Twelve years later, the intelligence community is doing exactly what the American people asked for. The counterterrorism programs revealed last week have helped to thwart dozens of terrorist attacks. In one case, these programs identified a connection between al Qaeda terrorists in Pakistan and Najibullah Zazi, an al Qaeda operative in Colorado. This enabled the FBI to stop Zazi and his associates from detonating explosives in the New York City subway system.
These programs represent some of the most effective means available to protect the country from terrorist organizations like al Qaeda. Leaking this information only degrades our ability to prevent attacks. It compromises our sources and gives terrorists critical information on how we monitor their activities.
When I asked NSA Director Gen. Keith B. Alexander about the consequences of Mr. Snowden's leaks during a recent Senate hearing, he replied: "If we tell terrorists every way we track them, they will get through, and people will die." Mr. Snowden apparently did not share that concern or did not care.
Mr. Snowden was wrong about key details of these programs, and the press, blogs and members of Congress from both parties have echoed his distortions. For the record: The government is not and cannot indiscriminately listen in on Americans' phone calls or target their emails. It is not collecting the content of conversations or even their location under these programs. For instance, the only telephone data collected is the time of the call, the phone numbers involved and the length of the call. That is how we connect the dots and identify links between international terrorists and their collaborators within the United States. All of this is done under the supervision of the nation's top federal judges, senior officials across several different federal agencies and Congress.
These programs are legal, constitutional and used only under the strict oversight of all three branches of the government, including a highly scrutinized judicial process. Furthermore, members of both political parties review, audit and authorize all activities under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. As a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, I can attest that few issues garner more of our attention than the oversight of these programs.