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NSA chief: Snooping helped thwart 50 terrorist attacks in 20 countries (+video)

NSA Director Keith Alexander, responding to critics, tells Congress that surveillance programs disrupted plots to bomb the New York Stock Exchange and subway system.

By Staff writer / June 18, 2013

Gen. Keith B. Alexander, director of the National Security Agency, testifies before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence on Capitol Hill on Tuesday. From right to left are Deputy Director of the FBI Sean Joyce, General Alexander, Chris Inglis, deputy director of the National Security Agency, and Deputy Attorney General James Cole.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP

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WASHINGTON

National Security Agency surveillance programs helped thwart plots to bomb the New York Stock Exchange and New York City subway system, US officials told a House Intelligence Committee hearing on Tuesday.

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NSA-gathered intelligence also led American law enforcement to David Headley, a US citizen involved in a plan to bomb the office of a Danish newspaper that had published a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed in 2006, and to an individual in San Diego who was providing financial support to Somali-based terrorists, said FBI Deputy Director Sean Joyce.

Overall, the two NSA programs detailed in leaks from ex-NSA contractor Edward Snowden have been part of stopping 50 planned terror attacks in 20 countries, NSA Director Keith Alexander told lawmakers.

“These programs are immensely valuable,” said Mr. Alexander.

The House hearing was a generally friendly environment for US security officials and appeared to have been arranged to allow the executive branch a chance to reveal a bit more information in response to the Snowden leaks.

One of the NSA programs in question allows the agency to collect the metadata of US phone calls – numbers called and the duration of calls, the sort of information contained in phone bills. This metadata does not contain an individual’s identity, or the location from which calls were made, said Deputy US Attorney General James Cole.

“We don’t get any content,” said Mr. Cole. “This is under Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which has been reauthorized twice by Congress."

This collection only occurs pursuant to court orders. Officials need a further individualized, court-approved warrant to look at the data of a particular person. Its use is subject to extensive internal audits, including an annual inspector general report, and is described to Congress, said US officials.

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