The U.S. government is not storing the content of Americans’ phone, email or text message communications, NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander told members of Congress during a Capitol Hill hearing Tuesday.
Alexander and other senior officials of the U.S. intelligence community delved into tremendous detail about the oversight processes of the surveillance programs currently under fire.
When asked by Minnesota Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann about government databases emails, text messages, video data with location information tracking Americans and recorded phone calls, the witnesses denied either knowledge of a database or that NSA maintained one.
“We’re not allowed to do that, nor do we do that, unless we have a court order to do that. And it would be only in specific cases and almost always that would be an FBI lead, not ours,” said Alexander, regarding recordings of Americans phone calls.
He also denied that the U.S. government maintains a database of all of the emails and text messages ever sent by Americans.
Deputy NSA Director John Inglis also told Bachmann that in his time at NSA, the agency has not used its surveillance powers to target the political enemies of either Republican or Democratic administrations.
Alexander told members that over 50 terrorist plots have been foiled due to the agency’s programs. That information would be provided in a classified setting for members of the committee to look over.
Also, data collected through the NSA’s surveillance programs must be destroyed within five years of its acquisition, and queries made by the agency’s analysts are 100 percent auditable.
The allegations made by Edward Snowden, a former CIA technician and former NSA defense contractor, implied that NSA analysts could — with no oversight — unilaterally target whomever they wished.
Alexander countered Snowden’s allegations, stating that while mistakes do occasionally happen, the NSA has not seen its analysts “willfully do something wrong.”
Correction: The story initially misidentified the deputy NSA director as Chris Inglis. His name is John Inglis.