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National Security Adviser Susan E. Rice, then the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said in September 2012 that the attack on a U.S. diplomatic post in Libya had grown spontaneously out of a demonstration against a U.S.-made anti-Islam video, despite intelligence reports that the attackers were heavily armed terrorists. That line was repeated by other administration officials.

⦁ Mr. Clapper told Congress under oath this year that U.S. intelligence agencies did not collect any kind of data about millions of Americans, before Mr. Snowden’s stolen documents revealed the metadata program.

⦁ In rulings declassified by the administration last month, the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court chastised the NSA for repeatedly, if inadvertently, misrepresenting how it was following court-imposed restrictions on the use of the metadata in 2009.

⦁ The Washington Times reported last month that during his 2012 re-election campaign, President Obama was being briefed that al Qaeda had metastasized, while he was telling voters it had been decimated.

The news was revealed on the day the administration filed court papers opposing a request from communications providers that they be allowed to tell the public how many and what types of government orders they received.

The authority used by the NSA to compel phone companies to hand over domestic phone metadata, conferred by Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act, also gags the companies from even disclosing that they have received an order, and the Justice Department filing Wednesday cast into sharp relief officials’ claims at the hearing that the administration was aiming to be as transparent as possible.

Gen. Alexander told the hearing that his agency was “already, I think, in agreement on releasing the total number of orders or other [legal] process issued under various NSA security authorities … and the total number of targets affected by those orders.”

But in its court filing Wednesday, the Justice Department argued that allowing the companies to release detailed information about the secret orders “would be invaluable to our adversaries.”

The tension between Gen. Alexander’s statements at the hearing and the Justice Department’s court filing the same day highlights the steep hill the general and his colleagues have to climb to persuade many lawmakers to preserve the domestic phone records mass-collection program.

The “lack of information” about the scale of the program “frankly, scares people and causes distrust. It makes them distrust our government,” said Sen. Al Franken, Minnesota Democrat.

A number of senators made it clear at the hearing that they supported the domestic data gathering.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, baldly stated that the metadata program would have thwarted the Sept. 11 plot because at least one of the 19 hijackers was in telephone contact with a known terrorist facility in the Middle East.

The program is designed so that U.S. calls to or from foreign numbers associated with terrorist suspects can be found after the fact — and their contacts with other U.S. telephone numbers before and since can be logged.

“I am here to tell the American people,” the senator declaimed, that if the metadata program had been in place, “the 19 hijackers who were here in the country, most of them in illegal status, talking to people abroad, we would have known what they were up to.”