Edward Snowden has "caused irreversible and significant damage to our country and to our allies" by leaking confidential information about the National Security Agency's surveillance methods, according to NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander.
Alexander, appearing on ABC's "This Week With George Stephanopoulos" Sunday, said Snowden, who fled Hong Kong on Sunday, is "clearly an individual who's betrayed the trust and confidence we had in him. This is an individual who is not acting, in my opinion, with noble intent."
The NSA's programs to gather data from Internet and cell phones has helped "connect the dots" and protect the United States from terror attacks, Alexander said.
"The intel community failed to connect the dots in 9/11," Alexander said. "Much of what we've done since then was to give us the capabilities."
Stephanopoulos asked Alexander if there were any protection from further leaks, considering 3.5 million private contractors have a top-secret classification and another million have government clearances.
The general responded that Snowden was a person with top-secret clearance who "betrayed that confidence" and stole secrets, but the NSA is putting actions in place that allow it to track contractors, and also enacting a two-man rule so no one person works alone.
"But at the end of the day, we have to trust that our people are going to do the right thing," said Alexander. "When they betray that trust, then we have to push it over to the Department of Justice and others for the appropriate action."
Meanwhile, he said, NSA officials are particular over names from the database they pick for further surveillance.
Investigators pulled fewer than 300 numbers to further look at last year, he said, with two-thirds of those numbers being from foreign countries and one-third in the United States.
And out of the 50 global terror plots that were stopped by the surveillance, more than 10 were in the United States, said Alexander.
"These two capabilities helped us form the dots," said Alexander of the cell phone and Internet tracking. "We have not, in a single case, had a place where a government official engaged in a willful effort to circumvent or violate the law."
Further, the program is not permitted to target the content of an American's communications without probable cause and a court order.
"So if we're targeting outside the U.S. a terrorist, and they happen to talk to a U.S. person inside the United States, yes, we would follow that law," he said.
In addition, the NSA's actions are closely guarded by oversight from all three parts of the government, he said.
"From my perspective, our most important job is defending this nation.… When you look at, on balance, over 50 cases that we've help disrupt terrorist plots and contributed information to those, zero times have we come up with a place where we have failed the public's confidence or Congress' confidence," said Alexander.
The general also addressed the issue of cyber threats, which James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, said is the top national security threat.
One of the documents leaked by Snowden says Alexander, as the head of the U.S. cyber command, has the power to launch an act of cyber warfare against the United States.
Alexander said that while he can order offensive measures to keep enemies out of the United States' systems, he would need permission from the secretary of state and the president to launch cyber-attacks against other countries.
"There are things that we can do to stop packets in flight," said Alexander.
"If somebody comes in and attacks the country, what we would do is immediately stand up a set of communications with the secretary, the president and the policymakers," said Alexander. That would give the president several options, including diplomacy, military, or "they may just call the offending country or actors and say stop."
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