"If the program were in place before 9/11, I believe it would have prevented 9/11," Mike Morell said earlier today on the CBS television program `Face the Nation.' "And by the program, I mean two things. I mean, NSA's ability to query the database, which would have allowed NSA to find one of the 9/11 hijackers in California, and the part of the program where NSA shares such information with the F.B.I. If both of those pieces had been in place, 9/11 would have been prevented by this program."
The wide-ranging extent of the NSA's surveillance apparatus has outraged privacy advocates who have expressed alarm at the government's ability to secretly vacuum up volumes of data without oversight. Responding to the controversy, President Obama on Friday announced that court approval will henceforward be needed before the NSA can access data on calls placed and received. He also said that the spy agency's database ought to be held by a still-to-be-determined third party.
Morell, who was part of an advisory panel investigating the NSA surveillance program that made recently made 46 recommendations to the White House, allowed that there were privacy abuses connected with the NSA program, but played down their severity.
"There have been a handful of cases, literally, a handful where NSA employees have looked into the database inappropriately, looked at boyfriends or girlfriends and every one of those cases, they were dealt with appropriately and I believe, actually, some of them may have been fired. But that's the limited abuse that has taken place. There has been no systematic abuse, there has been no political abuse, it has been minor, very minor."