Hershey, Pennsylvania (CNN)House Speaker John Boehner credited a federal surveillance program for helping to uncover a plot from an Ohio man to blow up bombs at the U.S. Capitol.
Boehner: Surveillance program helped foil U.S. terror plot
"The first thing that strikes me is that 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.
Boehner's comment painted a different picture from what the criminal complaint against Christopher Lee Cornell, a 20-year-old man from Cincinnati, revealed about how law enforcement came to apprehend Cornell.
The complaint says Cornell, who wrote under the alias Raheel Mahrus Ubaydah, came to the attention of the FBI after he posted messages on social media that focused on jihad. The FBI set up an undercover operation and heard Cornell saying he was planning a violent attack on the U.S. Capitol using pipe bombs and was aligned with the terror group ISIS.
The program -- known as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) -- has come under intense scrutiny after a series of revelations came out last year regarding the kinds of personal information that is collected under the program. But along with those analysts at the National Security Agency, the FBI uses legal authorities under FISA to track potential security threats.
Boehner's well-timed, if unverifiable, praise for the program comes as it's due for congressional reauthorization. But privacy concerns have held up legislative action. Members of both political parties have questioned the way the National Security Agency brings in bulk data. Some are pushing for more curbs on what the program can do with the large amount of data collected -- but administration officials emphasize it can only collect information on foreign citizens, not Americans.
Boehner, a supporter of the program, told reporters, "Our government doesn't spy on Americans -- unless they're Americans who are doing things that frankly tip off our law enforcement officials to an imminent threat. And it was our law enforcement officials and those programs that helped us stop this person before he committed a heinous crime in our nation's capital."
Pressed for what additional information he had that led him to conclude the FISA program led to law enforcement to Ohio man, Boehner suggested there was more to the story, saying, "We'll let the whole story roll out there, but it was far more than just that."
An aide to Boehner declined to provide any additional information to CNN on what federal law enforcement authorities have told the speaker.
Boehner, who faced a threat to his own life from a bartender at his local country club in Ohio, noted that man -- Mike Hoyt -- was suffering from mental illness. But he said the threat hit a little too close to home, "It's one thing to get a threat from far away it's another when it's three doors down from where you live."