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Wednesday
Jun122013

NSA Director: Surveillance Program Prevented 'Dozens' of Terror Attacks

Mark Wilson/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The director of the National Security Agency Wednesday defended the agency’s secret surveillance program, attempting to validate the recently-revealed controversial data mining program for having stopped “dozens” of potential terrorist attacks in the past.
 
“It's dozens of terrorist events that these have helped prevent,” Gen. Keith Alexander, director of the NSA, explained on Capitol Hill Wednesday, “both here and abroad.”
 
Alexander testified before the Senate Appropriations Committee and said that the collection of phone records was done lawfully, insisting that the NSA takes Americans' privacy seriously.  He acknowledged multiple times the need to explain to the public what they are doing while still balancing the security of the programs.
 
“I think what we're doing to protect American citizens here is the right thing…we aren't trying to hide it. We're trying to protect America,” he said. “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 said if Americans had all the information they’d feel differently about the program.
 
“The perspective is that we're trying to hide something because we did something wrong. We're not. We want to tell you what we're doing and tell you that it's right and let the American people see this… I don't want to jeopardize the security of our country or our allies, so that's what we have to weigh in what we look at what we're going to declassify to allow this very public debate.”
 
Senator Udall , D-Colo., quipped that it is very difficult to have a transparent debate “about secret programs approved by a secret court issuing secret court orders based on secret interpretations of the law.”
 
With the leak of the program, Alexander warned the security of the nation is at risk.

“Great harm has already been done by opening this up,” he said. “The consequence, I believe, is our security is jeopardized. There is no doubt in my mind that we will lose capabilities as a result of this and that not only the United States but those allies that we have helped will no longer be as safe as they were two weeks ago.”
 
If more information is leaked other than what the NSA is ready to potentially declassify, Alexander again gave a strong warning.
 
“Because if we tell the terrorists every way that we're going to track them, they will get through, and Americans will die -- that's wrong -- and our allies. We've got to come up with a way of doing this.”
 
Senator Merkley, D-Ore., held up his Verizon phone and waved it from his seat at Alexander: “So here I have my Verizon phone, my cell phone. What authorized investigation gave you the grounds for acquiring my cell phone data?”
 
Alexander did not answer, insisting he was not shirking but asking for the ability to answer that in a classified setting, with the intent to declassify some of his eventual answer.
 
“If we can get it declassified and out to the American people so they see exactly how we do it, because I do think that should be answered,” he said.
 
Specifically on NSA leaker Edward Snowden, Gen. Alexander said he does have “concerns” about his access.
 
“I have grave concerns over that, the access that he had, the process that we did. And those are things that I have to look into and fix from my end and that, across the intel community,” he said, adding, "I would point out that in the IT arena, in the cyber arena, some of these folks have tremendous skills to operate networks. That was his job for the most part from the 2009, '10 is an IT -- a system administrator within those networks. He had great skills in that area.”
 
Later, Sen. Mikulski, D-Md., pinpointed this comment from Alexander, quipping that just because someone is a champion swimmer, does not qualify them to be a Navy SEAL.
 
Alexander explained the program over a series of pointed questions from senators -- saying what they “create is a set of data and we put it out here, and then only under specific times can we query that data.”
 
Asked if they can check to see what people are Googling or emailing, Alexander said this program only talks about phone metadata. If you want to get the content, he said, you’d have to get a court order.
 
He said the claim by Edward Snowden that in his position at the NSA he could tap into virtually any American’s phone call or emails is false: “I know of no way to do that.”
 
Regardless of the success of the program, as defined by Alexander, he also admitted that changes need to be made, starting with making some information to the public available about the program and a call for more oversight.
 
“We do have to go back and look at these processes, the oversight in those,” he said, “Where they went wrong and how we fix those.”
 
General Alexander will brief the full Senate and House Intelligence Committee in separate classified meetings on Capitol Hill Thursday.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio