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NSA Head Tells Senate His Agency Didn't Do Anything Wrong

Jun 13, 2013
Originally published on June 13, 2013 4:14 am
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LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

The head of the National Security Agency yesterday made his first public appearance since details leaked about two surveillance programs run by the NSA. General Keith Alexander, who's also in charge of the military's Cyber Command, testified before the Senate Appropriations Committee.

And as NPR's Ailsa Chang reports, he wants to declassify more details to reassure Americans the programs are both legal and effective.

AILSA CHANG, BYLINE: General Keith Alexander needed to present himself as the man with absolutely nothing to hide. He was polite, almost deferential. He locked into solid eye contact with each senator who addressed him. And he kept hammering home one main talking point: It was time for the American people to get some answers.

(SOUNDBITE OF SENATE HEARING)

CHANG: The man who wants to give the world answers has one fundamental problem: He operates in a classified world. So the dilemma is deciding what to declassify, so as to restore the American public's shaken confidence. For example, take this question from Democrat Jeff Merkley of Oregon, who pointed out phone data can only be sought under the Patriot Act if it's relevant to an authorized investigation.

(SOUNDBITE OF SENATE HEARING)

CHANG: Sorry, said Alexander. That's classified. But he didn't stop there.

(SOUNDBITE OF SENATE HEARING)

CHANG: Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy from Vermont wanted to know exactly how many terrorism cases were disrupted or discovered with the help of the phone records.

(SOUNDBITE OF SENATE HEARING)

CHANG: That's a pretty vague number, but Alexander said he'd give senators a specific list during a closed briefing today. Declassifying that list for the general public may take longer, the general said.

Now, there were some pressing questions Alexander could answer on the spot, like one about the leaker, Edward Snowden. Here's Republican Susan Collins of Maine.

(SOUNDBITE OF SENATE HEARING)

CHANG: But for all those convinced that the federal government is invading their privacy, here's the solace Alexander offers.

(SOUNDBITE OF SENATE HEARING)

CHANG: Many Americans are going to be waiting for that explanation to be declassified, before feeling any better about this whole thing.

Ailsa Chang, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.