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U.S. to declassify documents on spy programs, surveillance court

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. spy agencies plan to release newly declassified documents as early as this week about the National Security Agency surveillance programs revealed by former contractor Edward Snowden, and also material related to a secret intelligence court, a U.S. intelligence official said on Tuesday.

The declassified documents were intended to provide the public more information about the programs as part of a commitment by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper for greater transparency, the official told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

The documents would also include information about the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the official said. That court operates in secrecy in making decisions on government surveillance requests.

General Keith Alexander, director of the NSA, said he was glad the government was taking action to declassify more information.

"I think it is the right thing. I think it helps articulate what we are trying to do and why we are trying to do it," he told Reuters in Las Vegas where he is scheduled to speak at the Black Hat conference of cybersecurity experts on Wednesday.

"I think the more we can give to the American people, the better. We always have to balance security of the nation with transparency. But in this case I think it is a good thing," Alexander said.

Snowden's release of information about the NSA surveillance programs to American and European media outlets sparked an uproar over revelations last month that U.S. intelligence agencies had collected data on phone calls and other communications of Americans and foreign citizens as a tool for fighting terrorism.

The move to declassify more information about the surveillance programs, which intelligence officials say have helped thwart terrorist attacks, comes as some lawmakers seek curbs in response to privacy concerns.

Snowden has been charged under the U.S. Espionage Act and is stuck at an airport in Russia while seeking asylum in a country that will not hand him over to the United States.

(Reporting by Tabassum Zakaria in Washington and Jim Finkle in Las Vegas; Editing by Andrew Hay and Mohammad Zargham)

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