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Alexander said strict controls are in place on the database that contains the call data collected under the Patriot Act. Twenty-two people have approval power to mine the database for a specific number. Thirty-five analysts at the NSA are authorized to run queries, he said. In 2012, 300 numbers were approved for queries. The queries resulted in about a dozen reports to the FBI, Alexander said. "The Intent was to find a terrorist actor and identify that to the FBI," he said.
In addition to an Inspector General inspection, the data collection programs face judicial scrutiny and are also regularly reviewed by Congress and the current Administration, Alexander said, calling the data collection programs a model for other nations. A congressional review of its collection programs over a four-year period found no willful or knowledgeable violations of the law, under the program, he said.
"No one at NSA had ever gone outside the boundaries of what we have been given," Alexander said. "If they did, our auditing tools would detect them and they would be held accountable. They know that from the courses they take and the pledge that they have made to this nation."
Alexander said the world has changed, forcing the need for better intelligence gathering capabilities, beginning in 1993 with the World Trade Center bombings, the USS Cole bombing and 9/11, which transformed the nation. "The intelligence community, according to the administration failed to connect the dots," Alexander said, adding that the finding created the need to develop the data collection programs.
The NSA is clashing with members of Congress who have filed the House amendment to reel in the agency's authority to collect and analyze massive amounts of communications data. The amendment, authored by Rep. Justin Amash, a Republican from Michigan, is expected to get a vote this week. If passed, it would be attached to the Pentagon's spending bill and ends authority for "blanket collection" of data under the Patriot Act. It would bar the NSA and other agencies from collecting records on individuals not subject to electronic surveillance under Section 215 of the Patriot Act.