In his first appearance since an NSA contractor lifted the veil on the agency’s broad monitoring of phone and internet data, General Keith Alexander described the highly discussed program as an essential tool in the fight against terrorism.
“It’s dozens of terrorist events that these have helped prevent,” the NSA director told a U.S. Senate committee. “Both here and abroad, in disrupting or contributing to the disruption of terrorist attacks.”
Referring to the documents unveiled by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, The Guardian newspaper and the Washington Post revealed last week the vast government effort aimed at monitoring phone and internet data at internet giants such as Google and Facebook.
The NSA chief said the unveiled secret documents, which have caused an investigation and an internal Obama administration review of the potential national security damage, had jeopardized safety in the country and elsewhere.
“Great harm has already been done by opening this up,” Alexander said. “There is no doubt in my mind that we will lose capabilities as a result of this and that not only the United States but those allies that we have helped will no longer be as safe as they were two weeks ago.”
The head of the National Security Agency was asked why Snowden, who had a spotty educational record and a relative lack of experience in the national security field, was able to gain a top-secret clearance and access to such sensitive information.
“I do have concerns about that,” Alexander said. “In the IT area, some of these folks have tremendous skills to operate networks. He had great skills in this area.”
The wistleblower has been working at the National Security Agency for the last four years as an employee of various outside contractors, including Booz Allen and Dell.
Which is more, after he decided to make public various top-secret documents, the man didn’t even try to keep his identity in secret, saying: “I have no intention of hiding who I am because I know I have done nothing wrong.”
When he unveiled the first series of secret documents, he wrote: “I understand that I will be made to suffer for my actions,” but “I will be satisfied if the federation of secret law, unequal pardon and irresistible executive powers that rule the world that I love are revealed even for an instant.”
He later explained his move, saying: “I can’t in good conscience allow the US government to destroy privacy, internet freedom and basic liberties for people around the world with this massive surveillance machine they’re secretly building.”
The wistleblower said he had not contacted his family or friends since he revealed his identity and admitted that he was the source of the leaks earlier this week.
The results of a Reuters/Ipsos poll published on Wednesday found that 31 percent of citizens saw Snowden as a patriot for leaking details of the programs, more than the 23 percent who viewed him as a traitor. Forty-six percent said they did not know.