National Security Agency (NSA) Director Keith Alexander told the House Intelligence Committee Tuesday that more than 50 terror threats, 10 of which were targeted in the U.S., were disrupted with the help of the two formerly secret surveillance programs that were disclosed by former defense contractor Edward Snowden. One of the programs collected U.S. phone records and the other targeted internet use.
One of the plots intended to bomb the New York Stock Exchange. Information about other plots was also offered to support the government’s case that the newly disclosed programs are important to U.S. security.
But given that this rare, open Intelligence Committee meeting was part of official Washington’s campaign to assure the public that the hostile reaction of many to the surveillance programs is unwarranted, it is doubtful that the public discussion was totally objective.
In fact, Alexander’s testimony received few or no challenges from the leaders of the committee – Republicans and Democrats alike, who have overseen the programs in secret and have a vested interest in blunting any public anger.
So many critics will remain skeptical at best.
That being said, participants at the hearing did present the case for the two programs’ value and stressed that they have been subject to rigorous oversight to guard against abuses.
General Counsel of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence Robert S. Litt said the NSA cannot target phone conversations between callers inside the U.S. — even if one of those callers was someone that was targeted for surveillance when outside the country. He added that any accidental collection of phone conversations was purged from the system and reported to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance (FISA) Court.
Apart from the hearing, President Barack Obama, has also been defending the programs. In an interview with PBS’ Charlie Rose, Obama said “It (referring to the two disclosed programs) is transparent. That’s why we set up the FISA court.” Also Obama is defending the programs against pointed questions from European leaders while in Europe for a G-8 summit in Ireland and a visit to Germany.