Clapper: "Not wittingly. There are cases where they could inadvertently perhaps collect but not wittingly."
The nation's top spy later had to apologize in a letter to the Intelligence Committee. He admitted what he said was "erroneous." He told NBC that what he said was the "least untruthful" answer.
4. Alexander: NSA doesn't have capability to 'flip the switch'
In testimony to a House committee on June 18, Gen. Keith Alexander, the head of the NSA, had the following exchange with Rep. Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and a supporter of the data mining programs:
Rep. Mike Rogers: "Does the NSA have the ability to listen to Americans' phone calls or read their e-mails under these two programs?"
Gen. Keith Alexander: "No, we do not have that authority,"
Rogers: "Does the technology exist at the NSA to flip a switch by some analyst to listen to Americans' phone calls or read their e-mails?"
Rogers: "So the technology does not exist for any individual or group of individuals at the NSA to flip a switch to listen to Americans' phone calls or read their e-mails?" he repeated.
Alexander: "That is correct."
It has since become clear through subsequent leaks that the government does have temporary access to large amounts of the phone calls and e-mails sent in the United States. But the distinction that allowed Alexander to answer "no" is that analysts are supposed to obtain the OK from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court before doing so. That's perhaps why he said they lacked the "authority."
Subsequent leaks in July about a program called XKeyscore printed in the UK's Guardian newspaper and in The New York Times suggested that the NSA collects nearly every phone call and e-mail. The idea is that the intelligence community is collecting the entire "haystack" of information that it can sift through later when it has some idea what needle it needs to find. Even if the analysts need court approval, the newer disclosures suggest the NSA has access to the content of communications, at least for a time.
5. Alexander: 50 plots thwarted
Alexander also argued several times before Congress that information "gathered from these programs provided government with critical leads to prevent over 50 potential terrorist events in more than 20 countries around the world."
But details of these plots have not been shared publicly.
Lawmakers who have been briefed on the plots have expressed skepticism. At a July 31 hearing, Sen. Patrick Leahy said by his estimation the NSA's data showed the data collection had not foiled "dozens or even several terrorist plots."