WASHINGTON, D.C.: The US spy chief in charge of a leaked program to gather and analyze Internet and phone data defended the intelligence tactic on Wednesday (Thursday in Manila), insisting it had helped thwart dozens of terror attacks.
Facing skeptical questions from lawmakers after a rogue technician revealed the secret operation, National Security Agency (NSA) chief General Keith Alexander insisted it operates under proper legislative and judicial oversight.
“It’s classified but it’s dozens of terrorist events that these have helped prevent,” he told the hearing, the first time he had been questioned in public since 29-year-old former contractor Edward Snowden spilled the beans.
“I want the American people to know that we’re being transparent in here,” he insisted, warning that “the trust of the American people” was a “sacred requirement” if his agency was to be able to do its job.
Asked if the light shone on the programs could help terrorists avoid surveillance, Alexander said that “They will get through, and Americans will die.”
“Great harm has already been done by opening this up. The consequence I believe is our security has been jeopardized,” he warned.
Snowden, a technician seconded by a private contractor to an NSA base in Hawaii, disappeared last month after downloading a cache of secret documents and surfaced over the weekend in Hong Kong to give media interviews.
He embarrassed and infuriated President Barack Obama’s administration by revealing that the NSA had gathered call log records for millions of American phone subscribers and targeted the Internet data of foreign Web users.
The leaks triggered a row over privacy and the limits of executive power in the digital age, as Snowden said had been his intention, but also calls for the leaker to be arrested and sent home to face trial.
Snowden told Hong Kong daily the South China Morning Post that he would resist any attempt to extradite him, and accused the NSA of carrying out tens of thousands of hacking attacks worldwide.
Many in the United States and beyond, hailed Snowden as a whistleblower who carried out an act of civil disobedience to expose government overreach and defend the privacy of innocent Web users from government snooping.