The director of the US National Security Agency said in Washington on Tuesday that the government’s sweeping surveillance programmes had foiled some 50 terrorist plots worldwide, including one directed at the New York Stock Exchange, in a forceful defence of the country’s spy operations.
US Army General Keith Alexander said the two recently disclosed programmes – one that gathers US phone records and another that is designed to track the use of US-based Internet servers by foreigners with possible links to terrorism – were critical in the fight against terrorism.
Alexander, seated next to top officials from the FBI and US Justice Department at a rare, open congressional hearing, described how the operations worked, under questioning from members of the House Intelligence Committee.
The officials, as well as members of the panel, repeatedly bemoaned the leaks by Edward Snowden, a 29-year-old former contractor.
Alexander said Snowden’s leaks had caused “irreversible and significant damage to this nation” that also undermined the US relationship with its allies.
Intelligence officials last week disclosed some details on two thwarted attacks – one targeting the New York subway system and another to bomb a Danish newspaper office that had published cartoon depictions of the Prophet Mohammad.
The programmes “assist the intelligence community to connect the dots,” Alexander told the committee.
He said the intelligence community would provide the committees with more specifics on the 50 cases, as well as the exact numbers on foiled plots in Europe.
Alexander said the Internet programme had helped stop 90 percent of the 50-plus plots he described.
He said just over 10 of the plots thwarted had a connection inside the US, and most were helped by the review of the phone records.
Alexander encountered no opposition from the leaders of the panel, who have been outspoken in backing the programmes since Snowden disclosed information to The Washington Post and the Guardian newspapers.
But Committee members were incredulous about the scope of the information that Snowden was able to access and then disclose.
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