Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

General Ties Safety to Surveillance ; N.S.A. Chief Tells Panel of Foiled Terrorist Plots but Emphasizes Secrecy

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

General Ties Safety to Surveillance ; N.S.A. Chief Tells Panel of Foiled Terrorist Plots but Emphasizes Secrecy

Article excerpt

The head of the National Security Agency said Tuesday that U.S. surveillance had helped prevent "potential terrorist events over 50 times since 9/11," but that a vast majority must remain secret.

Gen. Keith B. Alexander, who heads the National Security Agency, said Tuesday that U.S. surveillance had helped prevent "potential terrorist events over 50 times since 9/11," including at least 10 "homeland-based threats." But he said a vast majority must remain secret to avoid disclosing sources and methods.

"These programs are immensely valuable for protecting our nation and securing the security of our allies," General Alexander said at a rare public oversight hearing by the House Intelligence Committee.

In addition, the deputy director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Sean Joyce, listed two newly disclosed cases that have now been declassified in an effort to respond to the leaking of classified information about surveillance by Edward J. Snowden, a former N.S.A. contractor.

Mr. Joyce described a plot to blow up the New York Stock Exchange by a Kansas City man, whom the agency was able to identify because he was in contact with "an extremist" in Yemen who was under surveillance. Mr. Joyce also talked about a San Diego man who planned to send financial support to a terrorist group in Somalia, and who was identified because the N.S.A. flagged his phone number as suspicious through its database of all domestic phone call logs, which was brought to light by Mr. Snowden's disclosures.

"As Americans, we value our privacy and our civil liberties," General Alexander said. "As Americans, we also value our security and our safety. In the 12 years since the attacks on Sept. 11, we have lived in relative safety and security as a nation. 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 nonadversarial tone of the oversight hearing was captured by its title: How Disclosed N.S.A. Programs Protect Americans, and Why Disclosure Aids Our Adversaries. The top Republican and the top Democrat on the committee, Representatives Mike Rogers of Michigan and C.A. Dutch Ruppersburger of Maryland, offered a robust defense of the surveillance programs revealed by Mr. Snowden and expressed anger over the leaks, and all five witnesses were executive branch officials who supported the surveillance activities.

In what appeared to be a reference to Mr. Snowden, for example, Mr. Rogers criticized his actions as "selectively leaking incomplete information" that "paints an inaccurate picture and fosters distrust in our government." He added, "It is at times like these where our enemies within become almost as damaging as our enemies on the outside."

There was no way to independently verify the claims made by the officials during the hearing. …

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