U.S. intelligence officials came to the defense of the extensive surveillance programs carried out by the National Security Agency Tuesday, claiming the programs have protected Americans.
Gen. Keith B. Alexander, the director of the NSA, said at a public hearing today that the agency’s collection of e-mail and phone call content, as well as its compilation of domestic phone call records helped prevent over 50 terrorist actions since 9/11, according to the New York Times.
“In the 12 years since the attacks on Sept. 11, we have lived in relative safety and security as a nation,” Alexander said. “That security is a direct result of the intelligence community’s quiet efforts to better connect the dots and learn from the mistakes that permitted those attacks to occur in 9/11.”
The government’s efforts to explain its actions came after Edward Snowden, a former contractor at the NSA, leaked information about the NSA’s activities and criticized the U.S. government for spying on Americans and for needlessly infringing on its citizens’ privacy.
On Monday, Snowden accused the U.S. government of denying him the right to a fair trial by condemning him guilty of treason and verbally attacked both President Barack Obama and former Vice President Dick Cheney for their promotion of the government’s disregard for American civil liberties.
Sean Joyce, the deputy director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, disclosed two cases as examples of how the surveillance programs have helped Americans. One was a bomb threat to the New York Stock Exchange and the other was the potential funding of a terrorist group by an American citizen — both cases in which the U.S. apparently stopped the threats because of knowledge obtained using the sweeping surveillance programs.
Intelligence officials have also recently disclosed some details about how extensive the surveillance efforts are, such as how the government holds phone records no longer than five years and how the NSA does not listen to phone calls between only domestic parties without a warrant.
Alexander said it was important that the majority of information about the NSA’s programs and other cases be withheld from the public, for safety reasons.