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'It's Called Protecting America': Senators Defend NSA On Phone Records

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AP Photo / J. Scott Applewhite

"I read intelligence carefully. And I know that people are trying to get to us," Feinstein said. "This is the reason we keep TSA doing what it's doing. This the reason the FBI now has 10,000 people doing intelligence on counter-terrorism. This is the reason for the national counter-terrorism center that's been set up in the time we've been active."

"And it's to ferret this out before it happens," she said. "It's called protecting America."

Senate Intelligence Vice Chair Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) backed up Feinstein, saying, "This is nothing particularly new. This has been going on for seven years under the auspices of the FISA authority, and every member of the United States Senate has been advised of this."

"It has proved meritorious because we have gathered significant information on bad guys, but only on bad guys, over the years," Chambliss said.

Feinstein said she and Chambliss understand the need to protect privacy rights.

"I think people want the homeland kept safe to the extent we can," she said. "We understand -- I understand privacy. Senator Chambliss understands privacy. We want to protect peoples' private rights. And that's why this is carefully done."

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Sahil Kapur is TPM's senior congressional reporter and Supreme Court correspondent. His articles have been published in the Huffington Post, The Guardian and The New Republic. Email him at sahil@talkingpointsmemo.com and follow him on Twitter at @sahilkapur.