of the day and the best of the Internet.

The three Islamic militants arrested last week and charged with planning bomb attacks in Germany were nabbed with help from U.S. intelligence gathered through a controversial new eavesdropping law, the national intelligence director Mike McConnell told senators yesterday, according to the New York Times.

But the Times reports that another government official is challenging that assertion, suggesting that McConnell "might have misspoken."

McConnell claimed the information was obtained under a newly updated and highly contentious wiretapping law, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The anonymous official "who has been briefed on eavesdropping laws and the information given to the Germans" said the intercepts were actually recovered last year under the old law.

The previous law required officials to seek warrants to monitor at least some phone calls and e-mail message between foreign locations when they were collected through fiber-optic cable running through the United States. The new law waives the requirement - and is scheduled to expire in about five months.

The Bush administration is in the midst of "an intensifying effort" to make the law permanent, the Times reports, while Democrats want more civil liberties built in.

No one - at least not the Times reporter - was able to get to the definitive bottom yesterday of how the useful intel was obtained. When told that McConnell's testimony was being disputed, a spokesman for the intelligence director declined to comment.

The Germans have said American intercepts of e-mails and phone calls between Germany and Pakistan and Turkey tipped them off to the plot last year.

Tighter Security For Private Planes

The Homeland Security Department will use the sixth anniversary of 9/11 to announce new security restrictions on private airplanes flying into the United States, USA Today reports.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff told the paper on the eve of the anniversary that the lack of new rules rules was a "major gap" - though apparently not major enough to require action during the past six years.

Under the new rules, private pilots coming from overseas will have to send U.S. officials the names, birth dates and "other information" about passengers one hour before takeoff. They currently provide this information just before landing. The idea is to give Customs agents time to check names against terrorists watchlists.

A Homeland Security spokesman said there is "no information indicating a specific or immanent threat" from private planes. Apparently it's just hard for Homeland Security officials to get into the 9/11 spirit without tightening the restrictions on something.

Aborting New York's Primary Day - Again

Heavy rain splattered New York City's sidewalks this morning, a stark contrast to that eerily clear, sunny morning six years ago when the World Trade Center was attacked. Yet there is one aspect of this 9/11 anniversary that makes it more like the day it commemorates than any other anniversary so far: It's Tuesday.

Specifically, it's the second Tuesday in September, which, according to New York tradition, is usually Primary Day. But this year, the New York Times columnist Clyde Haberman writes that "in May, barely noticed by most New Yorkers, the Legislature and the governor delayed the primaries until next Tuesday, Sept. 18."

The politicians reached the decision in virtual "lock step," according to Haberman. Political consultant Jerry Skurnik explains: "We should vote on Sept. 11, but the problem is that people are going to attack candidates for campaigning."

Haberman wonders if, on an anniversary on which banks are open and sports teams play, it's really appropriate to bar New Yorkers from exercising democracy normally.

"Couldn't we remember and vote at the same time?" he asks.

Apparently not.

A NOTE TO READERS: The Skinny is available via e-mail. Click here and follow the directions to register to receive it in your inbox each weekday morning.