NBC News White House correspondent Kristen Welker pressed Obama administration press secretary Josh Earnest three times for a specific example of a time when the NSA's bulk collection metadata program was used as part of an investigation which prevented a terrorist attack, and three times Earnest refused.
Earnest said he can not share specifics in this format because the material is classified, but he assures the press that the programs "are really important."
"That is what our national security professionals would tell you," reiterates Earnest again and again.
"But can you draw a direct link," pleads Welker.
No, and "even if you assume the worst of what some of our critics have said," says the press secretary. "They don't know what is going to happen in the future, and neither do I."
"No one has presented a compelling explanation for why the United States and the American people should assume the risk associated with taking those tools out of the hands of our law enforcement professionals," Earnest told Welker.
KRISTEN WELKER, NBC NEWS: I want to get your reaction, you know we've been talking about Rand Paul. You obviously disagree with him and his tactics, but he makes one argument that I want to get your reaction to. He says the metadata program has never actually prevented an attack. But rather it is a "building block" tool for investigations. Can you build on that? You could say the counter argument is, he is using the wrong metric, but is he wrong? Can you say definitively that this metadata program has thwarted an attack?
JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE: What I can say is, in the same way that building blocks are critical to the stability of a structure, building blocks are critical to the successful completion of a mission. That is what our national security professionals would tell you, we have used these tools in the past to collect information that they were previously not aware of. And that information has been important to the activities of our security.
WELKER: But can you draw a direct link?
EARNEST: What I can do is illustrate to you that these programs are really important. They are important building blocks to investigations that protect the American people. I think the other thing that I would say, Kristen, is even if you assume the worst of what some of our critics have said, they don't know what is going to happen in the future, and neither do I.
Why would we unnecessarily take the risk?
Some day in the coming days we may need access to that program/information and it could be critically important to our national security.
Why would we take the risk of removing that tool from the toolbox of our national security professionals.
Even though it includes the necessary reforms that Sen. Paul and others have called for.
WELKER: Can you give us a specific example of when this program has played out, as part of a building block, that has played out.
EARNEST: These investigations are conducted in a classified setting, so I don't have specifics to share with you in this format.
Our national security professionals have indicated that these programs are an important building block to investigations and that there has been information obtained through these programs that they were not aware of. That new information was important to their investigations.
No one has presented a compelling explanation for why the United States and the American people should assume the risk associated with taking those tools out of the hands of our law enforcement professionals.