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Senator Clashes With NSA Chief During Testy Exchange Over Questions on Cellphone Location Tracking

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US Senator Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, arrives for a closed hearing about Syria, on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, September 5, 2013. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee on September 4 voted 10 to 7 to authorize a punitive missile attack. Credit: AFP/Getty Images

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The nation's top intelligence official has sidestepped questions from a senator about whether the National Security Agency has tracked the whereabouts of millions of Americans using their cellphone signals.

The testy exchange Thursday between NSA chief Keith Alexander and Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon intimated that such tracking had taken place.

US Senator Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, arrives for a closed hearing about Syria, on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, September 5, 2013. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee on September 4 voted 10 to 7 to authorize a punitive missile attack. Credit: AFP/Getty Images

Alexander says his agency can only collect such data with an individual court order. But he did not say whether the agency had ever collected information about locations from which cellphone calls are made.

Wyden is a longtime critic of NSA surveillance methods. Earlier this year, he questioned Director of National Intelligence James Clapper about whether U.S. intelligence gathered the records of millions of Americans. Clapper said no, but had to apologize later when leaks by a former NSA systems analyst revealed the bulk collection of U.S. telephone records and email data.

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