NSA chief Gen. Keith Alexander offered a forceful defense of the agency's practice of collecting metadata phone records in a speech at a security conference Wednesday, saying the ability to analyze calls from foreigners to Americans is a valuable tool in fighting terrorism, The Washington Post reported.
The NSA collects information on all domestic calls -- the location, duration and numbers but not their content -- and sometimes uses the information in the course of a terrorist investigation. He said the data was used in the wake of the Boston bombing not to identify the suspects but to help rule out fear of a second strike elsewhere, particularly in New York City.
"We did use [Section] 215," after the Boston bombing, he said, referring to the Patriot Act provision NSA officials say gives them the authority to track virtually all calls made in the country. "We used it to support the FBI in their investigation."
Alexander said the phone records were also used in investigating threats against U.S. embassies in Africa and the Mideast over the summer.
The NSA's phone tracking and email hacking has come under intense scrutiny since former security contractor Edward Snowden went public with details of the NSA's domestic spying programs.
Alexander pushed back Wednesday, saying lawmakers who are considering curtailing the NSA's ability are buying into a "hyped" version of events portrayed by the media.