Government officials told lawmakers this week that a secret federal surveillance program helped agents thwart more than 50 planned terrorist attacks.

FBI Deputy Director Sean Joyce said Internet monitoring efforts helped the bureau prevent a symbolic terror attack targeting the heart of New York City.

In 2008, an al Qaeda leader in Yemen planned to bomb the New York Stock Exchange. The intercepted emails led FBI agents to a Kansas City man and two others Americans involved in the plot.

Gayle Trotter, an attorney and senior fellow with the Independent Women's Forum, talks more about the federal surveillance programs, on CBN Morning News, June 19.

"These tools have helped us," Joyce told the House Intelligence Committee Tuesday. "The FBI disrupted and arrested these individuals."

Meanwhile, National Security Agency Director Gen. Keith Alexander defended the massive government surveillance effort known as PRISM.

"These programs, together with other intelligence, have protected the U.S. and our allies from terrorist threats across the globe," Alexander testified.

But the program may be much broader than originally believed. While President Obama insists phone calls are not being monitored, the federal government does have warrantless access to the private conversations of Americans.

After the 9/11 terror attacks, President George W. Bush authorized the NSA to plug in to U.S. fiber optic network cables. That access allows the NSA to monitor emails, websites, video chats, phone calls, bank transactions — every aspect of communications in and out of the country.

The American Civil Liberties Union opposes government monitoring of people accused of no wrongdoing.

"The question is not simply whether plots were disrupted, but whether to disrupt those plots do we need to engage in dragnet surveillance?" ACLU attorney Alexander Abdo said.

Members of Congress were aware of the secret surveillance program years ago and many still support the massive monitoring effort.

"The reason that we have, that is, to find a needle in a haystack. And you can't find a needle unless you have the haystack that is there," Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Md., said.

Alexander revealed more details about Edward Snowden, the man who leaked classified information about the government surveillance programs.

The NSA director said Snowden was being trained as a threat operations center analyst. That's why he had access to a computer server with classified surveillance information.

Snowden also revealed that the U.S. listened in on phone calls made by Russian President Vladimir Putin and hacked into Chinese government computers. He also said British government surveillance included the monitoring of diplomatic smartphones.

Meanwhile, the president suggests Snowden will be brought to justice. Undaunted, Snowden is promising to release more classified information in the days ahead.