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US Spy Agency Chief: 'Great Concerns' About Leaker's Security Access

by VOA News June 12, 2013

The head of a secretive U.S. spy agency says he has 'great concerns' about how a contractor with limited education and work experience was cleared to access key details about the government's surveillance program and then leak the information to two newspapers.

National Security Agency director General Keith Alexander testified before a congressional panel Wednesday. He said his agency is investigating how Edward Snowden was approved for clearances that allowed him to look at information about the NSA monitoring of telephone calls and messages sent through the Internet, despite having dropped out of college and worked in several junior-level jobs.

'I have great concerns over that, the access that he had, the process that we did. Those are things that I have to look into and fix,' he said.

But Alexander defended his agency's surveillance program, saying it has disrupted 'dozens of terrorist events' in the U.S. and in other countries over the last several years.

Alexander's testimony came after the 29-year-old Snowden, staying at an undisclosed location in Hong Kong, told the South China Morning Post that he plans to stay in the Chinese territory and fight any U.S. effort to extradite him to face possible criminal charges.

He told the newspaper that his intention 'is to ask the courts and people of Hong Kong to decide my fate.'

Hong Kong has an extradition treaty with the U.S. and has turned over some fugitives to the American government in recent years. But China retains the authority to block extraditions from the territory if it considers the allegations against suspects to be political.

Snowden said people who think he made a mistake in traveling to Hong Kong before identifying himself as the source of the leaks misunderstand his intentions. He told the newspaper, 'I am not here to hide from justice; I am here to reveal criminality.'

With his revelation of the secret monitoring, a lively debate is under way in the U.S. about how Snowden should be viewed.

He told the newspaper, 'I'm neither traitor nor hero. I'm an American.'

The U.S. government has acknowledged that in its fight against terrorism the NSA has collected vast information about telephone calls, but says it has not listened to conversations. It also says it has monitored foreign use of the Internet through networks owned by major U.S. Internet companies.

Three of the world's biggest technology companies, U.S.-based Google, Facebook and Microsoft, are asking the Obama administration to let them reveal details of federal court orders to turn over information about their users to U.S. spy agencies. The companies say they want everything transparent and out in the open.

Snowden, a former NSA contractor, revealed details about the Internet and telephone surveillance to The Guardian newspaper in Britain and The Washington Post.

He says it is important to reveal what he says is the government's massive surveillance program on private citizens. The Justice Department is considering criminal charges against Snowden.

The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging whether the NSA spy program is constitutional. The ACLU argues that the spying violates the rights to free speech and privacy. An ACLU attorney says the U.S. Constitution does not let the government carry out unsuspected surveillance of every person in the country.

Some information for this report was provided by AP.

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