Washington: The NSA chief said he knows of no better way his agency can help protect the US from foreign threats than with spy programs that collect billions of phone and Internet records from around the world.
Pleading with the Senate Judiciary Committee to not abolish the National Security Agency`s bulk-collection programs, Gen Keith Alexander warned yesterday that global threats are growing specifically in Iraq and Syria that pose what he called "an unacceptable risk" to America.
"How do we connect the dots?" Alexander said, referring to often-hidden links between a foreign terror threat and a potential attack on the US. "There is no other way that we know of to connect the dots. ... Taking these programs off the table is absolutely not the thing to do."
The committee`s chairman, Sen Patrick Leahy, a Democrat, said it was troubling that the government was sweeping up millions, if not billions, of Americans` records. He has proposed legislation to prohibit the NSA from the bulk collection of US phone records, and said yesterday that he was concerned that Americans` Internet records also were vacuumed up before the program ended in 2011. That program now focuses only on people who live outside the United States which could include Americans living abroad.
Alexander acknowledged the privacy concerns that have dogged the NSA since leaker Edward Snowden revealed the programs in June. And he said the NSA was open to talking to technology companies for a better solution without compromising security.
"It`s like holding onto a hornet`s nest," Alexander said.
"We`re getting stung." But, "If we let this down I think we will have let the nation down," he said.
Leahy`s proposal has broad bipartisan support, especially in the House, where it is being pushed by Rep. James Sensenbrenner, a Republican, who was the chief congressional architect of laws that gave the government broad surveillance powers in the days following the Sept 11, 2001 terror attacks against the US.
But lawmakers who oversee US intelligence agencies have proposed more modest reforms that call for greater oversight of the NSA and the creation of penalties for people who access classified information without authorisation.
Their plan has the support of most congressional leaders and Obama administration officials who are resisting deep cuts to intelligence authorities.