In full-on damage-control mode, the head of the National Security Agency claimed that more than 50 potential terrorist plots throughout the world were thwarted because his agency has the ability to collect communication information through the program recently exposed by whistle-blower Edward Snowden.
NSA chief Gen. Keith Alexander answered questions on Capitol Hill Tuesday alongside top dogs from the FBI and the National Director Of Intelligence’s office. Alexander promised last week to present a public list of the dozens of terror attacks NSA alleges it stopped at the hearing, but told lawmakers on the Permanent Select Committee On Intelligence that the agency was still working on the document and would have it no sooner than Wednesday.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) said that lawmakers want NSA officials to provide Americans with more information about the now public spy programs.
“General Alexander, you and I have talked over the past week about the need to be able to publicly elaborate on the success stories these authorities have contributed to without jeopardizing ongoing operations,” he said, according to prepared remarks. “I place the utmost value in protecting sources and methods, but I also recognize that when we are forced into the position of having to publicly discuss intelligence programs due to irresponsible, criminal behavior that we also have to carefully balance the need for secrecy with educating the public.”
Alexander spent much of the hearing saying that American citizens should not be concerned by the information leaked by Snowden, asserting that the conversation surrounding the data-collection efforts are rife with misinformation and half-truths. Furthermore, according to the official, there is concrete evidence the program is making Americans safer.
“As Americans, we value our privacy and our civil liberties,” 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 detailed list of terror plots set to be released today will add to declassified government documents NSA pointed to as examples of terror plots that were shut down via data-collection efforts. The examples involved a planned attack on New York City’s subway system and a plot to bomb a Danish newspaper over cartoon depictions of the Prophet Muhammad.
The intelligence official told lawmakers that the NSA was unwilling to release a complete list of thwarted attacks because it would endanger the United States and its allies.
Some NSA critics have pointed out that proof of the Constitutionally questionable data-collection effort’s effectiveness will likely not be made evident by a list of alleged successes in stopping terror. The argument is not a faulty one; it has been demonstrated in the past that government agencies are fond of creating, then stopping, terror plots and using the publicity to justify civil liberties restrictions.
Author David Shipler pointed out in the pages of The New York Times in April 2012 that 14 of 22 major terror attempts on U.S. soil since 9/11 were nurtured by the government.
From the piece:
The United States has been narrowly saved from lethal terrorist plots in recent years — or so it has seemed. A would-be suicide bomber was intercepted on his way to the Capitol; a scheme to bomb synagogues and shoot Stinger missiles at military aircraft was developed by men in Newburgh, N.Y.; and a fanciful idea to fly explosive-laden model planes into the Pentagon and the Capitol was hatched in Massachusetts.
But all these dramas were facilitated by the F.B.I., whose undercover agents and informers posed as terrorists offering a dummy missile, fake C-4 explosives, a disarmed suicide vest and rudimentary training. Suspects naïvely played their parts until they were arrested.
Stay tuned for analysis of the information included on the NSA’s forthcoming list.