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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Property
pets
Arts and Entertainment
tvGame of Thrones season 5 ep 4, review - WARNING: contains major spoiliers!
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe C-Word, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
Sport
Danny Jones was in the Wales squad for the 2013 World Cup
rugby leagueKeighley Cougars half-back was taken off after just four minutes
Life and Style
The original ZX Spectrum was simple to plug into your TV and get playing on
techThirty years on, the ZX Spectrum is back, after a fashion
News
Tiger Woods and Lindsey Vonn are breaking up after nearly three years together
peopleFormer couple announce separation in posts on their websites
Sport
football
Life and Style
Google celebrates Bartolomeo Cristofori's 360th birthday
techGoogle Doodle to the rescue
Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’
tvThe Enfield Haunting, TV review
News
news
News
The Mattehorn stands reflected in Leisee lake near Sunnegga station on June 30, 2013 near Zermatt, Switzerland
news
  • Get to the point
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

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living