Did Gen. Keith B. Alexander, director of the National Security Agency and commander of the U.S. Cyber Command, mislead Congress last year when he claimed the NSA does not intercept Americans’ phone calls or online information?
In March 2012, Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga, questioned Alexander in response to a Wired.com article that month quoting several ex-NSA staffers describing phone and data surveillance of Americans.
Following is a transcript of the relevant parts of the exchange, which took place during a budget hearing of the Emerging Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee of the Armed Services Committee:
JOHNSON: Does the NSA routinely intercept American citizens’ emails?
JOHNSON: Does the NSA intercept Americans’ cell phone conversations?
JOHNSON: Google searches?
JOHNSON: Text messages?
JOHNSON: Amazon.com orders?
JOHNSON: Bank records?
JOHNSON: What judicial consent is required for NSA to intercept communications and information involving American citizens?
ALEXANDER: Within the United States, that would be the FBI lead. If it were a foreign actor in the United States, the FBI would still have to lead. It could work that with NSA or other intelligence agencies as authorized. But to conduct that kind of collection in the United States it would have to go through a court order, and the court would have to authorize it. We’re not authorized to do it, nor do we do it.
While Johnson did not specify what he meant by the word “intercept” in relation to phone conversations, Alexander may have some explaining to do following the London Guardian’s story last week exposing the NSA’s collection of the telephone records of millions of U.S. Verizon customers.
A secret court order obtained by the Guardian requires Verizon on an “ongoing, daily basis” to give the NSA information related to every phone call in its systems, both domestic and international.
Alexander’s denial of his agency’s collection of Internet records, such as those from Amazon and Google, may be in question following the Washington Post report that the newspaper obtained a top-secret document on a government program in which the NSA and FBI are “tapping directly into the central servers of nine leading U.S. Internet companies, extracting audio and video chats, photographs, e-mails, documents, and connection logs that enable analysts to track foreign targets.”
The Guardian, which also obtained a top-secret document, reported the NSA was granted direct access to the systems of Google, Facebook, Apple and other U.S. Internet giants under the PRISM program, allowing it to collect material including search history, the content of emails, file transfers and live chats.
The newspaper disclosures may also contradict Alexander’s blanket denial of intercepting communications and information involving American citizens.
“We’re not authorized to do it, nor do we do it,” Alexander told Johnson.
Alexander is not the only intelligence chief under fire for possibly misleading lawmakers on NSA snooping.
As WND was first to report, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper may have mislead lawmakers when he told a Senate committee hearing three months ago the National Security Agency does not “wittingly” collect data on millions of Americans.
With additional research by Joshua Klein.