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Wednesday, June 19, 2024

NSA director claims spying on Americans diverted terror attacks

Gen. Keith B. Alexander, director of the National Security Agency and head of the U.S. Cyber Command, answers questions from lawmakers on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, June 12, 2013, during a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing. It is his first public appearance before Congress since revelations that the electronic surveillance agency is sweeping up Americans' phone and Internet records in its quest to investigate terrorist threats. Left to right are Gen. Keith B. Alexander, director of the National Security Agency, Rand Beers, under secretary for the Department of Homeland Security, and Patrick Gallagher, director of the Commerce Department's National Institute of Standards and Technology. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Gen. Keith B. Alexander, director of the National Security Agency and head of the U.S. Cyber Command, answers questions from lawmakers on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

The director of the National Security Agency vigorously defended once-secret surveillance programs as an effective tool in keeping America safe, telling Congress on Wednesday that the information collected disrupted dozens of terrorist attacks without offering details.

In his first congressional testimony since revelations about the top-secret operations, Army Gen. Keith Alexander insisted that the public needs to know more about how the programs operate amid increasing unease about rampant government snooping and fears that Americans’ civil liberties are being trampled.

“I do think it’s important that we get this right and I want the American people to know that we’re trying to be transparent here, protect civil liberties and privacy but also the security of this country,” Alexander told a Senate panel.

He described the steps the government takes once it suspects a terrorist organization is about to act — all within the laws approved by Congress and under stringent oversight from the courts. He said the programs led to “disrupting or contributing to the disruption of terrorist attacks,” but he did not give details on the terror plots.

Half a world away, Edward Snowden, the former contractor who fled to Hong Kong and leaked documents about the programs, said he would fight any U.S. attempts to extradite him. American law enforcement officials are building a case against him but have yet to bring charges.

“I am not here to hide from justice; I am here to reveal criminality,” Snowden said of the surveillance programs in an interview with the South China Morning Post.

In plain-spoken, measured tones, Alexander answered senators’ questions in an open session and promised to provide additional information to the Senate Intelligence Committee in closed session on Thursday. The director of national intelligence has declassified information on two thwarted attacks — one in New York, the other in Chicago — and Alexander said he was pressing for more disclosures.

But he also warned that revelations about the secret programs have eroded agency capabilities and, as a result, the U.S. and its allies won’t be as safe as they were two weeks ago.

“Some of these are still going to be classified and should be, because if we tell the terrorists every way that we’re going to track them, they will get through and Americans will die,” he said, adding that he would rather be criticized by people who think he’s hiding something “than jeopardize the security of this country.”

Alexander said he was seriously concerned that Snowden, a former employee with Booz Allen Hamilton, had access to key parts of the NSA network, a development that demands a closer examination of how well the agency oversees contract employees.

Alexander said Snowden was a system administrator who didn’t have visibility into the whole NSA network but could access key portions of it.

The director was questioned at length by senators seeking information on exactly how much data the NSA gathers through programs to collect millions of telephone records and keep tabs on Internet activity as well as the legal backing for the activities.

Members of the House and Senate Intelligence panels and key leaders have been briefed on the programs and have expressed their support for the operations as a valid tool in the terrorism fight.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said Wednesday that the programs are constitutional and “very important to the security of the American people and they help us in a big way to address the terrorist threat that does in fact remain.”

But rank-and-file lawmakers who haven’t been privy to the details expressed concerns and bewilderment, reflected in the comments of several senators at the hearing and one exchange between Republican Sen. Mike Johanns and Alexander.

Johanns asked the NSA director whether the government could check and see what an individual is searching for through Google, or sending in email.

Alexander said once an individual has been identified, the issue is referred to the FBI.

“The FBI will then look at that and say what more do we need to now look at that individual themselves. So there are issues and things that they would then look at. It’s passed to them,” Alexander said.

“So the answer to the question is yes,” Johanns said.

“Yes, you could. I mean, you can get a court order to do that,” Alexander said.

The Nebraska lawmaker said it was imperative for the government to get information about the programs to the American people “because right now we’re all getting bombarded with questions that many of us at the rank-and-file level in the Senate cannot answer.”

Congressional leaders and intelligence committee members have been routinely briefed about the spy programs, officials said, and Congress has at least twice renewed laws approving them. But the disclosure of their sheer scope stunned some lawmakers, shocked allies from nations with strict privacy protections, and emboldened civil liberties advocates who long have accused the government of being too invasive in the name of national security.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said he plans on Thursday to announce “legal action against government surveillance and the National Security Agency’s overreach of power,” his political office said.

Paul told “Fox News Sunday” that he would ask “all the Internet providers and all of the phone companies” and their customers to join a class-action lawsuit against surveillance techniques that he called “an extraordinary invasion of privacy.”

Recent polling on the issue found Americans troubled by the intrusion but perhaps willing to give the government even more leeway in its efforts to fight terrorism.

A new poll by CBS News and The New York Times found that 58 percent disapprove of the government collecting phone records of all Americans. Yet it also found that 59 percent think the government has struck the right balance or not gone far enough.


Associated Press writers Lara Jakes, Kimberly Dozier, Frederic Frommer, Alan Fram, Andrew Miga and Pete Yost contributed to this report.

Copyright  © 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Copyright  © 2013 Capitol Hill Blue

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5 thoughts on “NSA director claims spying on Americans diverted terror attacks”

  1. Once again the devil is in the details with Mr Snowden showing us ample proof that the devil originates from within the very government that was designed to serve and protect it’s citizenry.

    The very idea or claim of transparency by any government agency should be insulting to even the lamest of thinkers including the cockroaches that occupy capitol hill and including all the right and left leaning news gobs.

    The only purpose this furor and uproar serves is to induce the gag reflex till the next bait and switcheroo comes along. Burp @#$%87.Llamraf

  2. probable cause is the standard by which an officer or agent of the law has the grounds to make an arrest, to conduct a personal or property search, or to obtain a warrant for arrest, etc. when criminal charges are being considered. It is also used to refer to the standard to which a grand jury believes that a crime has been committed.

    Pretty simple right?
    I’d like the government to show probable cause for collecting information on all 330 million of us. If they can’t, then the program is illegal. Period. Doesn’t matter if it was helpful in investigations, or saved lives. If they can’t prove probable cause, they shouldn’t be doing it!

  3. Duh?! What else are they going to say?

    I see so many articles and comments on articles that that describe this as being Unconstitutional. I would ask those people who they voted for in the last election?

    Was it a candidate that swore to abide by the Constitution?

    News Flash! Every thing this government does is Unconstitutional. Every executive order, every bill written and every law that is passed is Unconstitutional.

    Politicians and politicos, writers and scholars, and just about every other American only believes in the Constitution when it suits their cause or this government’s action effects them in some way, be it positive or negative.

    Every thing is Unsonstitutional. Either you believe in it or not, lock, stock and barrel.

  4. So, it might have done some good.

    That’s really great, but it’s still Unconstitutional and therefore illegal, regardless of any other “laws”.

  5. Next I expect to hear from A.P. that the Virgin Mary is running NSA,and has been seen regularly in the cafeteria!

    As an aside, Edward Snowden tried to contact the Washington Post (How do we say american press?) first for the story but, after they had to check with daddy (As in U.S. Gov.) they couldn’t release the entire story so Snowden took a powder and went with the U.K. Guardian.

    It is a real pitty that we have to get our news from abroad these days.

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