Alexander and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testified at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on proposed reforms to the NSA's surveillance of phone and internet usage around the world, exposed in June by former NSA analyst Edward Snowden. But neither spy chief spent much time discussing proposed reforms; instead they were questioned about new potential abuses that have come to light since then.
Alexander denied a New York Times report published Saturday that said NSA searched social networks of Americans searching for foreign terror connections, and detailed 12 previously revealed cases of abuse by NSA employees who used the network for unsanctioned missions like spying on a spouse. He said all employees were caught and most were disciplined.
Alexander and Clapper also told lawmakers that the government shutdown that began Tuesday over a budget impasse is seriously damaging the intelligence community's ability to guard against threats. They said they're keeping counterterrorism staff at work as well as those providing intelligence to troops in Afghanistan, but that some 70 percent of the civilian workforce has been furloughed. Any details on the jobs held by the furloughed employees is classified.
Congress is mulling changes to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act that some believe allows the NSA too much freedom in gathering U.S. data as part of spying on targets overseas.
Alexander told the committee that his agency once tested, in 2010 and 2011, whether it could track Americans' cellphone locations, but he says the NSA does not use that capability, leaving that to the FBI to build a criminal or foreign intelligence case against a suspect and track him.
"This may be something that is a future requirement for the country but it is not right now because when we identify a number, we give it to the FBI," Alexander said. "When they get their probable cause, they can get the locational data."
He said if the NSA thought it needed to track someone that way, it would go back to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court — the secret court that authorizes its spying missions — for approval. He added that his agency reported the tests to both House and Senate intelligence committees, and that the data was never used for intelligence analysis.
Only last week, Alexander refused to answer questions from Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., about whether his agency had ever collected or planned to collect such "cell-site" data, as it is called, saying it was classified, but the general said the NSA released the information in letters to the House and Senate Intelligence Committees ahead of the Judiciary Committee meeting Wednesday.
Wyden was not satisfied with Alexander's answer.
"After years of stonewalling on whether the government has ever tracked or planned to track the location of law abiding Americans through their cellphones, once again, the intelligence leadership has decided to leave most of the real story secret — even when the truth would not compromise national security," he said.
Alexander acknowledged his agency collects data from social networks and other commercial databases to hunt foreign terror suspects but is not using the information to build private files on Americans. He said the operations are only used in pursuing foreign agents and sweeping up information on Americans if they are connected to those suspects by phone calls or other data.
Alexander said that not all social network searches are authorized by the secret FISA court, but he added the agency's searches are proper and audited internally. The authority flows from a presidential executive order on national security dating back to the Reagan administration in 1981, he said, adding: "It allows us to understand what the foreign nexus is."
Alexander called a recent New York Times report on the searches "inaccurate and wrong." The Times 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 included Facebook posts and banking, flight, GPS location and voting records.
Alexander denied the NSA was building "dossiers," or personal files on Americans, even though the Times story never specifically suggested that was being done.
He said collecting such private metadata is "the most important way" to track a potential terrorist once they have been identified. He also said Americans are only directly targeted by such searches when they are under investigation for possible terror ties or they are the targets of terror activities. He added that suspected terrorists operating inside the U.S. could also be targeted under those private data searches.
As for the incidents when NSA analysts did abuse their spying powers, Alexander told senators none of them involved the programs that collect American telephone records or email data.
"Nine of those were abroad," he said. "Three were (in the U.S.) but involved persons abroad on two of those. And one was on a spouse or girlfriend."
The NSA's inspector general detailed the violation in a letter to Congress that was released last week. Several cases clearly showed government officials using the surveillance system to probe for information about spouses or partners. In one case, an internal investigation found that the official had made internal surveillance queries on the phones of nine foreign women, including his girlfriend, without authorization and had at times listened in on some phone conversations. The same official also collected data on a U.S. person's phone.
Alexander said all had been disciplined, and had retired, resigned or been reprimanded, except for one where there wasn't enough evidence to prove wrongdoing.
Both Alexander and Clapper spoke of reduced capability of their workforce during the government shutdown. Clapper said 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 danger here... will accumulate over time. The damage will be insidious," Clapper said. Clapper even raised the specter of treason, saying financial stress could make his intelligence officers vulnerable to being bought off by foreign spies.
The federal government effectively shut down as of midnight Tuesday because of a standoff over the federal budget.
___ Follow Kimberly Dozier on Twitter at http://twitter.com/kimberlydozier
That was putting pressure on the federal government and the states that are running their own insurance exchanges to fix the problems amid strong demand for the private insurance plans.
"I think I'm through with Hawaii Health Connector," said Richard Gamberg, 61, of Honolulu, after tweeting messages to officials and complaining to state lawmakers on Wednesday. "They've got ads in the newspaper, they've got ads on the TV — it just flabbergasts me."
He was among the would-be customers in Hawaii who were still unable to buy insurance policies online Wednesday, forcing them to turn directly to insurance companies to examine their options. In Oregon, officials said a faulty online calculator would not be fixed until late October.
The delays that continued Wednesday offered one good sign for President Barack Obama and supporters of his signature domestic policy achievement, demonstrating what appeared to be exceptionally high interest in the new system. But the problems also could dampen enthusiasm for the law as Republicans use it as a rallying cry to keep most of the federal government closed.
"It's day two of health care reform, and we have yet to have someone successfully register on the marketplace," said Matt Hadzick, manager of a Highmark retail insurance store in Allentown, Pa., where people could go to register for the online insurance marketplace. "The registration process is very slow, and at one point it just shuts down."
The sweeping changes under the Affordable Care Act include federal subsidies to make insurance more affordable for low-income consumers and preventing health insurance companies from denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions. That will open the door for coverage to many people who have been locked out of the insurance market.
In California, home to 15 percent of the nation's uninsured, officials took down the enrollment portion of the Covered California website for emergency upgrades. It was restored at mid-morning Wednesday, and 7,770 people had started applications by then, spokesman Roy Kennedy said.
California is one of a handful of mostly Democratic states that opted to set up their own exchanges rather than let the federal government do it for them. In the 36 states being operated by the federal Department of Health and Human Services, consumer patience was being tested.
Agency spokeswoman Joanne Peters said many Americans successfully enrolled on the first day, but she declined to put a number on it. She said the delays were due to "overwhelming interest" and high volume.
The delays come three months after the congressional Government Accountability Office said a smooth and timely rollout could not be guaranteed because the online system was not fully completed or tested.
The bumpy debut has the hallmarks of a technology project that may have rushed to meet the Oct. 1 deadline, said Bill Curtis, chief scientist at CAST, a software quality analysis firm, and director of the Consortium for IT Software Quality, which develops standards.
"It almost reminded me of going online and trying to buy Springsteen tickets," said Sharon Schorr of suburban Cleveland, a self-employed accountant who finally gave up after eight hours of trying to use the exchange's website.
With websites crashing, those who have been trained to explain the benefits under the federal law were trying to reach out to those who could be helped by the exchanges, handing out information at public transit hubs and holding town hall meetings in smaller communities.
Without online access, however, they could not actually guide people through the enrollment process.
"I've been unable to get in, and if I could have that would be great," said Donene Feist, an outreach worker who also is executive director of Family Voices of North Dakota, a nonprofit advocacy group. "For those who got in, they said it was easy to follow."
The Obama administration hopes to sign up 7 million people in the first year, and eventually cover at least half of the nearly 50 million uninsured Americans through government-subsidized plans and a Medicaid expansion.
Many states expect people to sign up closer to the Dec. 15 deadline to enroll for coverage starting Jan. 1. Customers have until the end of March to sign up to avoid tax penalties.
___ Alonso-Zaldivar reported from Washington, D.C.
___ Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Jeff Barnard in Grants Pass, Ore., Oskar Garcia in Honolulu; James MacPherson in Bismarck, N.D.; Laura Olson in Sacramento; Michael Rubinkam in Allentown, Pa.; and John Seewer in Toledo, Ohio.
ST. LOUIS (AP) -- The Pittsburgh Pirates are riding high after their first postseason victory in 21 years. They're confident they can beat anybody, anywhere.
A few hours after defeating Cincinnati in the NL wild-card game Tuesday night, the Pirates touched down in St. Louis. They're about to face another familiar foe in an unfamiliar month when they take on the NL Central champion Cardinals in a best-of-five division series.
"We know them, they know us," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "There won't be any ball tricks, I hope. No Statue of Liberty plays."
A.J. Burnett, set to start the series opener Thursday, was a part of three New York Yankees teams that made it to October. He said Wednesday there's a sense of euphoria with this experience that was lacking before.
"I guess the main thing is, over in New York, it's expected every year, you know?" Burnett said. "You tend to get in there a couple of weeks before the season ends. And this one was more of a `Shock the world, we're going to do it, we made it!'"
The Pirates won the season series 10-9, but the Cardinals overtook them for the division lead with a four-game sweep at home in early September. St. Louis also has quite an advantage in postseason experience, with several holdovers from the 2011 World Series championship team and from last year, too, when St. Louis fell one win shy of a second straight pennant.
The Cardinals earned some time off after winning six in a row to end the season. They won their first NL Central crown since 2009 and secured home-field advantage throughout the NL playoffs.
Their .330 average with runners in scoring position was the majors' best dating to 1974, when the statistic was first used. So far, they've done fine without injured Allen Craig, who missed almost all of September and isn't expected back from a left mid-foot sprain until at least the NL championship series.
"We played really well most of the year minus a couple of dips here and there that every team has," said Matt Holliday, who batted .378 over the final month to finish at .300. "I'd say, just try to roll that momentum into the postseason."
Adam Wainwright has to like this matchup, too. St. Louis' ace will pitch the opener and would also be available on full rest for a possible deciding Game 5. He went 1-0 with a 3.00 ERA in three starts against Pittsburgh this season.
Wainwright (19-9, 2.94 ERA) got rocked for 15 runs over eight innings in consecutive starts against the Reds. One of them he labeled, "the worst start of my career," before rebounding in the win that put the Cardinals in first place to stay. He was 4-0 in his final five starts, working seven or more innings in all of them except for a tuneup his last time out.
"Well, aside from Clayton Kershaw this year, I'd argue that you could look at any single pitcher in the history of the game and they're going to have a bad game or two in the course of 35 starts," Wainwright said.
"I didn't need to do anything different. I just had a bad day."
Cardinals manager Mike Matheny described Wainwright, the third pitcher in franchise history to lead the league in wins twice, as a "fierce competitor."
"All in all, a Cy Young-caliber season," Matheny said. "We're not afraid to put him on the mound against anybody."
Burnett (10-11, 3.30 ERA) is 3-1 with a 3.67 ERA in his career against the Cardinals, but the last time he faced them he gave up five runs in three innings - his shortest outing of the year. In two appearances at Busch Stadium, he allowed 12 runs in 13 1-3 innings.
"It's just execution, that's all it is," Burnett said. "It's a great lineup over there. You can't make too many mistakes because they'll capitalize on them.
"The good ones I have limited those and the ones that got me, I haven't been able to execute."
The Cardinals haven't announced a starter after Lance Lynn, who will face rookie Gerrit Cole in Game 2 on Friday. Matheny has three strong candidates in Joe Kelly and rookies Shelby Miller and Michael Wacha. The manager said Miller and Wacha would be available in the bullpen for Game 1.
Miller led all rookies with 15 wins this year, Wacha was one out shy of a no-hitter in his final regular-season start and Kelly was 10-5 with a 2.69 ERA.
Hurdle said Francisco Liriano, the winner in the wild-card game, will start Game 3 on Sunday in Pittsburgh.