NSA’s Alexander Says Secret Programs Stopped Terror Plots

Two secret U.S. programs used to track telephone calls and monitor Internet use, which were exposed by Edward Snowden, helped stop terror plots around the world, the head of the National Security Agency said.

The agency provided Congress with “54 cases in which these programs helped disrupt terror plots in the U.S. and throughout the world,” Army General Keith Alexander said today at a conference in Baltimore. Action to stop potential attacks involved other U.S. agencies, such as the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Pentagon and the Department of Homeland Security, he said.

Defending the surveillance programs that Snowden revealed to newspapers, Alexander provided a regional breakdown, saying 25 terrorist plans had been disrupted in Europe, 11 in Asia and five in Africa.

Forty-two instances involved what Alexander called “disruptive plots,” and 12 were related to supporting terrorism. Arrests were made in 50 cases, Alexander said.

Snowden, 30, a former employee of Booz Allen Hamilton Holding Corp., provided the Guardian and the Washington Post details of U.S. surveillance programs that involved collecting data on calls from U.S. phone companies and monitoring Internet activity involving foreigners believed to be located outside the U.S. and plotting terrorist attacks.

Snowden, who fled the U.S. to Hong Kong on May 20, is at a Moscow airport, according to Russian officials, and has been seeking asylum in Ecuador or another country.

In 12 of 54 cases Alexander cited, he said the collection of phone data aided the FBI. In 53 of 54 cases, collecting Internet data provided “the initial tip,” he said.

Alexander spoke at a conference organized by AFCEA International, a Fairfax, Virginia-based trade group whose members include information technology companies and government contractors.

The leaks have damaged the ability to collect information on terror groups, Alexander said, without providing details.

“Every time a capability is revealed we lose our ability to track targets,” he said.