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NSA chief implores senators not to end spying programs

NSA Director General Keith Alexander used a library card as an example while testifying on spying programs before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday.

Gary Cameron/Reuters

NSA Director General Keith Alexander used a library card as an example while testifying on spying programs before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday.

WASHINGTON — The NSA chief said Wednesday that he knows of no better way his agency can help protect the United States from foreign threats than with spy programs that collect billions of phone and Internet records from around the world.

Pleading with the Senate Judiciary Committee to not abolish the National Security Agency’s bulk-collection programs, General Keith Alexander warned that global threats are growing — specifically in Iraq and Syria — and that they pose what he called ‘‘an unacceptable risk’’ to America.

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‘‘How do we connect the dots?’’ Alexander said, referring to often-hidden links between a foreign terror threat and a potential attack. ‘‘There is no other way that we know of to connect the dots. . . . Taking these programs off the table is absolutely not the thing to do.’’

The committee’s chairman, Senator Patrick Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, said it was troubling that the government was sweeping up millions, if not billions, of Americans’ records. He has proposed legislation to prohibit the NSA from the bulk collection of US phone records, and said Wednesday he was concerned that Americans’ Internet records also were vacuumed up before the program ended in 2011.

That program now focuses only on people who live outside the United States — which could include Americans living abroad.

Alexander acknowledged the privacy concerns that have dogged the NSA since Edward Snowden leaked the existence of the programs in June. And he said the NSA was open to talking to technology companies for a better solution without compromising security.

Leahy’s proposal has broad bipartisan support, especially in the House, where it is being pushed by Representative James Sensenbrenner, Republican of Wisconsin, who was the chief congressional architect of laws that gave the government broad surveillance powers after the 2001 terror attacks.

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But lawmakers who oversee US intelligence agencies have proposed more modest changes that call for greater oversight of the NSA and penalties for people who access classified information without authorization. Their plan has the support of most congressional leaders and Obama administration officials, who resist deep cuts to intelligence agencies.

Boehner denounces bid by groups to defeat budget plan

WASHINGTON — House Speaker John Boehner lashed out Wednesday at conservative groups that are mounting a campaign against a budget agreement.

‘‘They’re using our members, and they’re using the American people for their own goals, this is ridiculous,’’ Boehner said at the Capitol as he backed the deal that would remove the risk of a government shutdown. ‘‘If you’re for more deficit reduction, you’re for this agreement.’’

Boehner had previously been willing to let Republicans follow the lead of such groups, including Heritage Action for America and the Club for Growth, which urge deeper cuts than Democrats and some Republicans endorse.

These groups pushed Republicans to defund the health care law, creating an impasse that helped lead to a government shutdown in October.

The budget plan worked out by a special committee would set US spending at about $1.01 trillion for this fiscal year, higher than the $967 billion required in a 2011 budget plan.

The accord would ease automatic spending cuts known as sequestration by $40 billion in 2014 and $20 billion in 2015. The plan, which raises fees including on air travel, is projected to cut the growth of the federal deficit by $23 billion over 10 years.

Boehner and Republican leaders are establishing a pattern where they push spending cuts into the future, Matt Kibbe, president of Freedomworks, said in a telephone interview.

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