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After Closed Door Meeting, Senators Toe NSA Line
The U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee met with officials from the NSA, Justice Department, and the FBI in a closed door briefing Thursday to learn more about the telephone and Internet surveillance programs within the NSA that were revealed by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden over the past week.
NSA director Keith Alexander announced that the agency will be making public more information in the coming days about its surveillance programs—in a bid to shape public opinion on the effectiveness and scope of the programs—including the program's success in targeting "terrorists."
As the Senators filed out of the secretive meeting, Guardian reporter Spencer Ackerman was there to gather first impressions.
Senator Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee, toed the NSA's line, stating, "We were given some very specific and information about how these programs have helped keep Americans safe." Corker did not specifically answer Ackerman on whether the NSA programs had helped prevent "dozens of terrorist events," as NSA director Keith Alexander claimed on Wednesday.
Regarding this claim, Senators Mark Udall and Ron Wyden, both members of the Senate intelligence committee, released a statement earlier on Thursday stating that they are not convinced by the testimony of the NSA director.
"We have not yet seen any evidence showing that the NSA's dragnet collection of Americans' phone records has produced any uniquely valuable intelligence," the statement read.
"When you're talking about important liberties that the American people feel strongly about, and you want to have an intelligence program, you've got to make a case for why it provides unique value to the [intelligence] community atop what they can already have," Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, told the Guardian in an interview on Thursday.
"Gen Alexander's testimony yesterday suggested that the NSA's bulk phone records collection program helped thwart 'dozens' of terrorist attacks, but all of the plots that he mentioned appear to have been identified using other collection methods," Wyden and Udall said in the statement. "The public deserves a clear explanation."
Heading out of the Committee hearing, Senate intelligence chair Dianne Feinstein said Alexander “wants to be exact."
“What he wants to give us are the cases where this stopped a terrorist attack, both here and in other places. And he wants to be exact about the detail and we should have that Monday,” she said.
Feinstein added that it's her "understanding" that an individual NSA query of the phone records metadata database does not require a court order.
Thus, as Ackerman reports, "seemingly according to this description of her understanding, NSA can search through phone records unilaterally."