NSA chief: 'We're trying to be transparent'
The National Security Agency is struggling to provide details about its surveillance work to the American people without revealing classified information, said the agency's director General Keith Alexander in testimony to a U.S. Senate committee on Wednesday. Alexander's comments followed last week's public disclosure of NSA contractor Edward Snowden's assertions that the government monitors internet and phone data.
The head of the National Security Agency said on Wednesday that extensive U.S. surveillance efforts had helped stop "dozens" of possible attacks, and warned that making details of the top-secret programs public had compromised national security.Skip to next paragraph
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In his first appearance before Congress since a NSA contractor lifted the veil on the agency's broad monitoring of phone and internet data, General Keith Alexander defended the program as an essential tool in the fight against terrorism.
"It's dozens of terrorist events that these have helped prevent," the NSA director told a U.S. Senate committee. "Both here and abroad, in disrupting or contributing to the disruption of terrorist attacks."
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Relying on documents from NSA contractor Edward Snowden, Britain's Guardian newspaper and the Washington Post revealed last week the vast U.S. government effort to monitor phone and internet data at big companies such as Google Inc and Facebook Inc.
Alexander said the disclosures, which have sparked a criminal investigation and an internal Obama administration review of the potential national security damage, had jeopardized safety in the United States and elsewhere.
"Great harm has already been done by opening this up," Alexander said. "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."
A Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Wednesday found that 31 percent of Americans saw Snowden as a patriot for leaking details of the programs, more than the 23 percent who viewed him as a traitor. Forty-six percent said they did not know.
Snowden, who traveled to China-ruled Hong Kong before the program was made public, said in an interview published on Wednesday that he planned to stay in the former British colony and fight any effort to bring him back to the United States for criminal proceedings.
"I am not here to hide from justice. I am here to reveal criminality," Snowden told the South China Morning Post, an English-language newspaper in Hong Kong.
"My intention is to ask the courts and people of Hong Kong to decide my fate," Snowden said. "I have had many opportunities to flee Hong Kong, but I would rather stay and fight the United States government in the courts, because I have faith in Hong Kong's rule of law."
Hong Kong, which has a degree of autonomy from Beijing, has an extradition agreement with the United States that has been exercised on numerous occasions. But Snowden has not been publicly charged so far and the United States has not filed for his extradition.
Snowden, who had been working at an NSA facility as an employee of Booz Allen Hamilton, has drawn a mix of condemnation and praise for the revelations. He told the Hong Kong newspaper: "I'm neither traitor nor hero. I'm an American."
Striking a balance
The controversy over the program has renewed the debate about the balance between privacy rights and security concerns in the United States in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Alexander said the NSA operated with that balance in mind.