White House defends NSA program as critical tool in terror war

The White House on Thursday defended the mass collection of American citizens' phone records as an important tool in the war against terrorism.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the National Security Agency program was carefully vetted by all three branches of government to ensure it complies with the Constitution.

“This strict regime reflects the president’s desire to strike the right balance between protecting our national security and protecting constitutional rights and civil liberties,” Earnest said.

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The White House spokesman was mum on whether the NSA sought data from Verizon customers in relation to a specific incident or investigation, saying that material was classified. But he did confirm that the “authorities that are referenced by this reported order are something that have been in place for a number of years now.”

Earnest also stressed that the surveillance did not mean the government could listen into calls, saying it only included so-called metadata-like telephone numbers and call times.

Other lawmakers and officials argued Thursday the records analysis was critical in protecting national security. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) said Thursday that the program had helped prevent a domestic terror plot.

“Within the last few years, this program was used to stop a terrorist attack in the United States,” Rogers said, according to The Washington Post. “We know that. It’s important. It fills in a little seam that we have, and it’s used to make sure that there’s not an international nexus to any terrorism event that they may believe is ongoing in the United States.”