NSA Chief on Spying: There’s No Other Way

The NSA chief said Wednesday he knows of no better way his agency can help protect the U.S. from foreign threats than with spy programs that collect billions of phone and Internet records from around the world.

Pleading with the Senate Judiciary Committee to not abolish the National Security Agency's bulk-collection programs, Gen. Keith Alexander warned that global threats are growing -- specifically in Iraq and Syria -- that pose what he called "an unacceptable risk" to America.

"How do we connect the dots?" Alexander said, referring to often-hidden links between a foreign terror threat and a potential attack on the U.S. "There is no other way that we know of to connect the dots. ... Taking these programs off the table is absolutely not the thing to do."

The committee's chairman, Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Democrat, said it was troubling that the government was sweeping up millions, if not billions, of Americans' records. He has proposed legislation to prohibit the NSA from the bulk collection of U.S. phone records, and said Wednesday that he was concerned that Americans' Internet records also were vacuumed up before the program ended in 2011. That program now focuses only on people who live outside the United States -- which could include Americans living abroad.

Alexander acknowledged the privacy concerns that have dogged the NSA since leaker Edward Snowden revealed the programs in June. And he said the NSA was open to talking to technology companies for a better solution without compromising security.

"It's like holding onto a hornet's nest," Alexander said. "We're getting stung."

But, "If we let this down I think we will have let the nation down," he said.

Leahy's proposal has broad bipartisan support, especially in the House, where it is being pushed by Rep. James Sensenbrenner, a Republican, who was the chief congressional...

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