updated 1/23/2006 1:47:39 PM ET 2006-01-23T18:47:39

In a wide-ranging defense of the National Security Agency’s controversial surveillance program, the government’s No. 2 intelligence official said Monday that the spy agency’s operations are not a drift net over U.S. communities.

Gen. Michael Hayden, the former NSA director, described the 4-year-old program as narrowly targeted, using the same tools and techniques employed to decide whether to drop a 500-pound bomb on a terrorist target.

Hayden now holds the second-ranking job in the Office of the National Intelligence Director, John Negroponte.

“Had this program been in effect prior to 9/11, it is my professional judgment that we would have detected some of the al-Qaida operatives in the United States,” Hayden said in an appearance at the National Press Club.

Hayden’s comments came as the Bush administration kicked off three days of public events aimed at defending the highly classified surveillance program.

First disclosed last month, the program approved by President Bush allowed the NSA to eavesdrop, without warrants, on communications of individuals within the continental United States, whose calls and e-mails were believed to have involved al-Qaida.

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