Keith Alexander, Director, NSA (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call/Newscom)

Keith Alexander, Director, NSA (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call/Newscom)

General Keith Alexander, the director of the National Security Agency (NSA), testified in an open hearing before the House Permanent Select Committee for Intelligence on how intelligence collection supports the national effort to fight transnational terrorism.

For the first time, he revealed that more than 50 incidents of potential terrorism were stopped by the set of programs under scrutiny. He emphasized that he was working to declassify these incidents so they could be shared with the American people.

These revelations come as no surprise to us. Heritage research has noted 54 foiled terrorist plots since 9/11. Given that we know of only three that were not stopped by intelligence (the shoe bomber, the underwear bomber, and the Times Square bomber), this means that these NSA programs might well have played a significant role in thwarting dozens of uncovered plots.

Heritage has long held that tools such as the PATRIOT Act and legitimate surveillance programs can be important tools for battling transnational terrorism.

That said, the need for effective counterterrorism operations does not relieve the government of its obligation to follow the law and respect individual privacy and liberty. In the American system, the government needs to do both equally well. Protecting life and limb and protecting our sacred liberties are uncompromisable objectives in today’s world of terrorism and technology.