Lawmakers plan to seek the declassification and release of information related to the National Security Agency’s collection of phone and email data so they can show Americans it has helped stop terrorism.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Michigan, said Thursday he will put forward information as soon as next week, “that I think will allow the American public to better understand,” the NSA surveillance, which was leaked last week by a government contractor.
Rogers made the pledge after the head of the National Security Agency told lawmakers at a closed-door hearing that the government is not eavesdropping on America’s phone calls or reading their emails.
General Keith Alexander, the NSA’s director, said after the hearing that leaks by former Booz Allen Hamilton employee Edward Snowden, who is now hiding in Hong Kong, are “incorrect,” and that the surveillance program has “stopped dozens of terrorist attacks,” on the nation.
Alexander said the NSA activities follow a strict “compliance regime” and are overseen by Congress, the Obama administration and the courts.
He did not deny that information is being collected, instead referring to it as “a metadata program,” aimed at stopping terrorist attacks.
Snowden, who worked at an NSA branch in Hawaii, told a British newspaper that he had the power “to wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant, to a federal judge, to even the President.”
But Alexander appears to have contradicted that claim, lawmakers said after the meeting.
“I’ll tell you this as strongly as I can,” Rogers said after the hearing. “The National Security Agency is not reading Americans’ email. They are not collecting Americans’ email by either of these programs. I’ve heard it repeated, I’ve heard it repeated by members of Congress and the Senate, I’ve heard it repeated in news outlets. That is absolutely incorrect.”
The information NSA will release is aimed at showing American the importance of the program by proving it works.
The panel’s top Democrat, Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, of Maryland, said the NSA has informed him that surveillance has thwarted “at least…ten possible terrorist attacks.”
Lawmakers have been divided on the NSA surveillance, with some calling for reconsideration of the Patriot Act that allows it, and others, including Rogers and Ruppersberger, vigorously defending it.
Rogers did not deny another claim by Snowden that the NSA is monitoring online communications from China and Hong Kong.
“The collection of foreign intelligence is an important tool to keep America safe,” Rogers told reporters who asked about the Snowden claim. “And it started when George Washington sent Nathan Hale into New York City to find out what the British were up to. And I think there’s been a long history of that. And I think, again, it’s done prudently and it’s done in the interest of protecting the United States of America.”