(CBS News) Revelations that the federal government's secret surveillance efforts involve collecting massive amounts of phone records and monitoring Internet use has many questioning use of these kinds of methods and their reach.
But James Clapper, director of national intelligence, hasthe work is legal, and the data sifting is generally focused on foreign nationals. "Information collected under this program is among the most important and valuable foreign intelligence information we collect, and is used to protect our nation from a wide variety of threats," he said.
CBS News senior correspondent John Miller, a former deputy director of national intelligence, echoed that feeling on "CBS This Morning," saying this doesn't affect the average American that much. He explained, "This is the spying business. These are spy agencies. That's what they do for a living. They spy. But by U.S. law, they can only spy on foreigners outside the United States.
"Now, if you're going to investigate, which is different, that's different. That's what you do with Americans -- that requires all the same hoops, you have to get a court order and so on."
But how do you know if you're looking at an American when you're going through all of this information? Miller said, "They have built-in algorithms and a lot of cautions there and when they think somebody's an American, they have to look at that and say, 'Well, send this to the lawyers, is this a U.S. person, is this a foreign person,' and so on. So there's a lot of angst every day about how this is done to make sure they're not going through your stuff or my stuff and if they have a reason to, then they bring it to the FBI and say, 'You've have to investigate this,' and they jump through all the normal hoops."
Some in Congress are calling for more information about how these methods have actually stopped a terrorist attack, but Miller offered one known case in which these kinds of methods were employed.
"Najibullah Zazi is a classic example. ... So on September 6, 2009, around dawn, an e-mail comes from an IP address to another IP address. One of them is nothing we're paying attention to. The other is one that's been flagged as an al Qaeda mail drop that is rarely used. And so when that bell rings, they say, 'Hey, they hardly ever use this account, but it's associated with Rashid Rauf, who is al Qaeda's master bomb maker, behind the plot to blow up all the airplanes, 'Who's he talking to?' And when they find out the other IP address on the other end is connected to Aurora, Colo., outside Denver, the connection to Zazi, it takes them to the plot to blow up the New York subways, it's all prevented. That's how a program like this is supposed to work."
Concerns about privacy with these kinds of programs, Miller contends, are unfounded because there are protections in place for Americans. "There is law upon law and rule upon rule and lawyer upon lawyer built into these programs to protect Americans from this kind of surveillance, and I think that is the point the (Director of National Intelligence) is trying to make. Secondly, every time we try to reveal how one of these programs work, the terrorists, the adversaries, the spies, they all change their behavior when they learn that and it makes it harder to collect."