The nation has lost counterterrorism and surveillance capabilities due to the revelations by leaker Edward Snowden, Adm. Michael S. Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency, said Monday at a cybersecurity forum.
“Do I think we have lost capabilities we had prior to the revelations? Yes,” said Adm. Rogers, who added that the disclosures had a “material impact” on U.S. information gathering. He spoke at a forum hosted by think-tank New America.
Mr. Snowden, a former contractor with the NSA, revealed in 2013 that the federal government was collecting bulk data on phone records, including the connections of millions of Americans.
Adm. Rogers said the phone collection was not a “silver bullet,” but one tool that allows counter-terrorism officials to stop attacks.
The phone surveillance was authorized in director response to the 9/11 attacks, he said.
“You have, in at least one instance, phone connectivity between one of the plotters and someone overseas,” Adm Rogers said. “That was the genesis of the idea ‘how do we create a legal framework that will help us access phone network data?’”
The NSA collected phone surveillance within the legal framework provided by Congress, Adm. Rogers said, and will continue to do so if lawmakers makes changes to the regulations.
“Our rights as citizens are fundamental to the very structure of our nation,” he said.
Some of the phone surveillance provisions under the Patriot Act — specifically Section 215 that authorizes the bulk data collection — is set to expire in June. Following large amounts of public pressure, there’s been little appetite in Congress to reauthorize the bill without radical changes.
But Adm. Rogers said that anyone who believes Mr. Snowden’s revelations did no harm “doesn’t know what they’re talking about.”