Former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff is voicing his support for the NSA's surveillance programs, saying they could have helped officials identify at least 15 of the 19 al-Qaida operatives responsible for the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Chertoff told Fox News Wednesday that if the programs had been in place 12 years ago, by tracking phone and travel records, perhaps that tragic day would have been very different.
"It showed you the power of this kind of information in preventing these plots," Chertoff said. "Unless you want to play games with the American people, make it as much of a cliffhanger as possible, you never want to sacrifice a program that is proved to give valuable intelligence information."
Questions about the value of the NSA's phone and Internet data collection and monitoring programs have been raised in Congress in the aftermath of Edward Snowden's leaks about them to Britain's Guardian newspaper.
Chertoff said not only does Snowden's leak expose American secrets to terrorists, but it also "undermines confidence on the part of our allies about our ability to keep important matters secret, and that also hurts our cooperation globally."
NSA Director Keith Alexander testified in Congress this week that the agency's surveillance programs have thwarted 50 terror plots since their inception under former President George W. Bush. President Barack Obama also assured Americans this week that the government isn't listening in on their phone calls.
Chertoff pointed out that the programs are "all part of a mosaic" of intelligence gathering that must be coordinated in order to work well. But he acknowledged that the Boston Marathon bombings showed the shortcomings of the program because it contains limitations aimed at protecting the privacy of American citizens.
Since one of the Tsarnaev brothers accused in the attacks was a citizen and the other a legal permanent resident, they were part of a category of people who couldn't be monitored constantly unless there was sufficient evidence to indicate that they were planning something.
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