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Senators challenge NSA’s claim to have foiled ‘dozens’ of terror attacks

By Spencer Ackerman

Two prominent Senate critics of the NSA’s dragnet surveillance have challenged the agency’s assertion that the spy efforts helped stop “dozens” of terror attacks.

Mark Udall and Ron Wyden, both members of the Senate intelligence committee, said they were not convinced by the testimony of the NSA director, General Keith Alexander, on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, who claimed that evidence gleaned from surveillance helped thwart attacks in the US.

“We have not yet seen any evidence showing that the NSA’s dragnet collection of Americans’ phone records has produced any uniquely valuable intelligence,” they said in a statement released on Thursday ahead of a widely anticipated briefing for US senators about the National Security Agency’s activities.

“When you’re talking about important liberties that the American people feel strongly about, and you want to have an intelligence program, you’ve got to make a case for why it provides unique value to the [intelligence] community atop what they can already have,” Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, told the Guardian in an interview on Thursday.

Alexander testified before the Senate appropriations committee that maintaining a database of millions of Americans’ phone records was critical to thwarting “dozens” of plots. One of the examples Alexander mentioned, the case of would-be New York subway bomber Najibullah Zazi, appears to have been prevented by conventional police surveillance, including efforts by UK investigators.

“Gen Alexander’s testimony yesterday suggested that the NSA’s bulk phone records collection program helped thwart ‘dozens’ of terrorist attacks, but all of the plots that he mentioned appear to have been identified using other collection methods,” Wyden and Udall said in a statement. “The public deserves a clear explanation.”

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