NSA Says Spying Helped Thwart Terrorists

Dennis Faas's picture

The National Security Agency (NSA) has drawn all sorts of anger after a whistleblower revealed that it was using prominent tech programs and services to spy on people.

In its defence, the NSA says it has been able to use the PRISM surveillance program to prevent terrorists from carrying through with planned attacks.

General Keith Alexander, the director of the National Security Agency, recently testified that the part of the Patriot Act giving the NSA permission to snoop on people (Section 215) has resulted in the disruption of "dozens of terrorists plots."

Democrats, Republicans Question NSA Director

Alexander, who is also in charge of the Pentagon's Cyber Command unit, on Wednesday faced gruelling questions from Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill.

He insisted the NSA only examined collected data when "we have some reasonable articulable suspicion about a terrorist organization." (Source: latimes.com)

In other words, unless there is a real feeling that a terrorist plot is being hatched, collected records won't be examined.

Alexander also insisted that the kind of secretive data collection carried out by the NSA is a critical part of its counter-terrorism program.

"Once we have [those records], we can see who this guy was talking to in the United States," Alexander said. "But if you didn't collect that, how would you know who he was talking to?"

Terrorist Plots Foiled by NSA, Alexander Says

Alexander pointed to one major case where NSA snooping prevented terrorist attacks. It involved Najibullah Zazi, an Afghan American who eventually admitted to planning suicide attacks in New York.

In another case, NSA snooping helped in the investigation of David Headley, a Pakistani American who carried out surveillance for the terrorists who attacked Mumbai, India, in 2008. That attack resulted in the deaths of more than 160 people.

However, Alexander could not provide precise details about how many terrorist plans were foiled by NSA surveillance activities. (Source: washingtonpost.com)

When asked if secretive data collection -- including snooping on phone records -- was morally wrong (as suggested by the original whistleblower, 29-year-old Edward Snowden), Alexander said no.

"I think what we're doing to protect American citizens here is the right thing," Alexander said. "We aren't trying to hide it. We're trying to protect America." (Source: latimes.com)

Of course, critics would ask why there was a whistleblower if the NSA wasn't trying to hide its activity.

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