NSA collects data from social networks, NSA director says

NSA Director Keith Alexander testifies Wednesday.

WASHINGTON (AP) - The director of the National Security Agency says the agency collects data from social networks and other private databases to hunt terror suspects but is not using the information to build dossiers, or personal files, on Americans.

NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander testified during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Wednesday that not all social network searches are authorized by a secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance court, but the agency's actions are proper and audited internally.

Alexander called a recent New York Times report on the searches "inaccurate and wrong." The Times report did not specifically cite dossiers, but said the NSA was exploiting huge collections of personal data to create sophisticated graphs of some Americans' social connections.

The Times said the private data includes bank, flight, GPS location and voting records.

Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper told Congress Wednesday that roughly 70 percent of the civilian workforce - including staff from the CIA, National Security Agency and Defense Intelligence Agency - have been furloughed.

Clapper told the Senate Judiciary Committee that he has tried to keep on enough employees to guard against "imminent threats to life or property," but may have to call more back to work if the shutdown continues.

"The risk is 75 percent more than it was yesterday," Clapper said, when asked to quantify the damage.

"The danger here... will accumulate over time. The damage will be insidious," Clapper said of the information lost because he has fewer staffers to track targets. "So each day that goes by, the jeopardy increases," he said.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, criticized President Barack Obama for what said was an unwillingness to work with Republicans on the budget impasse that caused the shutdown.

"I don't think President Obama should be playing politics with this. He should be stepping forward to address this problem right now....The intelligence community needs to be funded."

The federal government effectively shut down as of midnight Tuesday because of a standoff over the federal budget. House Republicans wouldn't agree to a bill to keep funding the government unless Congress and the administration agreed to stop paying for Obama's health-care overhaul law. The standoff could continue for days.

Clapper even raised the specter of treason, saying financial stress could make his intelligence officers vulnerable to being bought off by foreign spies.

"This is a dreamland for foreign intelligence service to recruit, particularly as our employees already, many of whom subject to furloughs driven by sequestration, are going to have, I believe, even greater financial challenges," Clapper said. Civilian government employees were forced to go on several days of unpaid leave this year because of the automatic budget cuts that went into effect last March.

Alexander told lawmakers that he has kept on employees working on "the most significant counterterrorism and other threats that we see into the support to our military forces in Afghanistan and overseas," but he said the sequester has had a huge impact on morale. While many employees at NSA are fulltime military and therefore exempted from the shutdown, many are civilian analysts.

The total number of employees at such agencies is classified.