House Committee Hearing on the NSA leaves additional questions unanswered...

This morning, NSA director Keith Alexander and other intelligence officials testified before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. The Committee chairman, Representative Mike Rogers of Michigan, convened the hearing to defend the NSA's internet and phone surveillance programs. Today's hearing, called “How Disclosed NSA Programs Protect Americans, and Why Disclosure Aids Our Adversaries,” was meant to provide a public forum for Director Alexander to make the case that government spying has kept Americans safe.

Alexander began the hearing with an opening statement, saying, “I would much rather be here today debating this point than trying to explain how we failed to prevent another 9/11.” He refused to provide details, but said that the surveillance program has prevented 50 potential terrorist attacks since 2001. NSA deputy director, John Chris Inglis, also testified, and described how the agency handles phone communications in the U.S. He said the standard for looking into U.S. based phone calls requires a “reasonable, articulable suspicion” of terrorist activity, and that only 20 analysts within the NSA have the power to target US-based phone calls. According to Inglis, analysts must get supervisor approval on any domestic targeting. However, throughout the hearing, intelligence officials stated numerous times that U.S. citizens are not being targeted.

Director Alexander repeated this assurance, saying, “the NSA may not target the phone calls or emails of any US person, anywhere in the world,” without a court order. It appears today's hearing was meant to defend government surveillance programs, and assure Americans that our phone and email privacy remains intact. It's not clear yet whether today's hearing achieved the intended result. The debate about government surveillance continues. Stay tuned.

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