WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. foiled a plot to bomb the New York Stock Exchange because of the sweeping surveillance programs at the heart of a debate over national security and personal privacy, officials said Tuesday at a rare open hearing on intelligence — a set-piece for supporters of the spying.
The House Intelligence Committee, led by lawmakers sympathetic to the extraordinary surveillance, provided a venue for officials to defend the once-secret programs. There was limited probing of claims that the collection of people's phone records and Internet usage has disrupted dozens of terrorist plots, and few details were volunteered.
Army Gen. Keith Alexander, director of the National Security Agency, said the two recently disclosed programs — one that gathers U.S. phone records and another that is designed to track the use of U.S.-based Internet servers by foreigners with possible links to terrorism — are critical. But details about them were not closely held within the secretive agency. Alexander said after the hearing that most of the documents accessed by Edward Snowden, a 29-year-old former systems analyst on contract to the NSA, were on a web forum available to many NSA employees. Others were on a site that required a special credential to access. Alexander said investigators are studying how Snowden did that.
He told lawmakers Snowden's leaks have caused "irreversible and significant damage to this nation" and undermined the U.S. relationship with allies.
When Deputy FBI Director Sean Joyce was asked what is next for Snowden, he said, simply, "justice." Snowden fled to Hong Kong and is hiding.
Intelligence officials last week disclosed some details on what they said were two thwarted attacks, one targeting the New York subway system, one a Danish newspaper office that had published the cartoon depictions of the Mohammad. On Tuesday, Alexander said more than 50 terrorist acts were averted because of the surveillance programs in question.