FBI Director Robert Mueller said on Thursday that authorities would move aggressively to track down Edward Snowden and hold him accountable for leaking the details of extensive and top-secret US surveillance efforts.

Mueller confirmed that a criminal investigation had been launched into the leaks and said public reports about the National Security Agency's efforts to monitor Internet and phone data had hurt US national security. “We are taking all necessary steps to hold the person responsible for these disclosures,” Mueller told the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee, without naming Snowden. “These disclosures have caused significant harm to our nation and to our safety,” he said.

Mueller joined President Barack Obama and other administration members in defending the programmes as a crucial tool in preventing possible attacks. He said making the details public could force a switch in tactics by potential terrorists. “We're going to … lose our ability to get their communications. We are going to be exceptionally vulnerable,” Mueller said. “Let nobody be misled in this. This hurts national security.

NSA and FBI officials have been collecting browsing data and snooping on Internet-based communications to fight terrorism

Will hold Snowden accountable

General Keith Alexander, head of the NSA, told Congress on Wednesday the programmes had helped disrupt dozens of possible terrorist attacks. US Senator Dianne Feinstein, the Democrat who heads the Senate Intelligence Committee, said details would be made public on Monday. The White House said the programme had led to the 2009 arrest of a Chicago man who was planning to bomb a Danish newspaper that had published cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad.  It also confirmed assertions by US officials and members of Congress that electronic eavesdropping by the NSA had helped foil a plot by Islamist militants to bomb the New York subway system in 2009.

The revelations about the surveillance renewed a political debate about the proper balance between privacy rights and national security, and some lawmakers and advocacy groups have called for tighter supervision of the programmes. “It's my hope that over the coming weeks the members of this Judiciary Committee can come together and conduct meaningful oversight of these programs” including possibly passing new legislation, said Representative John Conyers of Michigan, the ranking Democrat on the House panel.

Feinstein told reporters Congress would consider legislation to limit access to some classified information by contractors. “We will certainly have legislation which will limit or prevent contractors from handling highly classified technical data,” she said after a closed-door briefing on the program by intelligence and law enforcement officials.

Reuters

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