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Intelligence chief declassifies PRISM details, slams 'reckless disclosures'

The United States' top intelligence official said he was concerned about recent leaks to the media that revealed some of the country's surveillance activities in a move that  he said could damage U.S. intelligence capabilities. 

"I think we’re very, very concerned about it," Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told NBC News' Andrea Mitchell Saturday. "For me, it is literally – not figuratively – literally gut-wrenching to see this happen because of the huge, grave damage it does to our intelligence capabilities." 

In a statement released Saturday, Clapper said media reports contained some inaccuracies that cannot be corrected without revealing additional classified information – something he is not prepared to do. 

“Over the last week we have seen reckless disclosures of intelligence community measures used to keep American safe,” Clapper said in the statement. “In a rush to publish, media outlets have not given the full context – including the extent to which these programs are overseen by all three branches of government – to these effective tools.”

The revelation of two ultra-secret government surveillance programs on Thursday raised outrage among many Americans.

The British newspaper The Guardian published a classified document detailing a program under which a division of telecommunications provider Verizon was ordered to hand over records to the National Security Agency. 

A second program, code-named PRISM, was revealed later in the day, and first reported on by the Washington Post and The Guardian. Under the program, U.S. intelligence agencies have been given access to files maintained by some of the country’s top Internet companies, including Microsoft, Google, Facebook, and Apple, according to the reports. Those companies denied providing special government access to their systems when contacted by NBC News.

Describing a lot of the reporting on the subject as "hyperbole," Clapper told Mitchell these intelligence programs represent "a key tool for preserving, protecting the nation’s safety and security." 

In a second statement released Saturday, Clapper's office described PRISM as follows: "PRISM is not an undisclosed collection or data mining program. It is an internal government computer system used to facilitate the government's statutorily authorized collection of foreign intelligence information from electronic communication service providers under court supervision as authorized by Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act."

"The United States government does not unilaterally obtain information from the servers of U.S. electronic communication service providers," the statement continued. 

Clapper said the intelligence community has been "profoundly affected" by the recent leaks, and he expressed concern over the "double-edged sword" of transparency, which could benefit "nefarious" groups. 

According to the statement released by Clapper's office, the country's intelligence collection is credited with numerous accomplishments.

"For example, the intelligence community acquired information on a terrorist organization's strategic planning efforts. Communications collected under Section 702 have yielded intelligence regarding proliferation networks and have directly and significantly contributed to successful operations to impede the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and related technologies," the statement read.