Tuesday's House hearing on the recently revealed NSA surveillance programs might as well have been titled "Everything's Fine, Stop Making a Scene." The actual title is not that far off: "How Disclosed NSA Programs Protect Americans, and Why Disclosure Aids Our Adversaries" -- a clear nod (nay, bow) to the hearing serving as little more than a platform for NSA director Keith Alexander to repeat that the sprawling surveillance dragnet is crucial and legal and totally fine, but that revealing the truth about it, as Edward Snowden has done, is treacherous. Little wonder the ongoing Capitol Hill hearing is open (which is rare for the intelligence committee).
So far, the select intelligence committee chairman, Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., has already delivered a series of mini-panegyrics to the NSA's PRISM and phone metadata hoarding programs, and to Alexander himself.
Via the Guardian:
Rogers talks about how frustrating it is to see intelligence programs mis-characterized, without being able to issue public corrections because the details of the programs are classified.
He repeatedly refers to the leaks that exposed the surveillance programs as "criminal" and "illegal."
Rogers invites Alexander to provide "more examples of how these authorities have helped prevent terrorist plots and connections."
If the NSA surveillance programs are disabled, Rogers says, I "fear we will return to the position where we were prior to the attacks of September 2001."
Alexander himself testified that the sweeping surveillance programs have foiled some 50 terrorist plots worldwide. The AP noted how the House panel supported Alexander's comments, grounding the defense of the NSA dragnets -- as ever -- in the "war on terror." Notably, Rogers commented that “It is at times like these where our enemies within become almost as damaging as our enemies on the outside.” Via the AP:
Alexander got no disagreement from the leaders of the panel, who have been outspoken in backing the programs since Edward Snowden, a 29-year-old former contractor with Booz Allen Hamilton, disclosed information to The Washington Post and the Guardian newspapers.
Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., chairman of the committee, and Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger of Maryland, the panel’s top Democrat, said the programs were vital to the intelligence community and assailed Snowden’s actions as criminal.
The hearing has repeatedly noted that no records were hoarded by NSA programs relating to a U.S. citizen without court approval -- that is, approval by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which approved all but one of the 1,856 surveillance requests it received in 2012 and tends to have a 100 percent approval record. Furthermore, Snowden himself has contradicted government assurances and stated that analysts at the NSA can gain access to the content of U.S. targets' phone calls and email messages even without (the rubber stamp) court orders.