The programs have 100% auditability and are overseen by the NSA inspector general as well as the agency's general counsel.
Providers of phone and internet service who turn over records to the NSA do so compelled by court orders. The FISA court that issues these orders has been wrongly accused of being a rubber stamp, he says. "Going by the wire-brushings I've received [from the FISA justices] they are not a rubber stamp," Alexander says. "No one at the NSA ever went outside the boundaries of what we have been given."
Some critics say the NSA could violate the rules. "Well they could but the fact is that they don't," Alexander says. "An audit would find it and they would be accountable."
There are 54 "terrorist-related activities" that have been stopped due to the program, he says, 13 of them in the U.S.
Alexander says the oversight and compliance that the program undergoes has been glossed over in public discussion of the Snowden leaks.
He says the Prism system and FISA court orders came about after U.S. intelligence failed to spot the 911 terrorists beforehand. It failed to connect the dots between suspected terrorists abroad and one who was actually living in the U.S. and training on flight simulators in preparation for the Sept. 11 hijackings.
More than 6,000 NSA personnel have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan to set up intelligence gathering networks, and 20 of them have died doing so, Alexander says.
Alexander was interrupted by an audience member who called out, "Read the Constitution," which drew scattered applause. Alexander's response, "I have. You should, too," drew widespread applause, as did his defense of the domestic spying.
The Snowden leaks have weakened national security by letting adversaries know what tools the U.S. has to fight them. "The damage to our country is significant and irreversible," Alexander says. "Will we have the same success in the next 10 years that we did in the past?" He cited that 42 of 54 cases using Prism blocked terrorist activities. "If they were successfully executed, what would that do to civil liberties?"
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