June 18th, 2013
10:12 AM ET
9 years ago

Live blog: NSA Hearing

(CNN) - In a hearing Tuesday with the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, the director of the National Security Agency, Keith Alexander, said that since 9/11, there have been more than 50 terror plots thwarted with the help of NSA surveillance programs.

Four of those incidents were detailed at the hearing, including thwarted plots to bomb the New York subway system and the New York Stock Exchange by linking known suspects in Pakistan and Yemen to contacts in the United States.

NSA officials are set to disclose information about the other cases in a private session with lawmakers on Wednesday.

Still, there is a debate within the intelligence community about what can be revealed to prove these programs work versus what should stay classified for fear of burning sources and methods.

Check back here for updates from the hearing.

1:06 p.m. ET –– House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Michigan, wrapped up the hearing.

"I know this has been difficult to come and talk about very sensitive things in a public way. In order to preserve your good work and the work on behalf of all the patriots working to defend America, I still believe it was important to have a meeting where at least in some way discuss and reassure the level and oversight and redundancy of oversight on a program that we all recognize needed extra care and attention and lots of sets of eyes. I hope today in this hearing we were able to do that."

12: 40 p.m ET -

12:35 p.m. ET - Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minnesota, asks how damaging the leaks are.

"I think it was irreversible and significant damage to this nation," Alexander said.

"Has this helped America’s enemies?" Bachmann asked.

"I believe it has and I believe it will hurt us and our allies," he said.

12:27 p.m. ET - Rep. Jim Himes, D-Connecticut, asked how many of those 50 episodes would have been thwarted without the use of phone records. "How essential–not just contributing to–but how essential are these authorities to stop terrorist attacks?"

Glenn Greenwald, the Guardian journalist who first reported the leaks, asked a similar question on Twitter Tuesday morning.

Responding to Himes, Alexander said the surveillance programs are vital to preventing terrorism.

"Going back to 9/11, we didn't have the ability to connect the dots. This adds one more capability to help us do that," Alexander said in response. "What we're doing here, with the civil liberties and privacy oversight, does help connect the dots."

Alexander said 90% of the more than 50 plots were prevented in part because of the online surveillance–not phone records collection–of suspects overseas. "In 50%, I believe they were critical," he said. A little more than 10 of the 50 had a domestic nexus and were thus targeted using phone records.

Sean Joyce, deputy director of Federal Bureau of Investigation, also jumped in with a response to Himes.

"I think you ask an almost impossible question to say how important each dot was. What I can tell you is post 9/11, I don't recognize the FBI I came into 26 years ago. Our mission is to stop terrorism, to prevent it, not after the fact, to prevent it before it happens in the United States. I can tell you every tool is essential and vital," Joyce said. "You ask: How can you put the value on an American life? And I can tell you it's priceless."

12:20 p.m. ET - Robert S. Litt, general counsel of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, said NSA leaker Edward Snowden "wasn't nearly as familiar with these programs as he's portrayed himself to be."

"This is what happens when somebody who sees a tiny corner of things thinks it gives him inside (understanding) into the whole program," he said.

12:01 p.m. ET - Rep. Devin Nunes, R-California, brought up other controversies plaguing the Obama administration–the IRS scandal, "Fast and Furious," Justice Department leak investigations, and the U.S. consulate attack in Benghazi–and asked NSA officials to offer assurance that the agency is not leaking information itself.

Responding, Alexander said all the information the NSA disseminates is "100% auditable" and they have "not seen one of our analysts willfully do something wrong." The only mistakes he has seen are "honest mistakes," listing a typo as an example.

Nunes further pressed officials, asking them to explain the seriousness of the leaks.

Sean Joyce, deputy director of Federal Bureau of Investigation, said they're conducting a "criminal investigation" and repeatedly described the leaks as "egregious."

"We are revealing in front of you today methods and techniques. I have told you, the examples I gave you how important they have been. The first core al Qaeda plot to attack the United States post 9-11 we used one of these programs. Another plot to bomb the New York Stock Exchange we used these programs. And now here we are talking about this in front of the world. So I think those leaks affect us," he said.

NSA Director Gen. Alexander Testifies To House Hearing About Surveillance Programs

Sean Joyce, deputy director of Federal Bureau of Investigation (Photo by Getty Images)

New CNN/ORC Poll: A slight majority of those questioned in the poll disapprove of the actions of the man who leaked sensitive information about the NSA program. And a similar amount say Edward Snowden, who fled to Hong Kong, should be brought back to the U.S. and prosecuted

Snowden: Obama expanded program

11:36 a.m. ET - Reached by CNNMoney, the New York Stock Exchange declined to comment on the thwarted bomb plot.

Yahoo: What gov. wanted from us

11:35 a.m. ET - Asked if they plan to release the court opinions on NSA requests for phone and Internet intelligence gathering, Robert S. Litt, general counsel of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, said they are looking into that.

11:17 a.m ET - Elaborating further on the disrupted terrorist attacks, Sean Joyce, deputy director of Federal Bureau of Investigation, said federal agencies used Internet surveillance–known as PRISM or Section 702 of the Patriot Act–to identify an extremist who was communicating with an individual in Kansas City. They were in the "very early stages" of plotting to bomb the New York Stock Exchange, he said.

Asked if their intention to bomb the NYSE was "serious," Joyce said, "The jury considered it serious since (the suspects) were all convicted."

In another instance, Joyce said they used phone records–Section 215–to identify an individual in San Diego who had "indirect contact" and who was providing financial support to an extremist outside of the United States.

11:13 a.m ET - Democratic Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, ranking member on House Intelligence Committee, asked Alexander if he feels like the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court is a rubber stamp in the sense that it approves all requests from the NSA to pursue investigations.

Alexander said he does not think the court acts in such a manner and praised the the federal judges on the court as "superb," adding that they "go back and forth to make sure we do this exactly right."

11:12 a.m. ET - New CNN/ORC Poll: Just over six in ten Americans say they believe that government is so large and powerful that it threatens the rights and freedoms of ordinary Americans.

Obama: I'm no Dick Cheney

11:10 a.m. ET - House Intelligence Chairman Mike Rogers asks if the NSA has the ability to "flip a switch" and listen to Americans' phone calls or read emails

Alexander said they do not have the authority or technology to do that.

11:04 a.m. ET - Deputy Attorney General James Cole said that because of the leaks, the government runs the risk of losing its capability to operate the collection programs. He did not say why but said they won't know for several months how the leaks affected the agency's surveillance abilities.

10:57 a.m. ET - Alexander said the NSA does not unilaterally collect information from Internet companies under Section 702. The companies are compelled to provide that information by law, he said.

Facebook, Microsoft disclose information on user data requests

10:55 a.m. ET - NSA official says phone record data collected under Section 215 must be destroyed five years after acquired.

10:45 a.m. ET - Sean Joyce, deputy director of Federal Bureau of Investigation, said the surveillance programs–specifically the program that gathers intelligence from Internet companies–helped stop a plot to bomb the office of the Danish newspaper that came under heat for publishing a cartoon of Mohammed in 2006.

In the United States, the program also helped them thwart a plan to bomb the New York City subway system and a plan to bomb the New York Stock Exchange, he said.

Read the full accounts from Joyce below.

New York City subway: "In the fall of 2009, NSA using 702 authority intercepted an email from a terrorist located in Pakistan. That individual was talking with an individual located inside the United States talking about perfecting a recipe for explosives. Through legal process that individual was identified as Najibullah Zazi. He was located in Denver, Colorado. The FBI followed him to NYC. Later we executed search warrants with the NY joint terrorism task force and NYPD and found bomb making components in backpacks. Zazi later confessed to a plot to bomb the NY subway system with backpacks. Also working with FISA business records the NSA was able to provide a previously unknown number of one of the co-conspirators Adis Medunjanin. This was the first core al Qaeda plot since 9-11 directed from Pakistan."

New York Stock Exchange: "NSA utilizing 702 authority was monitoring a known extremist in Yemen. This individual was in contact with an individual in the United States named Khalid Ouazzani. Ouazzani and other individuals that we identified through a FISA that the FBI applied for through the FISC, were able to detect a nascent plotting to bomb the NYSE. Ouazzani had been providing information and support to this plot. The FBI disrupted and arrested these individuals."

Danish newspaper: "David Headley, a U.S citizen living in Chicago. The FBI received intelligence regarding his possible involvement in the 2008 Mumbai attacks responsible for the killing of over 160 people. Also, NSA through 702 coverage of an al Qaeda affiliated terrorist, found that Headley was working on a plot to bomb a Danish newspaper office that had published the cartoon depictions prophet Muhammad. In fact, Headley later confessed to personally conducting surveillance of the Danish newspaper office. He and his co-conspirators were convicted of this plot."

FBI probe: "Lastly, the FBI had opened an investigation shortly after 9-11. We did not have enough information nor did we find links to terrorism so we shortly thereafter closed the investigation. However, the NSA using the business record FISA, tipped us off that this individual had indirect contacts with a known terrorist overseas. We were able to reopen this investigation, identify additional individuals through the legal process and were able to disrupt this terrorist activity."

10:40 a.m. ET - For Section 702 of the Patriot Act, which permits the collection and surveillance of information from Internet companies, Cole said only those living outside of the United States can be targeted.

10:30 a.m .ET - Cole said that the Fourth Amendment does not apply to Section 215, the part of the Patriot Act that permits the collection of phone records.

He said people should not expect privacy on such metadata, which includes the phone numbers, the time at which phone conversations took place and the duration of those calls.

10:25 a.m. ET - Deputy Attorney General James Cole listed some of the criteria for an NSA analyst to access phone conversations. As part of the oversight process, the NSA must get permission from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

While requesting permission, they must prove that person they want to investigate is involved with some sort of terrorist organization. To prove affiliation, the NSA must have independent evidence aside from personal writings, statements, etc, from the person they want to investigate that the individual is linked to an organization.

"You have to have additional evidence beyond that that indicates there is reasonable suspicion," he said.

Read more: House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers said Sunday that the NSA was "not listening to" Americans' phone calls.

10:22 a.m. ET - Alexander said they will bring classified documents to Capitol Hill Wednesday that detail all 50 cases in which the NSA programs helped prevent a terror plot. As reported already on CNN, he will present two of those publicly Tuesday.

However, they will not publicly release all of the cases, saying that would give away the NSA's secrets in how it tracks suspected terrorists.

"Too much is at risk for us and our allies," he said.

Alexander described the programs as "critical" for the government's counterterrorism efforts. If they had the phone surveillance program–known as Section 215 under the Patriot Act–before the September 11, 2001 attacks, he argued, they may have been able to track phone conversations between one of the hijackers living in San Francisco and a co-conspirator in Yemen.

10:20 a.m. ET - "In recent years these programs, together with other intelligence, have protected the U.S. and our allies from terrorist threats across the globe to include helping prevent the potential terrorist events over 50 times since 9-11," Alexander said.

10:19 a.m. ET - In his opening statements, Alexander said the leaked information about the phone records and Internet data sparked "considerable debate" in recent days, but the debate has been fueld by "incomplete and inaccurate information."

"Today we will provide additional detail and context on these programs to help inform that debate," he said.

10:16 a.m. ET - New CNN/ORC Poll: Americans are split on the controversial National Security Agency anti-terrorism program to record metadata on U.S. phone calls, but they support the NSA program that targets records of internet usage by people in other countries.

10:08 a.m. ET - House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Michigan, made his opening remarks.

"I look forward to hearing from all of the witnesses about the extensive protections and oversight in place for these programs. General Alexander, we look forward to hearing what you’re able to discuss in an open forum about how the data that you obtain from providers under the Business Records provision is used; and Deputy Attorney General Cole, we look forward to hearing more about the legal authorities themselves, and the state of the law on what privacy protections Americans’ have in business records," he said, according to his prepared remarks.

"General Alexander, you and I have talked over the past week about the need to be able to publicly elaborate on the success stories these authorities have contributed to without jeopardizing ongoing operations," he added. "I place the utmost value in protecting sources and methods, but I also recognize that when we are forced into the position of having to publicly discuss intelligence programs due to irresponsible, criminal behavior that we also have to carefully balance the need for secrecy with educating the public."

Filed under: House • NSA
soundoff (204 Responses)
  1. S. Turner

    They are all liars... the government is out of control... terror plots, really got those guys in Boston... !!!
    So we can't ask anything, OMG... but we have to believe whatever is being done is for our own good...
    Don't believe anything coming out of Washington... All of them should be ashamed of themselves.
    And most of all they thing we are all stupid, so we need the government to tell us what we need...
    I am not a lemming ...

    June 18, 2013 12:20 pm at 12:20 pm |
  2. Sniffit

    " This is treason unfolding before our eyes."

    Apparently you've had your eyes shut since 2006 when it all came out that Dubya and Cheney were doing this?

    June 18, 2013 12:21 pm at 12:21 pm |
  3. hmmm

    so if things like 9/11 could potentially be stopped at the cost of going through some emails and telephone calls thats not worth you voiding your "privacy rights" I love this nation but we as a people over do it sometimes. yes the C.I.A. is shady at times but to use "its our rights" as a reason to not allow this is just a little rediculous to me. It is like protect us but dont use the resourcres you could have access to stop things from happening. Its like we weep and weep about tragedy and say why do we never stop things before they happen but then say the governtment shouldn't go through citizen information to do so.

    Would we prefer the government to just sit back and let these things happen? our rights don't matter if we are dead i'm sure.
    So if i want to blow up some public institution right now i can go on youtube and youtube a video on how to build a home made explosive but the government has the power to stop this because they have access to my search......... take that away and let me fulfill my mission?

    June 18, 2013 12:22 pm at 12:22 pm |
  4. Sniffit

    "Asked if their intention to bomb the NYSE was "serious," Joyce said, "The jury considered it serious since (the suspects) were all convicted.""

    Hmmmm....was that you, Ricky, who was yammering about "oh, there were no arrests and we never heard about it and nobody got prosecuted so how do we know" or some such other nonsense that shows you didn't even read 1/3 of the article....hmmmm?

    June 18, 2013 12:23 pm at 12:23 pm |
  5. Lib.

    Sniffit, all these policies were started by the repubs, the IRS, the funding shortage for Benghazi, NSA, Guns in Mexico etc. But the repubs never said a word when Bush destroyed this country. Now that President Obama is trying to continue some of these policies in a legal way unlike Bush and Cheney the repubs are having a fit. Why? Because they can no longer continue their illegal doings with this president. Thus they are doing whatever they can to destroy the Obama administration. And you have a lot of weak minided people in this country who refuse to see that Obama is within his legal rights to do what he is doing. Otherwise the SCOTUS would make sure he is.

    June 18, 2013 12:25 pm at 12:25 pm |
  6. This is all Legal

    That Sotomayor comment is a concurrence not a majority opinion – US v. Jones. And there SHE ruled that GPS tracking was Constitutional.

    June 18, 2013 12:30 pm at 12:30 pm |
  7. Ron L

    Once again...OLD NEWS... IF you want to be Safe in todays world, you HAVE to give up some privacy. I guarantee you if the N.S.A. stopped what they were doing and 6 months from now there was a successful terrorist attack killing 100 people. Everyone complaining now about the collecting of this data will forget about how they complained about it being done....MOVE ON>>>> lets talk about the BUDGET, the passing of the FARM BILL helping super rich companies while it reduces food stamps for the poor, creating NEW JOBS by REBUILDING AMERICA, what about the HIGH INTEREST on STUDENT LOANS while the BIG banks and get rock bottom rates, what about the RIDICULOUSLY high costs of healthcare in which hospitals 200 miles apart can have a 60% difference in what the charge for the same procedure but there is no way the consumer can find out until after the work is done!!, these are much more important issues to the LONG TERM health of America

    June 18, 2013 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
  8. rs

    It really IS FUN watching the GOP dance this dance. I mean, really, the GOP put in place the USA PATRIOT Act, and has re-affirmed it's existance and strength 4 or 5 times since. The GOP created this intelligence gathering environment, and have been well brieffed on it.

    Yet, while they still support spying, the NSA and the USA PATRIOT Act, they dare try to bash the President for lusing their laws and their technology to keep our nation safe. Look at all of the many fools posting the GOP lies. Simply incredible.

    June 18, 2013 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
  9. ThatsIt121

    Freedom does not equal safety

    June 18, 2013 12:44 pm at 12:44 pm |
  10. Jim

    Wait a minutes "Just 50 plot was discovered from a missive pile up of billion phone calls collection. My Pomeranian dog can do a better job than that. Also where is the proof that the 50 plots discovery came from NSA prism.

    June 18, 2013 12:48 pm at 12:48 pm |
  11. Sniffit

    "Sniffit, all these policies were started by the repubs"

    Indeed. And many of them...like Eric Cantor, who just complained yesterday that this was all "overreach" and "abuse of power"....actually voted to EXPAND these powers. Cantor himself voted for things like making wire-tapping WARRANTLESS. And yet, now we have to listen to these snide, self-serving little turds try to turn this into an Obama "scandal"? It's absurd and insulting. What they're mad about is that Obama is POTUS, not that he used powers as POTUS that THEY GAVE THE POTUS. They just thought at the time they created these powers that they'd have a "permanent majority" and it would never be a Dem using them, let alone a black one.

    June 18, 2013 12:52 pm at 12:52 pm |
  12. Joe in Kalispell

    The number keeps getting bigger. Maybe the next review and report will be thousands of foiled terror plots.

    June 18, 2013 12:52 pm at 12:52 pm |
  13. sailorjon1@verizon.net

    Listening to the NSA at the hearings about how nicely all these security are supposed to work makes me think.......are we to now blindly believe that none of this information they collect will ever be used either by the government or even local agency's. This from a branch of a government that has shown itself to be full of nothing but greed & ego's along with the failure to show any caring what so ever about the American people...........we'll see

    June 18, 2013 12:52 pm at 12:52 pm |
  14. Joe in Kalispell

    The number keeps getting bigger. Maybe the next review and report will be thousands of foiled plots.

    June 18, 2013 12:56 pm at 12:56 pm |
  15. Michael

    The question that needs to be asked, seeing the way this hearing is going, is: they say they are trying to protect the United States, and that "every tool is essential and vital." When they say protect the United States, I, and most American citizens, take that to include all of the rights, freedoms, liberties and everything else that makes the United States the great nation that it is. If slowly giving up those things which we hold dear, and also, not being informed we are giving those up, in the name of protecting the United States, the question becomes, what are we protecting?

    June 18, 2013 01:13 pm at 1:13 pm |
  16. Mark

    Heres the problem. Until Snowden, they all lied that none of this is going on. ALL OF THEM. We elected President Obama (one of the main reasons) because he wanted to end all of this surveillance without a warrant. He is complicit now as well. Clapper especially. The revocation of the 4th amendment by anyone in government is wrong no matter what the justification. Look back in history...every tyrant had justification for doing everything they did.....certainly doesn't make any of it right. We need to stop this, stop the lying and prosecute those who have participated in all of this illegally. Snowden is no hero but I do not consider him a traitor either! Without his whistleblowing...all of those lying would still be lying!!!

    June 18, 2013 01:16 pm at 1:16 pm |
  17. brian plume

    The mere fact that our government illegally and continually uses wiretapping and spying on domestic citizens, in my opinion, is actually a terrorist act, and as such, should be charged under the Patriot Act that they passed themselves.

    June 18, 2013 01:25 pm at 1:25 pm |
  18. sly

    Thank the Good Lord we have President Obama – not only did he kill America's #1 enemy of all time, but he has thwarted over 50 attacks!

    America, we are in good hands, which is why we've remained free from ANY major terrorist attack since this man became our President.

    June 18, 2013 01:28 pm at 1:28 pm |
  19. GW Hamer

    I don't know answers to secret information, but I also wouldn't take my car in and ask the mechanic if I needed anything fixed while showing him a blank check. I wouldn't ask the head of the "FBI" if we need the FBI, seems like I've got my answer before the question is asked. We as a people should use our God given wisdom and ability to think. Like most things there's good and bad in life, you don't but a car built on a Monday, cause they have hangovers. To the point, don't have "blind" trust, doesn't mean your paranoid, yes, there are dishonest people working for the federal government.... most of them don't care, working for the green. Just like you and I, we have to feed our kids, they "justify there own employment", from the little guy on up. The question is should we have laws.... of course we should, should they go unchallenged, a course not. We are not (for the most part) a stupid people and have the ability to discern right from wrong.

    June 18, 2013 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  20. spike

    Driving a car is more unsafe and causes far more deaths than terrorism, therefore all you who drive will lose your liberty to drive because it's for your own safety. Anything can be justified in the name of safety or security. Get used to it. Life is unsafe and it always was unsafe. That's no reason to give up liberty. To all you who really think this is OK, I think the govt. should mandate that you have to live in a plastic bubble and you can only sit there, anything else would be unsafe and unsecure.

    June 18, 2013 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  21. jsmoulder

    At this point they will say anything to be able to keep their high paying jobs, and the power that comes with it.

    June 18, 2013 01:57 pm at 1:57 pm |
  22. Rob

    Any excuse to blame someone for destroying our rights. That is what we get when greedy people looking for a free ride elect a liar and traitor and incompetent to the white house

    June 18, 2013 02:01 pm at 2:01 pm |
  23. sonny chapman

    How did this Team stop so many low level Terror Plots, when the Dream Team led by Dick Cheney missed the Mother of All Terror Plots, 9-11-01 ?

    June 18, 2013 02:03 pm at 2:03 pm |
  24. Dr Tom

    Weren't the subway and stock exchange terror plots being stopped discussed before? I think that's old news.

    June 18, 2013 02:07 pm at 2:07 pm |
  25. tom l.

    And I love how now all the liberals will take this man's testimony as the gospel and actually believe what he says. Something tells me that if he gave this testimony with Bush as president you would all be highly skeptical.

    June 18, 2013 02:14 pm at 2:14 pm |
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