Extending its efforts to defend the programs to the public, the White House pledged to help Americans understand as much as possible about how they work, even as it staunchly defended their efficacy in keeping a post-9/11 America safe.
"That process will continue," said White House spokesman Jay Carney. "But I don't think that we can sensibly say that programs designed to protect us from terrorist attack are not necessary in this day and age."
The more information about the programs the government has released, the more it has fed even greater concerns about the scope of the surveillance and whether Obama's national security team has been truthful in describing it publicly in the past.
After the administration on Wednesday declassified more documents about an email mining program, Wyden said they showed the government had "repeatedly made inaccurate statements to Congress" about the effectiveness in countering terrorism. And new details released about the phone records program created new fodder for critics by confirming for the first time that, when investigating one suspected terrorist, the government can also examine records of people who called people who called the targeted individual — netting millions of people's records in a single request.
Meanwhile, the head of the NSA openly clashed with lawmakers including Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., over the agency's statements that telephone and email data collection helped foil 54 terror plots.
Rising tensions have stoked concern at the White House that surveillance programs Obama considers crucial will soon be undermined or even dismantled — despite the fact that many Democrats and Republicans in Congress have come to the NSA's defense.
Leahy, the Judiciary Committee chairman, has threatened to seek to end the phone records program if it's not proven effective. And Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., signaled Thursday that unless an agreement is reached on releasing more of the secret court's opinions, he would push Congress to use its "power of the purse" to compel their disclosure by withholding funding for certain programs.