James Clapper, the U.S. director of national intelligence, defended government surveillance efforts as essential to thwarting terrorist attacks, responding to media reports on operations that gather telephone and Internet data.
In a statement last night, Clapper said that data collected are subject to court restrictions and that the program to tap the servers of Internet companies “cannot be used to intentionally target any U.S. citizen” or anyone located within the U.S. He criticized the release of previously classified information.
“The unauthorized disclosure of information about this important and entirely legal program is reprehensible and risks important protections for the security of Americans,” Clapper said of the report on Internet data. He said that stories in the Washington Post and the Guardian newspapers about the telephone and Internet surveillance programs contained errors and left out important information.
The Post and the Guardian reported earlier yesterday that the National Security Agency and Federal Bureau of Investigation were accessing the central servers of nine U.S. Internet companies, extracting audio and video chats, photographs, e-mails, documents and connection logs. The newspapers cited documents they obtained on the programs.
The day before, the Guardian reported that the NSA was culling millions of telephone records from Verizon Communications Inc. under a clandestine court order. The disclosure of the Verizon and Internet data collection stirred protests from privacy-rights advocates and renewed questions about the regard President Barack Obama’s administration has for civil liberties.