NSA claims secret surveillance programs have foiled at least 50 terror plots since the September 11 attacks

Head of NSA defends monitoring as legal, closely supervised and crucial to defending Americans, adding it was not “some rogue operation”

The head of the US National Security Agency has claimed secret surveillance programs have foiled at least 50 terror plots since the September 11 attacks.

In the first public hearing dedicated to the NSA’s top-secret spying operations since former contractor Edward Snowden exposed them, General Keith Alexander defended the monitoring as legal, closely supervised and crucial to defending Americans, adding it was not “some rogue operation”.

Speaking to members of the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, General Alexander said he felt the leaks had inflicted “irreversible and significant” damage to national security, adding “I believe it will hurt us and our allies”.

Snowden's disclosures have ignited political furore over the balance between privacy rights and national security, but President Barack Obama and congressional leaders in both parties have backed the programs and no significant effort has emerged to roll them back.

Instead, during the meeting, both US officials and lawmakers spent hours justifying phone and Internet monitoring programs as vital security tools and criticised Snowden's decision to leak documents about them to media outlets.

While critics have blasted the surveillance as government overreach without enough independent oversight, proposed legislative remedies discussed so far have focused on tightening rules for contractors and making the secret court that approves warrants for surveillance more transparent.

General Alexander told Congress: “I would much rather be here today debating this point than trying to explain how we failed to prevent another 9/11.”

He added: “In recent years these programs, together with other intelligence, have protected the US and our allies from terrorist threats across the globe to include helping prevent... potential terrorist events over 50 times since 9/11“.

Alexander said at least 10 of those plots involved US targets or suspects in the United States, and promised to give classified details of all of the foiled incidents to the House and Senate intelligence committees within 24 hours.

US Representative Mike Rogers, the Republican chairman of the intelligence panel, told reporters after the hearing: “People who are sceptical of the program have no understanding of what the program is”.

Sean Joyce, deputy FBI director, offered information on two of the cases - a plot to bomb the New York Stock Exchange and a conspiracy to give money to a Somali militia designated by the United States as a terrorist group.

Last week officials revealed two other such potential attacks: a 2009 plan to bomb a Danish newspaper that published cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad and a plot by Islamist militants to bomb the New York subway the same year.

Members of the intelligence committee said they were holding the hearing to set the record straight about how the programs operated and their importance for national security.

Representative Dutch Ruppersberger, the panel's top Democrat, said the leaks “put our country and our allies in danger by giving the terrorists a really good look at the playbook that w use to protect our country. The terrorists now know many of our sources and methods.”

Snowden, who worked at an NSA facility in Hawaii for 15 months, defended his actions in an web chat on Monday and vowed to release more details on the extent of the agency's access. Snowden is believed to be hiding in Hong Kong as the US Justice Department conducts a criminal investigation.

Asked what was next for Snowden, Joyce gave a one-word response: “Justice.”

Alexander said he had “significant concerns” about how a low-level contractor like Snowden could gain access to so much information and said it was part of the FBI's investigation. “We do have significant concerns in this area and it is something that we need to look at,” he said.

He said the NSA was considering starting a “two-person control” system in which no one could download sensitive data without a second person there to approve it.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
Wembley Stadium
footballNews follows deal with Germany
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Voices
voicesApple continually kill off smaller app developers, and that's no good for anyone
Sport
A 'Sir Alex Feguson' tattoo
football

Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear
tv

Thriller is set in the secret world of British espionage

Life and Style
life

News
ScienceGallery: Otherwise known as 'the best damn photos of space you'll see till 2015'
Life and Style
fashion

Bomber jacket worn by Mary Berry sells out within an hour

Life and Style
tech
Sport
Andros Townsend is challenged by Vladimir Volkov
football
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Teaching Assistant

£40 - £50 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Are you a TA/LSA looking for...

SEN Teacher

SEN QTS ASD MLD PLMD SLD: Randstad Education Bristol: Supply special education...

DT Teacher - Textiles

£100 - £135 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: We urgently require a DT t...

Year 1 Teacher for long term roles starting in September

£110 - £130 per day + Competitive rates of pay: Randstad Education Reading: Ye...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week