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NSA Director Keith Alexander says programs disrupted dozens of attacks

  • Gen. Keith B. Alexander, director of the National Security Agency and head of the U.S. Cyber Command, answers questions from lawmakers on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, June 12, 2013, during a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing. It is his first public appearance before Congress since revelations that the electronic surveillance agency is sweeping up Americans' phone and Internet records in its quest to investigate terrorist threats. Left to right are Gen. Keith B. Alexander, director of the National Security Agency, Rand Beers, under secretary for the Department of Homeland Security, and Patrick Gallagher, director of the Commerce Department's National Institute of Standards and Technology.  (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

    Gen. Keith B. Alexander, director of the National Security Agency and head of the U.S. Cyber Command, answers questions from lawmakers on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, June 12, 2013, during a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing. It is his first public appearance before Congress since revelations that the electronic surveillance agency is sweeping up Americans' phone and Internet records in its quest to investigate terrorist threats. Left to right are Gen. Keith B. Alexander, director of the National Security Agency, Rand Beers, under secretary for the Department of Homeland Security, and Patrick Gallagher, director of the Commerce Department's National Institute of Standards and Technology. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

  • Gen. Keith B. Alexander, director of the National Security Agency and head of the U.S. Cyber Command, answers questions from lawmakers on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, June 12, 2013, during a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing. It is his first public appearance before Congress since revelations that the electronic surveillance agency is sweeping up Americans' phone and Internet records in its quest to investigate terrorist threats. Left to right are Gen. Keith B. Alexander, director of the National Security Agency, Rand Beers, under secretary for the Department of Homeland Security, and Patrick Gallagher, director of the Commerce Department's National Institute of Standards and Technology.  (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

    Gen. Keith B. Alexander, director of the National Security Agency and head of the U.S. Cyber Command, answers questions from lawmakers on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, June 12, 2013, during a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing. It is his first public appearance before Congress since revelations that the electronic surveillance agency is sweeping up Americans' phone and Internet records in its quest to investigate terrorist threats. Left to right are Gen. Keith B. Alexander, director of the National Security Agency, Rand Beers, under secretary for the Department of Homeland Security, and Patrick Gallagher, director of the Commerce Department's National Institute of Standards and Technology. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

  • Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn of Texas, accompanied by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., gestures as he speaks with reporters about the Immigration Bill following a Republican strategy session on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, June 11, 2013. An amendment announced by Cornyn would require 100 percent monitoring of the entire U.S.-Mexico border and 90 percent of would-be crossers to be stopped or turned back before anyone can get a permanent resident green card.  (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

    Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn of Texas, accompanied by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., gestures as he speaks with reporters about the Immigration Bill following a Republican strategy session on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, June 11, 2013. An amendment announced by Cornyn would require 100 percent monitoring of the entire U.S.-Mexico border and 90 percent of would-be crossers to be stopped or turned back before anyone can get a permanent resident green card. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

  • House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, center, speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, June 12, 2013, following a Republican meeting. From left are, House Republican Conference Vice Chair Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Va., Boehner, Rep. Lynn Jenkins, R-Kansas, Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D.    (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

    House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, center, speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, June 12, 2013, following a Republican meeting. From left are, House Republican Conference Vice Chair Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Va., Boehner, Rep. Lynn Jenkins, R-Kansas, Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

  • House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, center, speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, June 12, 2013, following a Republican meeting. From left are, House Republican Conference Vice Chair Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Va., Boehner, Rep. Lynn Jenkins, R-Kansas, Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D.    (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

    House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, center, speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, June 12, 2013, following a Republican meeting. From left are, House Republican Conference Vice Chair Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Va., Boehner, Rep. Lynn Jenkins, R-Kansas, Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

  • House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio speaks to reporters  on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, June 12, 2013, following a House Republican Conference meeting. Boehner spoke on various topics including the farm bill, saying he will vote for a wide-ranging farm bill headed to the House floor this month.  (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

    House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, June 12, 2013, following a House Republican Conference meeting. Boehner spoke on various topics including the farm bill, saying he will vote for a wide-ranging farm bill headed to the House floor this month. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

  • House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio speaks to reporters  on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, June 12, 2013, following a House Republican Conference meeting. Boehner spoke on various topics including the farm bill, saying he will vote for a wide-ranging farm bill headed to the House floor this month.  (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

    House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, June 12, 2013, following a House Republican Conference meeting. Boehner spoke on various topics including the farm bill, saying he will vote for a wide-ranging farm bill headed to the House floor this month. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

  • House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, speaks to reporters during a news conference following a House Republican Conference meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, June 12, 2013.    (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

    House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, speaks to reporters during a news conference following a House Republican Conference meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, June 12, 2013. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

  • Gen. Keith B. Alexander, director of the National Security Agency and head of the U.S. Cyber Command, answers questions from lawmakers on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, June 12, 2013, during a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing. It is his first public appearance before Congress since revelations that the electronic surveillance agency is sweeping up Americans' phone and Internet records in its quest to investigate terrorist threats. Left to right are Gen. Keith B. Alexander, director of the National Security Agency, Rand Beers, under secretary for the Department of Homeland Security, and Patrick Gallagher, director of the Commerce Department's National Institute of Standards and Technology.  (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
  • Gen. Keith B. Alexander, director of the National Security Agency and head of the U.S. Cyber Command, answers questions from lawmakers on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, June 12, 2013, during a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing. It is his first public appearance before Congress since revelations that the electronic surveillance agency is sweeping up Americans' phone and Internet records in its quest to investigate terrorist threats. Left to right are Gen. Keith B. Alexander, director of the National Security Agency, Rand Beers, under secretary for the Department of Homeland Security, and Patrick Gallagher, director of the Commerce Department's National Institute of Standards and Technology.  (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
  • Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn of Texas, accompanied by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., gestures as he speaks with reporters about the Immigration Bill following a Republican strategy session on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, June 11, 2013. An amendment announced by Cornyn would require 100 percent monitoring of the entire U.S.-Mexico border and 90 percent of would-be crossers to be stopped or turned back before anyone can get a permanent resident green card.  (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
  • House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, center, speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, June 12, 2013, following a Republican meeting. From left are, House Republican Conference Vice Chair Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Va., Boehner, Rep. Lynn Jenkins, R-Kansas, Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D.    (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
  • House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, center, speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, June 12, 2013, following a Republican meeting. From left are, House Republican Conference Vice Chair Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Va., Boehner, Rep. Lynn Jenkins, R-Kansas, Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D.    (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
  • House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio speaks to reporters  on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, June 12, 2013, following a House Republican Conference meeting. Boehner spoke on various topics including the farm bill, saying he will vote for a wide-ranging farm bill headed to the House floor this month.  (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
  • House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio speaks to reporters  on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, June 12, 2013, following a House Republican Conference meeting. Boehner spoke on various topics including the farm bill, saying he will vote for a wide-ranging farm bill headed to the House floor this month.  (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
  • House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, speaks to reporters during a news conference following a House Republican Conference meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, June 12, 2013.    (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

The director of the National Security Agency vigorously defended once-secret surveillance programs as an effective tool in keeping America safe, telling Congress yesterday that the information collected disrupted dozens of terrorist attacks without offering details.

In his first congressional testimony since revelations about the top-secret operations, Army Gen. Keith Alexander insisted that the public needs to know more about how the programs operate amid increasing unease about rampant government snooping and fears that Americans’ civil liberties are being trampled.

“I do think it’s important that we get this right and I want the American people to know that we’re trying to be transparent here, protect civil liberties and privacy but also the security of this country,” Alexander told a Senate panel.

He described the steps the government takes once it suspects a terrorist organization is about to act – all within the laws approved by Congress and under stringent oversight from the courts. He said the programs led to “disrupting or contributing to the disruption of terrorist attacks,” but he did not give details on the terror plots.

Half a world away, Edward Snowden, the former contractor who fled to Hong Kong and leaked documents about the programs, said he would fight any attempts to extradite him. American law enforcement officials are building a case against him but have yet to bring
charges.

“I am not here to hide from justice; I am here to reveal criminality,” Snowden said of the surveillance programs in an interview with the South China Morning Post.

In plain-spoken, measured tones, Alexander answered senators’ questions in an open session and promised to provide additional information to the Senate Intelligence Committee in closed session today. The director of national intelligence has declassified information on two thwarted attacks – one in New York, the other in Chicago – and Alexander said he was pressing for more disclosures.

But he also warned that revelations about the secret programs have eroded agency capabilities and, as a result, the U.S. and its allies won’t be as safe as they were two weeks ago.

“Some of these are still going to be classified and should be, because if we tell the terrorists every way that we’re going to track them, they will get through and Americans will die,” he said, adding that he would rather be criticized by people who think he’s hiding something “than jeopardize the security of this country.”

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